Nine-game schedules ought to be the norm

I remember colleague Ted Miller over at the Pac-12 blog's incessant complaints about the league playing nine conference games well.

"You don't understand!"

"The math makes the standings look worse!"

"Why is no one else doing this?"

After a year of repeatedly sending the whambulence over to the West Coast, the Big 12 followed the Pac-12's lead and added a nine-game conference schedule.

With great trepidation, I admitted that my boy Ted was absolutely correct. With a nine-game conference schedule comes five additional guaranteed losses to the Big 12's pool, and though it helps the league's overall strength of schedule, it hurts the league's overall record.

That was never more evident in 2012, when five teams from the Big 12 finished 7-5 in the regular season. Chances are that if the Big 12 plays 10 more nonconference games instead of five conference games, it's going to win a whole lot more than five of those, the middle of the league gets stronger, and the road to an undefeated season gets easier.

TV money and a round-robin schedule were the biggest motivators to adding a ninth conference game despite the losses, but college football is changing.

As the sport prepares to begin its playoff system, though, it's no longer about perception. It's about fairness. Last week, the Big Ten announced plans to add a ninth conference game, but last fall, the ACC scrapped its plans to join the Big 12 and Pac-12 in playing nine league games.

The Big Ten won't begin playing nine games until 2016, but its move means that, by then, three of the major five conferences will be playing nine league games.

The SEC and ACC are sitting it out.

Could anyone imagine the NFC being forced to play 18 regular-season games while AFC teams just played 16, along with two preseason games that didn't really count? If that happened, would it not cheapen the Super Bowl?

That's what the College Football Playoff is facing from those who are paying attention. It's the most overlooked inequality in college football. It simply doesn't make sense, and though college football's conferences work as anything but a cohesive unit, the lopsided schedules make for obvious unfairness between the leagues, who will be chasing selection into the four-team playoff.

It would be easier for the Pac-12 to go back to eight games -- the Big 12 would have to sacrifice its round-robin schedule to do so -- but it's hard to see that actually happening and TV networks agreeing to keep writing the same checks with less inventory available.

The Big Ten is unlikely to scrap its plans, even though they've been moderately controversial. Money can make things happen, and more conference games can mean more money. Every conference moving to nine games is the more realistic option, but the end goal ought to be fairness.

Talk of the SEC adding a ninth game has been met with criticism, but what's there to be afraid of? It's time to turn that talk into reality.

If the conferences continue to play different numbers of conference games, the head-scratching inequality will continue. The biggest criticism is obvious: "Hey, the SEC already plays nine conference games! Ever heard of the SEC championship game?"

It's not exactly the same and only affects the top of the standings, but how about a trade-off?

The Big 12 brings back the title game, much to the chagrin of the coaches. The SEC and ACC add a ninth game.

Evening the playing field is the goal, and accepting that it just won't happen under the new playoff is silliness.