Sankey: UCF should look ‘in­ward’ to fix play­off is­sues

The Sun News - - Sports - BY RALPH D. RUSSO

South­east­ern Con­fer­ence Com­mis­sioner Greg Sankey rec­om­mended UCF look “in­ward” to ad­dress strength of sched­ule is­sues that have held back the Knights in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings.

Cen­tral Flor­ida was ranked eighth in the fi­nal play­off rank­ings by the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee on Sun­day after fin­ish­ing a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive reg­u­lar sea­son un­de­feated. The top four teams make the play­off. The Knights, who have won 25 straight games and con­sec­u­tive Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships, were never given any se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for the play­off. They will in­stead play LSU in the Fi­esta Bowl a year after they de­clared them­selves na­tional cham­pi­ons fol­low­ing a Peach Bowl win over Auburn.

For the past two sea­sons, the

com­mit­tee has cited the Knights’ sched­ule, which lags be­hind Power Five con­fer­ence schools in de­gree of dif­fi­culty, as the rea­son they have been left out of the play­off con­ver­sa­tion.

Sankey was asked about UCF and its place in the play­off pic­ture dur­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view at the Learfield In­ter­col­le­giate Ath­let­ics Fo­rum on Thurs­day. The com­mis­sioner com­pared UCF’s sit­u­a­tion to when the SEC placed only three teams in the NCAA men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment in 2016.

“We weren’t liv­ing up to our ex­pec­ta­tions. Rather than point to the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee, other peo­ple … we looked in­ward and said: ‘How do we ad­just to the cir­cum­stances around us?’ ” Sankey said. “I would ob­serve that’s the chal­lenge for ev­ery­body at the FBS level.”

Sankey later told re­porters the SEC en­cour­aged its schools to start sched­ul­ing more dif­fi­cult non­con­fer­ence bas­ket­ball games as a way to build tour­na­ment-wor­thy re­sumes.

“When it was us and when it was men’s bas­ket­ball, we knew we had two top-50 teams in 2015-16, which means you had vir­tu­ally no top-50 wins in men’s bas­ket­ball. How are you go­ing to ac­cess those wins? You have to im­prove your non­con­fer­ence sched­ule,” Sankey said.

UCF ath­letic di­rec­tor Danny White has been highly crit­i­cal of the play­off se­lec­tions and he ob­jected to the com­par­i­son be­tween col­lege foot­ball’s post­sea­son and sched­ul­ing process and col­lege bas­ket­ball. Non­con­fer­ence foot­ball games are typ­i­cally sched­uled years in ad­vance. In bas­ket­ball, sched­ules are of­ten com­pleted months be­fore the sea­son. White also noted 3 per­cent of FBS teams make the play­off while 19 per­cent of Divi­sion I teams make the men’s NCAA Tour­na­ment field of 68.

“Bas­ket­ball teams are re­warded for play­ing tough teams such as UCF through met­rics like RPI or NET, while foot­ball teams avoid us be­cause they’re con­cerned about the ‘eye test,’ ” White told AP in a text mes­sage.

NCAA statis­tics mea­sure strength of sched­ule by sim­ple win­ning per­cent­age of op­po­nents. UCF ranked 71st out of 130 FBS teams after the reg­u­lar sea­son (.530 win­ning per­cent­age by op­po­nents), well be­hind most of the play­off par­tic­i­pants and con­tenders, though ahead of No. 6 Ohio State (82nd, .515).

The Sa­garin com­puter rat­ings put the Knights’ strength of sched­ule even farther be­hind Power Five con­tenders. UCF faced the 90th-ranked sched­ule in all Divi­sion I, in­clud­ing FCS, ac­cord­ing to Sa­garin. Among the top six, Clem­son’s sched­ule ranked low­est at 48th,, ac­cord­ing to Sa­garin.

Us­ing the ad­vanced met­ric S&P+, which ranks team us­ing play-by-play data, UCF’s sched­ule is the 83rd-tough­est in FBS, but not that far be­hind most of the top six teams: Ohio State is 55th; Notre Dame 61st; Ok­la­homa 68th; and Clem­son 76th.

“As I’ve said many times, we are will­ing to play any Power Six pro­gram in the coun­try,” White said, us­ing the AAC’s slo­gan. “The chal­lenge is that not many are will­ing to play us.”

The big­gest ob­sta­cle for the Knights when it comes to the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee seems to be a lack of games against teams highly re­garded by the com­mit­tee. UCF played no op­po­nent that fin­ished in the com­mit­tee’s fi­nal top 25. The rest of the top six each faced at least two teams in the com­mit­tee’s fi­nal rank­ings.

“I don’t think there are sim­ple so­lu­tions nec­es­sar­ily,” Sankey said. “There are so­lu­tions. One’s go­ing to have to eval­u­ate their cir­cum­stances fully to make those de­ci­sions. My ob­ser­va­tion is there is a need to look in­ward. “

White, who said there is noth­ing UCF can do in­wardly “to fix an in­ad­e­quate post­sea­son for col­lege foot­ball,” has called for an ex­panded play­off.

“We’re at four though,” Sankey said. “Ev­ery­body walked into this with their eyes open. Strength of sched­ule is a part of it. Re­sume is a part of it. It’s not just about go­ing un­de­feated in a sea­son. That was never a cri­te­ria: if you go un­de­feated you’re in the top four. But there are com­plex­i­ties to it and there are com­plex­i­ties that will be unique for ev­ery pro­gram.”

AS I’VE SAID MANY TIMES, WE ARE WILL­ING TO PLAY ANY POWER SIX PRO­GRAM IN THE COUN­TRY. THE CHAL­LENGE IS THAT NOT MANY ARE WILL­ING TO PLAY US. Danny White, UCF ath­letic di­rec­tor

AP file

SEC com­mis­sioner Greg Sankey says UCF should look “in­ward” to ad­dress strength of sched­ule is­sues that have held back the Knights in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings.

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