HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) _ A majority of Conference USA athletic directors decided Monday to cleave away one of the pathways the University of Southern Mississippi had to win the league’s West Division and play in the Dec. 7 C-USA championship game.
And that change came less than a week before the final, regular season games that will decide the division winner.
Conference USA athletic directors voted Monday on a conference call to alter the final rung in the league’s tie-breaking ladder of criteria for selecting a division co-leader to participate in the title game.
With the change, the only way USM can reach the championship is to beat Florida Atlantic University Saturday and have homestanding Louisiana Tech University lose to the University of Texas-San Antonio.
“On Monday, our athletics directors clarified the “two-team or multiple team tie for divisional champion” by adding “highest average computer ranking” following “highest (College Football Playoff) ranking,” said Russ Anderson, C-USA assistant commissioner for football operations. “This mirrors the policy to determine the host and enforces the intent that the competitive results determine the outcome.”
The Golden Eagles and Bulldogs currently sit atop C-USA’s West Division, along with the University of Alabama-Birmingham, with all three sporting 5-2 conference records.
Each of the three teams plays its regular-season finale Saturday: USM at FAU; UTSA at Louisiana Tech; and UAB at University of North Texas.
Prior to Monday, the clause in discussing the outcome of a three-way tie between USM, Tech and UAB, read as such:
“If Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and UAB each win their final regular season game and finish 6-2, the tie would not be broken through the first seven tie-breakers and it would go down to tie-breaker No. 8: ‘If still tied, the representative will be the team that has not participated in the championship game most recently.’
“Southern Miss (2015) would win that tie-breaker ahead of Louisiana Tech (2016) and UAB (2018).”
Monday, tiebreaker No. 8 read significantly differently, and would favor Louisiana Tech in five of the six computer rankings:
“If Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and UAB each win their final regular season game and finish 6-2, the tie would not be broken through the first seven tie-breakers and it would go down to average computer ranking (Anderson and Hester, Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Massey, Sagarin and Wolfe), with the highest ranked team earning a spot in the Championship.”
That indeed syncs up with how the conference breaks deep ties in determining the host site for the title game: “Head-to-head competition is the first tie-breaker if divisional champions have the same conference record. If they did not play, the CFP ranking is the next tie-breaker. If neither team is in the top 25 of the CFP rankings and wins on the final weekend, average computer ranking (Anderson and Hester, Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Massey, Sagarin and Wolfe) would be used to determine host.”
USM athletic director Jeremy McClain said in a statement that the first he had heard of any hue and cry being made about changing tie-breaking criteria surfaced Monday.
“I was made aware of concerns regarding the C-USA division tiebreaker on Monday,” USM athletic director Jeremy McClain said. “While the adjustments are well-intentioned, I expressed serious concerns over the timing of the changes on our conference call, and we were outvoted by the league’s membership.”
McClain said USM will play with hand dealt.
“Our focus is now on moving forward and supporting our football student-athletes,” McClain said.