Standing Athwart History

After months of highly charged political debates, let’s take up a little discussed topic that doesn’t elicit emotional outbursts, bickering, and ill will towards others – college football.

As those who follow college football know, the highest division (FBS) has an imperfect method of determining a National Champion – the Bowl Championship Series. The BCS uses polls (USA Today coaches’ poll, Harris Interactive) and an average of computer rankings to determine which two teams will meet in the BCS championship game. Towards the end (beginning?) of each season fans and analysts bemoan the fact a true champion is determined not through some sort of playoff, but rather by a panel of voters and six poorly understood computer algorithms. The loudest complaints come from fans of the team or teams that get “screwed” by the “system” and end up playing in some lesser bowl game with a $15 million payout.

This year the epicenter is Austin, Texas. The 11-1 Longhorns finished in a three-way tie for the Big 12 South title along with the 11-1 Oklahoma Sooners and the 11-1 Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Longhorns beat the Sooners 45-35, the Sooners beat the Red Raiders 62-28, the Red Raiders beat the Longhorns 39-33. The tie was broken by going to the fifth tie-breaking rule – the highest ranked team in the BCS standings – to determine who plays for the Big 12 Championship. That team turned out to be Oklahoma.

Analysts, Texas fans, and Texas coach Mack Brown are incensed. “Texas beat the Sooners head-to-head.” True. But the rules are the rules. Texas has to watch as two teams they beat play Saturday for the Big 12 crown.

I am curious to see what Mack Brown will do should Oklahoma beat Missouri and go on to play for the BCS championship. Will he decline an invitation from the Fiesta Bowl and defer to Texas Tech since the Red Raiders won their head-to-head match up? I’ll have a lot more respect for him if he does; but anyone who thinks he actually will needs to contact me about the mint-condition bridge I have for sale in Brooklyn.

Because of this and other “injustices”, the cries for a playoff grow ever louder.

Not me, though. I don’t mind the imperfection of the FBS’s system of bowl games. Frankly, I wish it would go back to the way it was – teams play their bowl games, the voters vote, and the chips fall where they may. I liked having the Sugar and Orange Bowls on at the same time New Years Day. When you woke up January 2nd the season was over, the polls came out, and the debates began.

Kooky, huh? How could anyone be against a playoff? Well, a playoff would be the coffin nail for a lot of bowl games. We could probably do without four or five of the newer bowl games, but don’t tell that to the kids who get to go enjoy the hospitality and play in what are basically exhibition games. Think the Rose Bowl is going to go all out for two teams that are going to fly in on a Thursday, not want to be distracted before their playoff game on Saturday, and fly out Saturday night? What’s the point? Will they roll out the red carpet for the Big 10 and Pac 10 also-rans? Would anyone watch? Bowl games and their traditions would die.

An eight team playoff means three more games for the two teams that meet in the College Super Bowl. If they come from a conference that has a championship game (Big 12, ACC, SEC) that means an NFL length 16 game season. Not to sound all fruity and communist, but those student athletes would be making a ton of money for the NCAA, their schools and the networks. The merits of a college degree aside, they’re doing so for what essentially amounts to less than a single game check for an NFL player. All the pressure, all the risk of injuries, all the scapegoating if they happen to screw up – without the guaranteed contracts or pension. Players make the plays, coaches and commissioners make the bucks. That just doesn’t sit right with me.

And don’t get me started on commercial breaks adding 30-45 minutes to the length of an average college football game.

Lastly, what imperfect system is used to determine who goes to a playoff? I’ve seen suggestions of the six BCS conference champions plus two at-large teams. Seems reasonable. Let’s look at this season (assuming the favorites win Saturday) – Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, Southern Cal, Penn State, Florida, and Oklahoma are in as conference champs. Now pick two at-large teams from 12-0 Utah, 12-0 Boise State, 11-1 Texas, 11-1 Texas Tech, and 12-1 Alabama. Alabama because they play in the SEC? Lost their last game, strength of schedule is weaker than Utah. Texas? They lost to Tech. There’s no right answer, and however the teams were chosen there’d be three teams on the outside screaming bloody murder.

To heck with all that. What’s so wrong about having two or three teams claiming to be National Champions? Bear Bryant used to say, “If you can put it on a bumper sticker, I count it as a championship.” That works for me. It’s not like anyone’s ever been killed arguing over college football. Outside of the SEC, anyway…

Posted by Baron Von Ottomatic

Happy 75th Anniversary!
A Thought