Wednesday, December 06, 2006

From the Halls of Miscellanea

This is WAAAAY off our recent topics, but here goes:

College Football does not have a championship. That's a misnomer. What it has is a title fight -- the representatives from 6 conferences (out of 11) and 4 bowl committees (out of a zillion) decided they'd create a duel between the two teams perceived to be the best in the country (they'd define what 'best' means) and give the winner the title, "National Champion." The 'championship' is not a creation of the overarching college football organization (the NCAA) and there is no playoff system giving every team a fair shot at winning it all, which is what it takes to earn a real championship - like the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the Stanley Cup (the what?).

The entire system of rankings and bowls and the BCS is not designed to make one team earn a real championship; it's a glorified watercooler conversation, a bunch of fans -- sportswriters, college students, coaches, representatives of the schools themselves, and some arbitrarily chosen computer rankings -- arguing about who's the best. Notice, Who's the Best, not who has earned a 'championship'. The system is designed to rank teams from across the nation, not to throw them all into a playoff bracket and see who comes out on top. It's like ceding in Tennis, or All-Star voting in MLB and the NBA, or the Pro-Bowl for the NFL. The rankings are an opinion poll, plain and simple. That's why you hear talk of 'style points' and 'strength of schedule' -- those things never get quantified. There is no official NCAA strength of schedule index. It's all in the heads of the voters and those who create perameters for the computer-generated indices. Yes, this kind of ranking system is unfair. You get the same thing in invitations to March Madness -- some little school is always squawking about how it got a bum deal and didn't get invited to the tournament. It's the same in pro tennis, pro golf, and any number of other sports. We stomach it there, why not with college football?

What people need to realize about the Bowl system is that it doesn't mean anything. Just like the All-Star-type games I just mentioned, the games don't mean anything. They don't advance anybody in any bracket or result in any meaningful trophy. The bowls are games that exist for the pure joy of playing football. It's two people meeting over a watercooler saying, "The Big Ten stinks: Pac-10 is where it's at." and "The Pac-10 stinks: Big Ten is where it's at. I wonder what would happen if we pitted the best Big Ten team against the best Pac-10 team. They never meet during the season, so let's get them together in, say, January, when there's nothing else to do. We can play some football, sell some tickets, drink some beer, and have a great time." So they do. Sure, money's involved. That's ok. It keeps many NCAA sports afloat that wouldn't get funding otherwise. No, it's not fair. It's not a playoff. That's ok. It's a system of duels for bragging rights and the joy of the sport.

The bowls are the only true post-season there is anymore. What masquerades as 'post-season' in MLB, the NFL, and the NBA is really the only part of the regular season that really counts. The bowls, however, and the BCS 'championship' really have no meaning whatsoever in terms of competition among conference teams. They're all extra-regional matchups, and they don't mean anything. Except honor, glory, bragging rights, all those things that used to mean so much to men of earlier eras.

So when you Whitehallies out there hear people saying we need a playoff system for College Football, don't you believe it. Let's not have every sport the same. Let's keep the traditions and the independence of the conferences alive. Let's keep a meaningful regular season. People who advocate for a playoff system are just tired of the great national watercooler conversation. They're people who don't like the arguments and the ambiguities and want to just quantify it all so we can get on with the Hockey season (the what?). They're bad fans, or at least fringe fans, who want, McDonald's-like, to know what they're looking at no matter which sport they happen to see on the telly. They just want it fair -- not because they really care about the good of the sport, but so that no team feels bad for being left out. No stomach for the ups and downs, the power-plays and spoilers, the complex and nuanced system that is NCAA College Football. The fact is that most of this country loves the watercooler conversation. That's why NCAA football is so popular and is only gaining ground. Ambiguity drives the system and its popularity. Unfairness creates heros and goats and great deeds and terrible betrayals. That's ok. That's a great and powerful story. And every College Football fan has a story to tell about their team, their heroic moments and their tragedies. That's a great sport, my friends.

OU rocks.


mmbx said...

Yea bowl games! Boo playoffs! You always rally me to your cause, Thorpus! And, "Go Dawgs!"

Anonymous said...

You make a good argument. I honestly liked the old system before the BCS, when e.g. the SEC champion automatically went to the Sugar Bowl and half of all D-1 teams didn't go to bowls (32 bowl games!). It's also interesting to note that bowl games used to be considered exhibition games, like the ones that college b'ball teams play against the likes of EASports.
As a former prof., though, it's all beer and circuses now and it all makes my stomach turn. Watching all college sports makes me feel like Augustine's friend Alypius trying to resist his temptation to watch games.

axegrinder said...

Fr. T,

"The bowls are the only true post-season there is anymore. What masquerades as 'post-season' in MLB, the NFL, and the NBA is really the only part of the regular season that really counts."

Wrong comparison. Both the regular season and the NCAA Tournament matter in college basketball. March Madness is exceedingly popular.

Having a 8 or 16 team football tourney would only add to the water cooler conversations. Suspect Big East teams like Louisville and Rutgers would either prove themselves or be exposed as pretenders. The SEC would no longer be penalized for being the best conference with the most quality teams. The Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 10 would finally know what it is like to have to play difficult games for more that one week at a time.

Jason Kranzusch

Johnny Awesomo said...

This is the best post I've read on here in a long time. Very, very good.

Blind Squirrel said...

A playoff won't happen, thank God, because the college presidents won't wear it. The reason for that is not because of the impact on the players (the champions of the other NCAA divisions, which do have playoffs, already manage to have a season as long as that of most NFL teams) but on the student body as a whole. During rivalry weeks at big state schools (e.g. Auburn-Alabama, FSU-U. of Florida, Texas-Texas A&M) normal academic life comes to a screeching halt. Forget about assigning papers, holding exams, or even getting anybody to show up to lectures for that whole time, and--in the event of a win--much of the following week. Extend the postseason far into January, as a playoff would necessitate, and for the successful university you could pretty much stick a fork in the first half of spring quarter.

Personally I say: bring back the Poulan Weed Eater Independence Bowl! The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl just ain't doin' it for me.