I’m not really defending the BCS, but I knew the title would grab some attention. Nobody defends the BCS.
I’m in favor of a playoff in college football. I also recognize that no system is ever perfect. March Madness snubs deserving teams every season, and some fan base is always up in arms over having to settle for the NIT. Major League Baseball just expanded its postseason field, either ruining the playoffs or suggesting that the previous format wasn’t quite right (depending on your preferences). Someone is always going to feel shafted, and championships don’t always tell us who the best team really is. I agree with my colleague, Mark, who said that the NBA is probably the closest to getting it right of any North American league.
Lately, Twitter has been irate over the matchup in the BCS national championship this year. Undefeated LSU (13-0) is playing 11-1 (and SEC non-champion) Alabama. It’s not fair. It’s not fun. Suddenly, friends who hated Rick Reilly a few months ago consider him the peoples’ champion. I respect most of the arguments that I’ve heard against LSU-Alabama II, and I even understand most of them. But I don’t agree with any of them.
(NOTE: This has nothing to do with my feelings about Oklahoma State. I would love to have seen Oklahoma State have a crack at LSU, but not because they “deserve it” more than Alabama. Mostly, I just like Coach Gundy, I think it would be a good matchup, and I’m in favor of anything that might prevent the smug SEC from winning another title.)
What follows is a list of the most common points that I’ve heard against this national championship matchup, with some thoughts in counterpoint. Most of you are probably going to hate what you read. You will sit there foaming at the mouth and wondering how someone as stupid as I am is capable of enjoying sports. That’s fine. Please share your wrath in the comments and I will use them to enhance my self-disapproval. Here goes!
“BCS: Every game counts, except for LSU-Alabama on 11/5/11!”
This argument would make sense, if it weren’t the opposite of the truth. Think about it. It is because Alabama lost by three in overtime that we are even having this conversation. Do you think that we would be talking about the Crimson Tide if they had laid an egg against LSU and been blown out by 40 points? I certainly do not.
In college football, every loss is not created equal. Alabama proved that it belongs right up there with the best team in the nation by coming closer to beating LSU than anyone else. No, your real concern should be that round one of LSU-Alabama counted too much. If anything, people put too much stock in that game as a sign of Alabama’s superiority over everyone other than LSU. If you don’t want to see LSU-Alabama II, you should wish this game counted less.
And the coup de grace: If every game is supposed to count, shouldn’t Iowa State 37, Oklahoma State 31 a mere two weeks ago count, too? It’s easy to ignore that one when making this argument!
“We already saw this game, and it was boring.”
Look, you’re welcome to prefer a shootout, and Oklahoma State can definitely bring the offense. This is a matter of preference, though. Just because you didn’t like LSU-Alabama the first time around doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen again. It means that you didn’t like it. That’s as far as that goes.
Or maybe you just like variety. Variety is cute, but have I mentioned that we’re trying to decide a national championship? It seems backward to force a matchup in the name of variety when there is another matchup that ostensibly makes more sense (#1 versus #2).
I wasn’t bored, and I would watch that game again. That’s my prerogative, just as it is yours is to complain about a close game between the two best teams in the nation. (Sorry, I’ll tone down the passive-aggressiveness.)
“If Alabama wins, the ‘series’ with LSU will be tied, 1-1. We won’t have a clear champion!”
If you win the championship game, you are the champion. This really should not be disputable. You’re trying to say that it’s the entire body of work that makes a champion, which defeats the whole purpose of deciding the championship in a single game.
Rematches happen in championship games all the time in various sports. Why is college football the only one where a regular season game suddenly has the same efficacy as the championship game? To borrow an example that my friend Daniel Nielson used, if North Carolina beats Kentucky in the men’s basketball championship game this coming April, is anyone going to argue that they need a third game to determine which team is better? Absolutely not.
If we’re going to start insisting on tiebreakers, then I want to go back and play one for the 2008 Patriots, who beat the Giants to end their 16-0 regular season before losing to them a month later in the Super Bowl. (And don’t give me any “it’s-different-because-it’s-a-playoff” garbage. If you want to pretend that it’s a series, then be consistent. If “1-1” isn’t decisive enough for you in college football, it isn’t decisive enough anywhere.)
If you win the rematch, you’re the champion. Whatever happens in the final game of the season is what counts.
“Alabama didn’t even win their conference!”
So what? The 2004 Red Sox didn’t even win their division. The 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels didn’t win the ACC tournament. In college football in 2011, is there a rule which stipulates that a national championship game participant must have won its conference? Oh, there isn’t?
“But it’s not fair!” Sure it is. It isn’t against the rules. Nowhere does it say that winning your conference gets you a leg up on the pile. I would be open to discussing just such a rule, but you can’t do it in the middle of the season.
Just be aware that if you institute this rule, it’s possible that you will have #1 playing #3 or even #4—what if the season had ended two weeks ago with LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas ranked #1, #2, and #3 respectively?—in the title game. Maybe you’re okay with that. Maybe you’re not. Either way, it’s something to consider.
Also, consider this: as conferences get larger, the odds of a legitimate contender not winning its conference increases. It simply becomes more likely that a single, massive body of teams making up a super-conference will contain more than one of the best teams in the nation. Maybe we aren’t headed toward the formation of super-conferences, but maybe we are. It’s a side note, but a compelling one.
“Did you even SEE what Oklahoma State did to Oklahoma?!”
I turned it off after Landry Jones’ second fumble, which made it 34-3 Oklahoma State. Yes, it was sheer domination. By my own logic (I weight late-season games far more heavily than early-season games), I have to agree that this outweighs Alabama’s trouncing of Arkansas in September. Oklahoma State was trying to send a message, and it sent one, loud and clear.
Unfortunately for OSU, also fresh in voters minds is a loss to an Iowa State team that finished below .500 in Big 12 play. I feel horrible for the kids at Oklahoma State, but you can’t blow a game (which you led 24-7 in the third quarter) against an utterly mediocre team on November 18 and expect to play for the national title just because you blew out a shaky Oklahoma team, which had been completely exposed by RGIII and Baylor two weeks earlier. The bottom line is that if voters had been sufficiently impressed by the last two weeks of Oklahoma State’s cumulative body of work, they could have voted Oklahoma State ahead of Alabama. They didn’t. In fact, 70% of coaches put Alabama ahead of Oklahoma State. 70%! And most of them had no skin in the game. Troy Calhoun put OSU fifth, and three coaches whose teams are not even remotely close to the championship race put them fourth (in addition to Nick Saban and David Shaw, both of whom obviously stand to benefit from their votes). Blame them if you’d like, but let’s not pretend their ambivalence makes no sense whatsoever.
Oklahoma State’s blowout of Oklahoma was impressive, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a major slip that only happened 15 days prior.
“Alabama had their chance and failed!”
So did Oklahoma State. They failed to Iowa State, and Alabama failed to LSU.
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I’d also like to point out that I’m picking on Oklahoma State because I find them to be the only even remotely compelling alternative to Alabama. Here are two other teams that Rick Reilly suggested, along with reasons he is wrong:
Stanford: Laid the egg against Oregon that Alabama did NOT lay against LSU. Too injured to pose much of a challenge to LSU.
Boise State: To steal another point from Daniel, for how long are we going to allow Boise State to schedule one good-but-not-great big name team in week one and then use that as the only real arrow in their quiver in BCS discussions? It’s wonderful that they beat Georgia, but they really didn’t do anything else worth writing home about. You want to put that in the national championship game? Really?
Everyone else has two losses, except for Houston, and my contempt for Case Keenum and his wildly inflated numbers is well known.
Just so we’re clear, here is what I would like to see out of college football, in order of preference:
1.) Some sort of playoff. It’s time to settle this on the field, not because I believe we’ll ever be able to say conclusively “which team is better,” but to get as close as possible to that point.
2.) Revert to the pre-BCS days when you might have 2-3 bowl games that impact the national championship discussion but you’re often within a #1-versus-#2 matchup
3 through 1,390.) Anything else. Seriously.
1,391.) Stick with the current system.
But this year, we’re stuck with the current system, and the system did what it is supposed to do: it gave us #1 LSU and #2 Alabama.
(Now go ahead and tell me in the comments I’m an idiot. I can take it. To paraphrase Coach Gundy, “COME AFTER ME!! I’M A MAN!! I’M 30!!”)