For those of you who are not fans of college football, and you do have my sincere sympathy, you may not have taken notice that our president-elect has a strong opinion regarding the question of how to determine the number one college football team in America. Obama, speaking on CBS' "60 Minutes," recently said, "If you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear, decisive winner. We should be creating a playoff system."
As one who thinks the playoff system is not needed I find it interesting that one of the first places Barack Obama decided to use his "bully pulpit" was related to the question of determining the number one college football team in America. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which is the current system that uses rankings and computers to determine who plays who in the bowls and who plays for number one at the end of the season, is not a perfect system by a long shot. But it is not nearly as bad as the president-elect thinks. Let me explain.
Obama says, "I would add three weeks to the college season. You could trim back the regular season. I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me. So I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do."
Well, with all due respect Mr. President-elect, I am a serious fan and I may not represent a majority vote in the opinion polls but I do disagree with you strongly.
The common argument goes as follows. No major sport settles its championship the way college football does. I ask, "What's wrong with being the one sport that is unique? Why must college football crown a champion the same way every other sport does?" From the end of August until January the fans of this great sport are in a continual discussion and debate about who is really the best team. Right now one fan says the best team is Texas Tech and another says Alabama. Then other teams jump in and say we could beat either of these two. The whole thing makes for great interest and friendly debate. I like the debate, the disagreements and the human mistakes. I like the idea that the human element comes to bear upon the whole sport in a very big way. What is wrong with that? Must college football become the minor leagues of the NFL?
Look, in the present system you cannot afford to overlook anybody. Ask USC about Oregon State? Their fans think their number one but they will likely never get a chance to prove it. Why? They didn't prepare and play against Oregon State like a great team should have done. Then they blow away Washington State and Washington teams in their league but so what? They lost to Oregon State. And if being undefeated is the sole issue then Ball State and Boise State should get a shot. The eight team plan leaves them both watching on the outside based on Obama's idea.
Under the current system even the fans of Boise State get to brag and guess and even sometimes play mighty Oklahoma, like two years ago in a BCS bowl, which Boise State actually won in one of the best games you would ever wish to see. It was unforgettable. And the present system is lucrative if nothing else. ESPN just signed a big contract to cover the BCS from 2011 through 2014. This is good for everyone, not just a few powerhouse teams.
Look, my team is sitting at number one. But they still have to win it on the field. Beating Auburn is not a cake walk. Beating Florida seems unlikely to many. Then, and only then, would they play in the Fed Ex Championship game on January 8, 2009. I would say if they go 13-0 and then beat whoever the BCS puts against them they deserve to be number one and need not play two more games to prove anything.
The moral of the story is simple—don't lose. Play well enough every week to win. Stay focused for the entire season. Persevere. Beat teams that are of less talent (e.g., Oregon State) when you are supposed to beat them. People say Alabama only beat Kentucky by 3 and Ole Miss by 4. So what. They won! That is what the game is about, not style points and running up a huge score on vastly inferior teams.
Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey, a writer who agrees with me, says: "Mr. Obama, a college playoff system is a change we don't need, but I can see you're unwilling to budge. I wonder what Vladimir Putin thinks about this."
I love the debates and the disagreements. I love that my team has to run the table to win it all this year. If they do then they deserve to be number one. If they don't then Florida, or someone else, will be. I can live with that and love the game for it all the more. In my day Alabama lost several "mythical" titles for reasons I will not go into in this post. (In 1966 they were the undefeated, beat a great Nebraska team in a bowl, but Notre Dame finished No. 1 after settling for a tie with Michigan State. Don't get me started on that one. For me the debate is for a lifetime and that makes it fun. And then there was the loss to Texas in the Orange Bowl when Joe Namath scored and the referees missed it.) It all makes for great angst and even more determination to show those coaches and writers the next season. Isn't the fun of it all what this game is really about, not the system or the fairness of it? The players play for the game and the fans love it. Everyone has a chance to play a big bowl game and finish the year on a high note in the current system. The playoff guarantees that only one team is really satisfied in the end. The uniqueness of many schools attaining high goals and still not being number one is a great part of this sport. Mr. Obama, you have spoken. Now spend your time on more important issues and let this great game alone. You didn't attend a football school so you cannot fully understand what we long-time loyal fans think about this. Why make our sport like every other sport? Please leave it alone.