As KU’s first conference basketball game approaches, let’s take a brief foray into the world of college football. I know. We haven’t spent much time on football that past three years since Lew Perkins single-handedly destroyed the Jayhawk football program. Still, that doesn’t mean college football—perhaps the greatest game in the history of the world-- isn’t being played elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the greatest game ever has had the worst mechanism ever for determining its best team—i.e., none.
With but one game of note remaining in the college football season, there are certain things that are not said enough—if at all—by those who get paid to comment on the sport:
• Alabama is not playing Monday night for its umpteenth national championship. They are not playing to be the first team since Nebraska in the ‘90s to win three national championships in four years. Notre Dame is not playing for “another” national championship, its first since Dr. Lou was strutting up and down the sidelines. The number of national championships won by Alabama, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and anyone else you can name combined is: zero.
You know what I’m talking about, and you know it’s true. Championships are “won” on the field of play. Not in voting booths. Not by virtue of computer programs.
And National Championships are won on the field of play against teams from throughout the nation (hence the word “National”). Not by playing one other team from one other conference. Not by playing the same team in the same conference a second time. Not by playing a team without a conference affiliation. But by having the best teams from the best conferences and regions playing each other mano a mano, winding their way through a gauntlet of other deserving teams until, as in the Highlander, only one remains.
Not that we aren’t closer. There was a time when a team could be voted No. 1 on January 2 without even playing a formidable opponent on January 1. Did I ever tell you the story of BYU being voted No. 1 after beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the 1984 Holiday Bowl? BYU’s credentials? Well, they did go undefeated in the WAC, and everyone else had a loss. Of course, everyone else played in a tougher conference.
That is the most blatant example, but not the only one. There are numerous examples of the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked teams both playing lower ranked teams instead of each other on New Year’s Day. And people took it seriously. . .
At least the last few years, the BCS has provided us with two strong teams playing each other for the Pretend National Championship, rather than playing two lower ranked in different bowl games; being allowed to only watch, rather than play, their prime competition; and being reduced to lobbying the voters after their own games in lieu of doing their lobbying on the field.
Still, improvements aside, the BCS sucks. The idea that it has ever worked is a myth—even in the game cited most often as an example of the system “working”: USC v. Texas, a game matching the only two undefeated teams in the country.
There is no doubt that this game produced a legitimate champion of the Pac- 10/Big 12. But a “National Champion”? Where was the SEC champion? The Big 10 champion? The ACC champion? Even the Big East champion?
It should go without saying that a team being undefeated in the Big 12 or Pac-10 does not mean that it would win every other conference. For example, since 2003, the SEC has been represented in the Pretend National Championship game seven times and has taken the PNC title home seven times. Yet the undefeated SEC champs don’t even get to sniff the field of battle in 2004? It’s 2005 champs don’t get a shot at USC or Texas, two teams that, for all we know, might have experienced a loss—or two—had they played one grueling game after another in the Southeast?
If you still think the BCS produces a REAL National Champion, consider this: Had K-State taken care of business in Waco this fall, they would be playing Notre Dame for the “National Championship.” Does anyone REALly believe either of these teams is any better than the 5th or 6th best team in the country?
Of course, Notre Dame could beat Alabama. After all, Ohio State, probably no better than a top 7 or 8 team in 2003, got into the PNC game by going undefeated in a weak conference and then proceeded to fluke out a W against a vastly superior Miami team, by taking the phrase “break a leg” literally player’s leg and being the beneficiary of some abominable officiating.
But a lot of teams get lucky in one game. A REAL Champion validates its prowess by proving its worth in multiple games, minimizing the luck factor.
We will move closer to a REAL National Champion two years from now, with four teams being invited to the party. Not only will the ultimate winner have to show up twice, it is more likely that the field will be national in scope and include the best team in the country. Any format with designs to produce a REAL champion, must, at the very least, inarguably have the best team in the field.
Basketball does this, of course. In fact, basketball engages in overkill. It could drop at least 36 teams and be assured that the best team is somewhere in the field.
Football is different. Four teams might be enough in most years to satisfy the masses that the best team has an opportunity to demonstrate its worth.
Eight would be better. I cannot think of an instance in which anyone has seriously argued that a team ranked 9th or lower in the final polls was REALly the best team in the country.
• A REAL playoff will not destroy the bowl system. How many times have you griped this year or heard others gripe that there are too many bowls or too many bad bowl games? How many games were REALly worth watching if you had something, anything else to do with your life? Five maybe? A REAL playoff system with, say, eight teams, would mean there would be at least seven games worth watching. Seven games that virtually every college football fan would watch. But it would not make the other games, the NIT of college football as it were, less watchable than they are in 2012-13. Or were in any other year.
• That said, there are NOT too many bowl games. As long as enough fans will follow their teams, as long as enough fans will watch any game between any two teams to get their college football fix, there are not too many games. Anyone who thinks otherwise can go bowling, go to the mall, or watch figure skating (if they like events determined subjectively by voters rather than by head to head competition governed by an objective scoring system—which, as college football fans, they apparently do).
• In fact, not only are there NOT too many bowl games, the requirement that teams win at least six games to be eligible for a bowl game is downright stupid. If a bowl believes it can sell more tickets and attract a bigger TV audience by inviting teams with sub-.500 records, why should they be prohibited from doing so? It might be that Kansas vs. Colorado or Washington St vs. Tennessee would not excite those teams’ own fans, let alone fans without an attachment to either team. But maybe they would—at least as much as, say, Louisiana-Something Or Other vs. West Southeastern Central Ohio School of Mines. Maybe a few Kansas/Colorado/WSU/Tennessee fans would enjoy a mid-December road trip to Shreveport, Detroit, Las Vegas, or Podunktown, NJ.
Let the bowls decide. Let the market decide. A game between and two middle of the pack (or lower) teams from the Big 10 and Big 12 or Pac-12 and SEC would let us better assess the strength from those conferences top to bottom, since there is precious little opportunity to do so in the regular season.
And why do we have such little opportunity to gauge the strength of different conferences in-season? Because major conference teams are afraid to play teams from other major conferences, in fear of losing a game that will keep them from being bowl eligible. This is especially true of the lesser programs that have to fight and claw and scratch and scrape to get six wins, when they have 8 or 9 tough conference games staring them in the face at the start of every season.
Not to mention that the fans are the REAL losers every time a BCS conference team plays a non-competitive team just to pad their W-L record. It is similar to the NFL selling full price tickets for exhibition gmes. Not quite as bad as that, but college football (and basketball) games against teams whose only selling point is their willingness to take a virtually guaranteed loss for guaranteed money is a major rip-off in its own right.
To wrap up:
• Less talk about college football having a National Champion. It doesn’t, and never has. • KU has three more national championships in basketball than any school has in Division 1 football. • More Bowl games, not fewer. • Fewer wins to go bowling. • More REAL competition in September