The tao of college football

As I do with everything he writes, I read this Chris Brown post about the meaning of being crowned a champion and, more specifically, how a playoff contributes to that with interest.  And I agree with his main point.  A single elimination tourney isn’t about determining the best team.  It’s about producing some finality to a sports season.

But I don’t buy into his conclusion, at least not completely.

… Which is really the issue here. No one has any idea what being “National Champion” ought to mean — especially in college football where you have over a hundred D-1 programs and no team can come close to playing all the others. A playoff would simply lay some ground rules people could follow. As it stands, without a playoff, everyone may mount their high horse and argue past each other.

First of all, we’ve got a playoff, but I doubt there are a huge number of people who think the arguments are going to end.  Some are going to be dissatisfied with the structure itself (the eight or sixteen teams would be better crowd), some are going to be unhappy with the selection process itself (I suspect I’m going to wind up in this bunch, but I’m keeping an open mind for now) and some are going to be unhappy with the results of which schools qualify and which don’t at the third and fourth spots.

Second, the smaller you commit to keeping the postseason field, the more likely it is that you keep one of Chris’ shortcomings – “some clunker teams can be crowned, some historically great teams will get the relative shaft” – at bay.  Now we can argue about what the appropriate number is, but it’s hard to see how a four-team playoff is going to do a worse job of that than a sixteen-school field.  (Of course, if you like Cinderellas, then this is more a bug than a feature.)

But the third thing that bothers me isn’t about the method to a college football playoff.  It’s about the motivation behind it.  And history tells us that has nothing to do with finality or quality of the playoff field.  It’s just about the money.  Which leads me to my second quote:

But here’s the problem, and no, this is not a defense of the BCS, which history will find was merely a precursor to what comes next. The problem is that the power has now shifted to the big football schools, and when they find that four teams are not enough of a playoff structure, it will shift that way even more.

And the real argument will not be four teams, or eight teams, or 16 teams, or who picks them, anyway. It will be, as it has always been, how the money gets split, and the betting is as it has always been, that it will be split among the 64 or so members of the 2Big22SeCPac Conference, not among the more general populace, and not among the bowl committees.

We’re not getting a playoff because there’s been some miraculous consensus that we fans have been cheated out of quality national title games.  The BCS is far from perfect, but it was better than the process it replaced and judging from the sport’s increasing popularity during its existence, it did more good than harm.  Nah, we’re getting a playoff because several commissioners were dismayed at a national title game that excluded every conference in the country but one and because there was a down tick in the viewership and attendance numbers for the last postseason.  Now ask yourselves what difference a four-team playoff will make the next time those circumstances crop up.  Honesty should compel you to admit probably not a damned thing.

I also read a couple of posts from Spencer Hall and Luke Zimmerman yesterday that suggest my angst is misplaced.  As the latter succinctly put it, “Never forget: it’s not the football that makes college football great, it’s the rules and regulations that govern the football. Rest in peace, college football.”

And, in a way, I get where they’re coming from.  The sun came up this morning.  The football is still oblong-shaped.  The field is still 100 yards long.  A touchdown still counts for six points.  There are still eleven men to a side.  But you know what?  I can say the same things about the NFL.  None of that changes that pro football bores me to tears while college football matters enough to me to blog about it for five-plus years.

I know I’m treading dangerously into old fogeyism here, but what dismays me about the sport I love is the rapid pace its keepers are maintaining in the money race.  A year ago, Jim Delany was railing like an Old Testament prophet about the dangers of a four-team playoff.  Yesterday, he was a grinning fool about a four-team playoff.  The presidents made short shrift of a decision we’d been warned could take a much longer period of time.

And that’s just a part of the picture.  Conference realignment and expansion have proceeded at a dizzying pace, as well.  TCU jumped in and out and in two new conferences in a matter of weeks and nobody batted an eye (in fact, the Big East is being mocked for suing the school over its departure).  Patrick Vint and I snickered a little bit during last night’s podcast over Georgia’s SEC East opener in Columbia, Missouri because the geographics are somewhat ludicrous.  Except Mike Slive and the presidents don’t really care about that, because it was part of a necessary step to obtain more TV revenue.

I’ve tried to figure out a way to express where things are going for a while and I’m still struggling with it.  What I feel is that if you look at football’s appeal on an axis with the purely local pull of high school football at one end and the national appeal of the NFL on the other, college football, which once sat in the middle (call it regional appeal, for want of a better word), finds itself sliding towards the NFL end of the line.  The money is too attractive for them.  The results are not likely to be so much for us.

That’s why I find news like this,

Don’t look for news any time soon on Georgia’s future football scheduling – SEC and otherwise.

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said everything is essentially in a holding pattern, thanks in large part to Tuesday’s news that college football is going to a four-team playoff starting with the 2014 season.

The importance of strength of schedule in deciding those four teams is unknown, and McGarity said that will be key for SEC teams as they put together their non-conference schedules.

… both expected and depressing all at the same time.  The media pulls us that way, the money pushes the decision makers that way, the coaches accept the new conditions and seek to manipulate them to their advantage (see, for example, Les Miles and Steve Spurrier on conference scheduling) and the rest of us follow along as best we can.

I think what’s bothered me the most all along about the playoff debate isn’t the notion of a playoff itself.  It’s the “it’s so easy” mentality that so many bring to the debate, which in essence boils down to two things:  one, that the game is fairly indestructible, and two, that ultimately the people in charge are as rational as playoff supporters imagine themselves to be.  Sorry, but as much as people like Slive, Delany and Scott are lionized, they aren’t geniuses.  They’re powerful, they may or may not be shrewd, but what they really happen to be are people lucky enough to have been entrusted with the stewardship of something that matters very much to a large number of enthusiasts.  That’s no guarantee they won’t fuck things up.  And there’s very little in their bodies of work to suggest otherwise.

So, I look to hold on to what I love as long as I can.  I hope I’m wrong about my misgivings, but I fear I’m right.  Time will tell.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

35 responses to “The tao of college football

  1. Sanford222view

    If I could write with any skill at all, this…

    Well put.


  2. Lrgk9

    Punish the monkey, let the organ grinder go …


  3. Hogbody Spradlin

    That is a nice lament. Makes me long for Keith Jackson and Coach Wilkinson or Broyles.


  4. Senator, at the end of the day, it’s all about the Benjamins and will always be about the Benjamins. I’m with you about the selection committee and the disaster it’s going to be. All I hope for in the new system is that it doesn’t find a way to screw UGA out of a title shot in the next few years.


    • JG Shellnutt

      What are the chances the selection committee ever puts 2 SEC teams in the top 4? Slim to none I’d say, based on such a significant backlash from this past year. If all points are ‘arguable’ then they’ll always be able to, with a straight face, claim that the #4 seeded team was deemed to be just better than the SEC #2 which just came in ranked by them at number 5 (the first bubble bust team every year).


  5. SCDawg

    Why did you steal my thoughts and express them more cogently than I ever could? This is why I come here every day a couple of times a day.


  6. Gravidy

    Senator, I’ve read every one of your posts for longer than I care to admit, and I find myself in agreement with you a great majority of the time. I also share many of the fears you stated in this particular post.

    But (and I say this with all due respect), step away from the ledge, dude. Don’t let your fear of what might happen ruin your love of the game any sooner than it absolutely has to. When you are sitting in Jacksonville several years from now, are you going to be thinking about Jim Delaney? When you are in Sanford before the kickoff against Tech several years from now, are you going to be thinking about TCU playing conference hopscotch? I hope not.

    Take a deep breath, crack open a good microbrew with a really pretentious-sounding name, and envision Jarvis Jones hitting Brantley a few times. 😉


    • I may have to call on you for a pep talk this fall. 🙂


      • Gravidy

        Hey, I’m always willing to throw a lifeline to a fellow Dawg in need. 🙂


        • Cojones

          You just threw it to several of us. Thanks.


          • Gravidy

            You’re welcome. I have to say that I’ve NEVER been accused of being Little Mary Sunshine. My friends would tell you I’m mostly a sourpuss, but it has been gittin’ a bit depressin’ in here lately. When I’m the one offerering a ray of sunshine, things are probably gloomier than they need to be.


    • I hear ‘ya, and no doubt my moodiness will subside as September gets closer.

      But I’ve got to tell you past experience justifies my mood. I was as passionate about college basketball and baseball once as I am about college football now. But the people running those sports managed to screw good things up and lost me along the way.


    • Cojones

      I’m withya Gravidy. For medicinal purposes I think the fans of gtp should “buy ahead” into the cynicism treatment that the Senator deserves. We can establish a reality beer fest on line (“Bash Bluto’s Cynicism into Oblivion” web site) to buy and leave a beer for the Senator wherever the game venue serves beer. An opportunity occurs at the Mizzou “Downtown Street Fest” held beginning 4 hrs prior to kickoff lasting until kickoff. We can contact the known vendors and it would be like leaving a ticket for Elvis at the gate. They could place a small sign that says “Senator’s Meds ” or “Bluto’s beer” with an arrow pointing down to their stand. He IDs himself by badge and the exchange is made. The same would be true at Jax and Atl. The beer companies would want to compete with each other to say the Senator drinks their beer and he would end up year after year having free beer or until he feels his treatment regimen has succeeded, perhaps after two years. At the end of that period, we should plan ahead for possible liver transplant donors being readied.

      We can set up a “Dawg’s Nursing Station” (Some may prefer “Nurse”) so that the beer-drugs could be dispensed properly and that proper shotgunning rules are observed by all participating tailgates. I would think that some of these funds would be tax deductible under “Aged Dawg’s Vet Bill”. Since dogs used for security purposes are deductible (as cost of security system for businesses), their maintenance and health fall into this category of deductions. The Senator is the Dawg responsible for security of gtp (a popular Dawg playground and hangout) . My tax consultant (Gottem Bidabauls) has the case name for those that may question this deduction, that establishes this as a true deduction under IRS caselaw. If challenged, I will publish it for anyone’s approval.

      Come on Dawgs. On with the Senator’s cure.

      Sponsored by Fing Scooters. Our Motto: Let No Dawg Walk.


  7. Keese

    I’m happy to know that the Dawgs will still be playing football. Honestly…..That’s all I really care about


  8. Objective Bama Fan

    Although you are dead on, I don’t know if I am ready to give the eulogy for college football just yet. Somehow, I am hoping against all odds that the decision makers make decisions based on what is best for college football and not based on money. If we keep going down this road, we are going to be NFL-like within 15 years. I, too, am bored to tears watching the NFL. Man, I am now suddenly depressed.


    • paul

      We will keep going down this road just like we already are. And it won’t take fifteen years. We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t happen in three to five. Can you name one recent decision that’s been made in the best interests of college football? Me either.


  9. reipar

    I have always heard change is inevitable. You either embrace it or are left behind. In the case of the NFL I know many “old timers” are no longer fans and feel the game has changed for the worse. However, the NFL is at its historical height right now despite some people being turned off.

    I feel the same about college football. Many may not like the changes. Some of those very well may move on from caring about the game (ala the NFL). However, the game itself will continue in its popularity and much like the BCS at the time brought in new fans (and money) these changes will do the same.

    Maybe some day I too will be unable to handle the noon starts, long lines for the bathrooms, OOC cupcake schedule, the finances, the bright scoreboard ads, the no smoking in the stadium (this has to be my fave complaint as a non-smoker), or the damn kids on the front lawn, but until then I am just as excited about the start of this season as any other and cannot wait for the first game.


  10. Scorpio Jones, III

    Hey look Senator…think of the new excuses we will all have when we don’t make the final four…


  11. sam

    I still long for the days when all bowl games were played on January 1, unless that happened to be a Sunday. But that all came to an end when someone realized more money was to be made by not having big games on TV at the same time.

    If we would return to those days I honestly wouldn’t give a shit less if my team is #1 in the AP while your team is #1 in the Coaches Poll. The debate would be make for great off season conversation.

    The BCS really fucked up New Year’s Day, the greatest single day of college football. Congress should make a law that football season ends on January 1.

    Stupid mofos are fucking up my sport!


  12. Irishdawg

    I feel a similar way, and I’m still south of forty; it’s not old fogeyism, it’s not wanting to see the unique traditions of college football ground to dust in order to get more TV money. And I really like the NFL, but I like college football more.

    But at the end of the day, I love the sport and I love the Georgia Bulldogs, so I’ll keep watching.


  13. Mayor of Dawgtown

    Last night on the CSS show “Talkin’ Football” the panel went through several scenarios going backward about what teams would have made it into the four team field for the playoff given the criteria enunciated in the announcement yesterday. Guess what–Bama would have been left out of the four team rotation last year because “it didn’t win its conference championship.” That is what this playoff thing really was all about–keeping the SEC from having 2 teams in the final. Another scenario they looked at was 2007 and guess what–UGA would have been left out, too for the same reason, even though the Dawgs finished second in the nation when all the dust settled. This whole thing is making me gag. They bought Slive off with the $$$ and secretly promised that the 2 SEC team thing won’t happen again–that’s why they have the “committee” selecting teams rather than a computer–as a means to get Delaney’s support.


    • JG Shellnutt

      Like I said at 0902 above, the SEC will not be getting two teams into this 4 team playoff, ever, no matter how deserving. They will be able to ‘argue’ how 3 other teams are better than the SEC #2. It just makes me sick already to watch this unfold.


  14. Cojones

    Perhaps, if the 8-team pros and cons had been debated sufficiently, these problems wouldn’t occur. Any doubts there wouldn’t be at least two SEC teams there most years? I have no doubts whatever. The reasons stipulated against 4-teams on here were blogged as reasons before this scenario came to fruition. They haven’t changed now that it’s here. Most got what they thought they wanted and I can abide by that. Yall have a happy summer.


  15. flukebucket

    Sorry. Just read the post title and no comments at all and I just want to ask if you knew today was TAO day or is this just some kind of coincidence?