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Another football season without a true champ

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • January 10, 2012 - 5:33 PM

By Phil Miller    

     I took part in a fraud last night, and I'm here to confess.
     Alabama is the champion of major college football, according to the Associated Press, and mine was one of 55 votes (out of 60) to make it so. But I don't actually believe the Crimson Tide, dominating though they were Monday night, are the champions of anything. They are merely the eye-test, judgment-call, most-plausible "best" team in the game this year -- but that's not the same thing. That's not what sports attempts to measure, and you can ask last year's Miami Heat, the 2007 New England Patriots and about half the NCAA basketball champions of the past two decades if you don't believe it.
     Champions earn their way, though a level-playing-field regular season (well, that's the ideal, anyway) into a tournament that eventually eliminates all but one team. It's not perfect, but it brings out the best in the sports we love. It's why we watch.
     College football doesn't do that, though. College football goes to the ballot box, asks purportedly neutral observers and so-called experts to decide the winner, like the Academy handing out Oscars. Even the BCS championship comes down to a ranking, though the outcome is fixed by the requirement that voters place the title-game winner atop their ballots.
     (The AP lacks that rule, but it makes the system only fractionally more credible, and that's before you consider the notion that someone like me -- who spent football Saturdays mostly watching Gopher football, had to make time to witness the top teams perhaps once or twice during the season, and who feels unqualified to make these judgments anyway -- is doing the voting. The AP poll has lost its cachet as the definitive championship, as it was a couple of decades ago, but the organization has named a champion for 76 years now, so I owe it to them to take the responsibility seriously. I just don't think it means much.)
     But one game is not a tournament, particularly when the selection process is so arbitrary. It's just a way of giving the "champion" and the polls a semblance of credibility, one they haven't earned.
     The FCS holds a 20-team tournament every year, Division II invites 24 teams and Division III includes 32. Football's not the same at those levels, and FBS teams will probably never sanction an eight-team field, much less a real tournament, despite the billions of dollars they would earn. Surely, however, we can agree that a great sport like college football deserves better than this exclusionary setup that is exposed as fraudulent, seemingly in a different manner, each year.
     This season, in choosing Alabama for a winner-takes-all title game, the BCS -- whose mantra is "every game counts" -- rendered the season's biggest game, LSU's 9-6 victory on the Crimson Tide's home field, meaningless. It equated LSU's incredible season, which included victories over the Rose, Cotton and Orange Bowl winners plus five other ranked teams, with Alabama's, which was inferior in almost every way. It marginalized Oklahoma State and Boise State for single slip-ups just as excruciating as the Tide's. And it actually rewarded, not penalized, the Crimson Tide for losing that November "showdown," because the loss forced LSU to play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game while Alabama, champions of neither its conference or division, could relax, get healthy and still play for the title.
     Because of all of that, I was prepared to hold Alabama to a higher standard on Monday, and to vote for LSU even after a loss if the game was close -- an absurdly subjective way to choose a "champion," but all I was left with. Ultimately, those plans were scuttled by Alabama's impressive rout, by LSU's offensive meltdown, by the fact that the Tigers played eight quarters and an overtime against Alabama and never scored a touchdown. Alabama's case on the field simply trumped LSU's on paper.
     Could Oklahoma State have beaten the Tide? Dunno. How about Boise State or Oregon? Imagine those offenses taking on that defense.
     Instead, I voted for Alabama.
     Maybe they're really the champions. I would have loved to find out.

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