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Let’s put the “M” back in MNC

By on January 3rd, 2014 in Featured Article, Football, Memories 23 Comments »
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Just in case you start to wonder after reading a few paragraphs, YES, I am beside myself with glee that we are playing in the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game. And I think we can come out on top as the recognized best team in college football for the 2013 season. I will also be proud to call Auburn the 2013 national champions. However, some reflection is in order as the BCS comes to a close, to be replaced by the College Football Playoff (or CFP for the rest of this article) next year.

Said replacement of the BCS, regardless of the mechanical problems of the successor scheme, has been anticipated, cajoled, demanded, and now celebrated by what seems the vast majority of college football fans. Most of those fans acknowledge that the CFP as constituted does not fill all the holes in the process of naming a champion of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. Yet in most folks’ thinking it comes a lot closer than the BCS, and also comes close enough to the target overall. But I am a contrarian in much of my thinking, and I would like to raise my own voice in opposition to this change. I could reel off a litany of why the CFP doesn’t work well in my opinion, but my main problem is not that the CFP is any worse than the BCS–rather, it is because the CFP is, in fact, better.

For years I have stood on the platform that there is NO real national champion in Division I FBS college football, even with the BCS. I am not alone in thinking this; after all, that’s why the term “mythical national championship” exists. However, where I seem to stand alone is that I believe that there is no WAY to name a national champion, and that any attempt to do so is by definition ludicrous and in some ways dangerous to the sport itself.

I have never fathomed how one can take a field of 120 teams and name a champion of any kind, in any way, with only eleven, twelve, thirteen, or fourteen games played by each team. Don’t even try to tell me that Div-1AA does it every year–we are talking football that really matters here. Those familiar with baseball have probably heard the expression “162 games ought to determine something.” If that line of reasoning is correct in a pre-expansion twelve-team league, then one-tenth of that number of games probably doesn’t determine much among ten times the number of teams–other than who was the best among the teams that actually played each other.  Adding a two-team (BCS) or four-team (CFP) selection at the end of the season isn’t adding much.

Yet we have a Super Bowl every year, and no one disputes the legitimacy of the playoff or selection among those 32 teams. Nonetheless, allow me to wax philosophical for a second. In the 2007 season, the New England Patriots finished the regular season 16-0, the first NFL team to go undefeated in that number of games. They then won two playoff games to go to 18-0, one win better than the undefeated 1972 Super Bowl champions Miami Dolphins.

However, the Patriots lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, thus denying them an NFL championship. Ironically, the Pats BEAT the Giants to close out their undefeated regular season. I think it odd (on a philosophical level, of course) that the results of one game between the same two teams in the same season determined a championship while the other was just nice resume fodder.

Closer to home, the same example exists in the 2011 college football season with Alabama granted a rematch against LSU, the team that gave Bama their only loss in the SEC West. Yet, the next game between those two teams determined the BCS Championship. LSU even had to navigate successfully through an extra game–the SEC Championship–that Alabama didn’t just to get to the BCS.  So, what is fair or legitimate (again, on a philosophical level) about Bama’s championship after their win in New Orleans?

Consequently, we still have an MNC on our hands. It is just as mythical under the CFP as it is the BCS.  The championship would still be as mythical under an eight- or sixteen-team set-up. Just because it gets MORE legitimate as you add teams doesn’t make it legitimate. And one of the dangers I mentioned above is people thinking it IS legitimate simply because it is ‘more’ legitimate.

Why might this be bad for the sport we here all love? Well, legitimizing an MNC basically makes an actually illusory goal a perceived real objective, leading more folks to give it more import than it deserves, thus leading to at least three unfortunate results:

*  A winner-take-all attitude, that makes all other “major” bowl games pretty meaningless. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that not many folks are interested in many of the bowl games other than the BCSNCG. This certainly seemed to extend to the players themselves in the case of the Sugar Bowl in the past few years (Alabama against Utah, Florida against Louisville).

*  Much more disappointment if and when the championship is not achieved, making whatever happened during the rest of the season worthless for anyone not hoisting the trophy. I saw this in the 1997 NFL season, after my hometown Jaguars beat the Broncos in the divisional round. A Denver player said something along the lines of “All we did, 14-2, doesn’t mean anything now.” Well, winning 14 games ought to mean something, even if the brass ring didn’t get grabbed.

*  The loss of a valuable commodity: the NON-provability of each fan’s team NOT being the best. My best friend from Auburn pointed this out after Auburn’s undefeated 2004 season (the last year the SEC was rooked out of the BCS). After Choke-lahoma’s gag against USCwest, no one was saying that AU wouldn’t have put up a better fight, or even that the Tigers wouldn’t have come away with a win against the Trojans. Even better, no one can ever prove otherwise, so we AU faithful can keep saying we WOULD have busted USCw and taken home the crystal football if we were just given the chance (out of which we can always maintain we were rooked).

My solution to all this, as it has been even before the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, Bowl Championship Series, or College Football Playoff, is very simple: restore the conference championships as the real championships to which teams aspire and toward which they play. The conference championship would be truly legitimate with the following features (which are, for the most part, already in place):

1.  Legitimate scheduling (all division members playing each other);

2.  Real selection criteria (on-the-field results with fair tie-breaker procedures);

3.  A compact number of conference teams (optimally 12, but 14 works for me);

4.  A conference championship game (even with the above-noted philosophical problems).

Each conference champion goes to its “own” bowl game, with match-ups filled out based on the premise of making the best games possible between the best teams available. Win your conference, win your bowl, and you have done everything you need to do to secure a great season that no one can take away from you. If the mathematical combinations of some spastic voters compute out to you being Number One, then that is icing on the cake. In no case can anyone ever stop you from saying your team was the best.

The key difference between my pocket utopia and the way things were before the BCS is really a simple change of viewpoint by both the majority of fans and the media: everyone should recognize that the polls are polls, not championships. Number one in a poll doesn’t really mean a damn thing. If we had this attitude in 1983, I bet we wouldn’t give a flip about the asinine polls that jumped a winning #5 ahead of winning #3 and dropped a losing #1 to just #2.

One of our long-time commenters on our SBN incarnation wrote something to the tune of “College football is dead; long live college football” – upon the announcement of the CFP plus the merry-go-round of conference realignments that were in the offing. The fans are finally getting what they want with the four-team playoff–but maybe it is only what they think they want. Time will tell if the mechanics of the CFP can sustain even a modicum of legitimacy, but again I say, I think that is running in the wrong direction. Instead of looking for more legitimacy in an illegitimate title, let’s put the “M” back in the MNC, and go back the way college football was before.

Michael Val

(who is totally over the rooking in 1983–oh, who the hell is he kidding–AUBURN WAS ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED!!!)

23 Comments

  1. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    So change the CFP to the MFP? As in “Now we finally have a MF Playoff like we’ve been agitating for years to solve the BCS mess?”

    Works for me.

    All kidding aside, your points are well taken, but we are a nation built on the idea of exceptionalism. Expecting us to be satisfied with an unknown or debatable resolution to the “Who’s the best?” question is wishful thinking. This was the origin of the World Series, Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl for professional sports. We as a society will always seek some sort of determination of “the one”, however imperfect.

    The. CFP/MFP is simply the latest version, not necessarily in the final form. It won’t end debate or controversy, just kick it down the road a ways until a later effort to solve the issue.

    • mvhcpa says:

      Sully,

      You are absolutely right; everyone wants a definitive answer. The examples you cited (WS, Stanley, Super Bowl) provide just that. The problem is, sometimes there isn’t any way to determine a definitive answer, and the best you can do just isn’t good enough. I agree it is wishful thinking on my part, but I hope sound thinking can win the day (whether I am right or not).

      Michael Val
      (who says “The Can Stops Here!”)

  2. DBAU81 says:

    You have to start by defining “champion.” Does it mean the team that has accomplished the most over the course of a season? If that is your definition, then the only fair way to do it is to have everybody play everybody else and then see where they stand, applying tiebreakers if necessary.

    But, as you point out, that’s obviously not practical in college football. The next best model is some form of playoff, but sometimes the winner is simply a team that got hot at the right time – you mentioned the New York Giants, and they are an excellent example. They beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl after the Patriots had gone 18-0, but does anybody really think the Patriots weren’t a stronger team, or that they would not have beaten the Giants in a five- or seven-game series? No system is perfect, nor will it ever be – especially in football, where the physical demands of the sport limit the number of games each team can play more so than in any other sport.

    The flip side, though, is that football is much more exciting because so much is riding on each individual game. I went to a World Series game in Atlanta once and can tell you that the atmosphere was nothing like a big SEC regular season game or a couple of Saints playoff games I’ve been to. The bottom line is that the imperfection of the system feeds the very excitement that makes college football so enjoyable for us as fans and, in my opinion at least, the greatest game there is.

  3. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I hope I’m never so spoiled that I’m disappointed in Auburn’s bowl game. I know here on this blog we were excited as all get-out to be in the Outback Bowl 4 years ago! That game was so nerve-wracking that some folks were wanting to lock themselves in Mike Leach’s electrical closet…

    …..For all the gnashing over the BCS, and the Bowl Alliance before it, the right teams were selected more often than not. There was really no help for the 1997 split title, as Michigan and the Big Ten weren’t on board. Miami being left out in 2000 was a problem, as was a Nebraska team included in 2001 that didn’t win its division. Oklahoma’s inclusion in the 2003 finale was perhaps the worst travesty, after the Sooners had been blown out in their conference championship game. Did Auburn get robbed in 2004? Maybe. But Oklahoma won its conference title game by 44 points, while Auburn was piddling around with Alabama and Tennessee, who were both down to their 3rd team quarterback. Since 2004, I’m not sure that there has been any team that deserved to get in, that didn’t.

    …..The Alliance/BCS will have lasted 19 years upon conclusion of the era Monday night. They’ve gotten the matchup right in at least 16 of them, and probably really 17. For all the angst, the BCS has gotten it right most of the time. And I will say that after watching bowl and poll chaos for most of my childhood and early adult years, I’ve loved watching the BCS title games. The new playoff has some big shoes to fill, in my opinion.

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      “Since 2004, I’m not sure that there has been any team that deserved to get in, that didn’t.”

      Just my opinion, but I don’t think Alabama deserved a second shot in 2011.

  4. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    I think some of the lack of enthusiasm for some the BCS games have been the automatic bids…like teams from the Big Least, for example. Although hats off to UCF for really whopping the Baylor Bears in the Fiesta Bowl!!-very exciting game……

    But to echo Acid’s comments, I noticed many a Bama fan taking their Sugar Bowl for granted and really feeling like the season was a failure. I never want to be that entitled or spoiled. Get real. It’s exactly why the games are played. If we were to let ESPN run the show (who did NOT implode because the Bama lost–bully to them for mucking it out), we would likely see only the nominally elite teams play every year. Boring.

    I appreciate the evolution of the playoff–and look forward to it getting perfected as well.

    War Eagle! Get ready for Game Day!!

    • mvhcpa says:

      TOTM,

      When Gus was announced as our next coach, we were bombarded here with Bama trolls who said roughly the same thing: “Good safe choice, he’ll get you nine wins each year, and YOU little-brothers will be happy with that.” Of course, I always wondered why anyone should’t be happy with nine wins (adjusted to ten with the 12-game schedule and a bowl game), especially with a good mix of wins over Georgia and Alabama. Of course, it is those guys’ arrogance and sense of entitlement that drives them to that attitude, and it is so wonderful to see them completely and totally melt down when they don’t win it all (like, say, this year?).

      Michael Val
      (who is finally buying into the concept of “playing with house money” this year!)

  5. aub5710 says:

    Before long it will go from 4 to 6 to 8 to 12 teams and the regular season will mean nothing just as it means nothing in professional sports. As it stands now in the NFL, it should be Denver/Seattle, but near .500 teams in Green Bay and San Diego stand to play for the Super Bowl. However, Denver/Seattle have to prove again to everyone that they are the two best teams (and there’s a chance that would have to beat these near .500 teams again) though they have already shown they are the two best teams in a 32 team league making near zero ambiguity as to who should be playing in a BCS/MNC type format. So teams such as Auburn who ran a schedule as they did this season will have to prove to everyone again what they can do. Point is BCS is not perfect, mostly due to Coaches Poll influence I believe, but it is better than a panel of “judges” who will select subjectively select teams.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      “BCS is not perfect, mostly due to Coaches Poll influence I believe, but it is better than a panel of “judges” who will subjectively select teams.”

      I concur AUB5710.

  6. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    I have long opined for a playoff, but recognize their are no legitimate divisions in college football. That is and will remain the problem till changed. Now how to change it, I do not know. I suppose the major conferences would have to break away and form a whole “elite” group. In other words, be just like the NFL.

    I hear you on the Giants/Patriots thing, but football is too brutal to have a 3 out of 5 scenario. Sooner or later you just gotta call it.

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      My suggestion. All schools that wish to participate should belong to a conference and that conference must schedule a conference championship game. Winners of the conference championship games would be the participants in a playoff. No wild card teams. No polls, period.

  7. rn4au rn4au says:

    Third Gen,
    At the New Year’s dinner table yesturday this was the main topic of conversation and most of my family agrees with your opinion. I think this is about as good as it could get for me.

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      It would go a long way toward neutralizing a lot of the bias in the polls and the media. It would also rid us of 30 plus meaningless bowl games.

  8. dzer13 says:

    My whole ‘perfect world’ idea for a CFP that I thought of waaaay before anything was actually in motion I think would go the distance in prolonging the purity of the conference champion role of the past and come as close as you can to crowning a close to true champion. The problem is that it would never happen with the money machine that college football (and just about everything else that has any semblance of popularity) has become.

    My idea was simple:

    The NCAA must require any team that could qualify for the championship tournament to be in a major conference and play a minimum of 8 conference games per regular season. Each major conference must have a conference championship game if it is impossible for each team in the conference to play every other team in their conference head to head during the regular season. Any conference without a conference championship game must play all members of their conference head to head so that their is a definitive champion (based on fair tie breakers of course. this would be the same as choosing representatives from each division in the conference title game in a conference that has one)..

    The Championship Tournament would consist of one winning member of each conference. No at large bids or wildcards allowed. If you don’t win your conference you don’t get in. The number of conferences would obviously affect the exact format of the playoff, but I would like to see a blind draw of match ups in every round just to keep the human error and/or bias element out of the mix.

    Like I said however, this would never happen. Now that there is a playoff you can bet it will get expanded as the power shares determine how to divide up the proceeds between themselves and come up with more ways to make more off of it. There will be wild cards and new polls and committees There will always be a bubble watch and teams left out and it will get watered down as it goes.

    I am glad there is going to be a playoff, but I think it could be done much better if there weren’t so many other titanic factors involved.

    Thanks for the read of the article and the comments :)

    WE!

  9. mvhcpa says:

    Thank you all for the time you took to read my article and all your great comments.

    Third Gen and Dzer came up with about the same plan I did one time, where I realigned the 120 teams (even, at that time) into ten twelve-team, two-division conferences. This was just before the B1G stole Nebraska and the LittleXII almost disintegrated.

    I’ll answer a few other comment underneath them, but ALL of your comments are very thoughtful!

    Michael Val
    (who in his plan crammed ND into the B1G, whether they liked it or not!)

  10. tigertracker says:

    I’d be happy if bowl teams had to be .750 or better to play. These 6-6 teams playing is for the birds. The CFP IMO is getting pretty close to right especially when you consider most AQ conferences have a playoff game so essentially that gets you a final 10 of whom 4 (presumably conf winners) will be chosen. Sure any team could win on any Saturday and SOS will become an issue more than it is. I get what you’re saying with the article, but we aren’t going to go backwards and I think most fans outside of bama are ok not winning an NC as long as they compete with their rivals consistently and win at least half of those matchups. I mean what AU fan hasn’t been a little upset with our record versus Uga, LSU, and others over the last few years outside of 2010.

    Playing for and winning the MNC is great, but I’m more concerned about riling up my bama and Uga coworkers than I am discussing the validity of a championship with an Oregon fan on the interwebs…if ya know what I mean. But the nation as a whole wants as close to a champion as we can get and if hosting the 4 teams (8 if you count the defacto conference championship play in games) that would be in the best position to “claim” a title to a tourney to eliminate 3 (7) of the claims then so be it. I could never wrap my mind around split championships as a kid and still don’t want to so I’m on board with CFP with the realization that it gives us the “probable” best team, but not definitive.

  11. ATL_AU_FAN says:

    Michael Val knows I’m not intelligent to a level necessary to analyze these scenarios but I do appreciate the time, effort, energy, and brain power you all have contributed as it makes for great and enjoyable reading.
    I certainly think, when choosing a National Champion, that it’s difficult to define a manner by which said Champion is decided by some irrefutable process no matter the indefatigable effort expended.
    As proud as I am for Auburn to be in the BCS-NCG, I also want those regular season victories over our rivals on a more consistent basis.