Let’s put the “M” back in MNC
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.
(who is totally over the rooking in 1983–oh, who the hell is he kidding–AUBURN WAS ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED!!!)