10 December 2014

Looking forward to the "Super Sexy Bowl".

Crowning a college football national champion brings elation, sorrow and controversy. Fortunately, this is the year that all of that has been rectified. Introducing the college football playoff system where we will finally know which team is the true champion - in whining. We already have a couple teams in Texas crying foul that their tickets were torn up at the door and I am particularly excited about the third or fourth place BCS team winning so we can invite all previous Natty winners for what will surely be an anal award worthiness strip-down.

Long ago (prior to 1998) there was no formal game or clear-cut way to designate the champion and, as a result, the winner of the Associated Press and Coaches polls were regularly used by schools to claim superiority. This often meant split national championships, or from another perspective, no definitive national champion could be defined since the polls were in conflict. Even when they agreed, other schools would occasionally claim they were the best if they had a school record that matched the poll’s best. There were extremely rare years that we had the #1 and #2 team play each other which gave more validity. Yes, 1986 Nittany Lions, you were one of the few teams prior to 1998 that can claim a definitive national title, but that year was a rare exception.

The Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, was created to solve this problem, though many would argue that it created as many as it solved. The BCS would use the two popularity contest polls to determine which two teams should play for the college football crown. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the holes in this system to start to show. Seemingly every other year there would be a team invited to the championship game that, statistically, did not belong and would prove it with their performance on the field. Only three years after implementation the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who failed to even capture their own division, were invited to the big game and were blown away (shock!) by the weather patterns of Miami.

Having coaches and other human beings select the champion brings a heavy bias in the outcome. Realizing this after the Nebraska meltdown, the BCS decided to introduce a bias of their own by leaning heavily on Sagarin and other computer calculations. Over the next few years they continued to introduce different variations to try to get the formula “just right” in the futile hope that they could magically select the best two teams in the nation.

One issue that the BCS could never fully address was the ranking of teams before the school year even started. Since polls are rarely willing to admit their own stupidity, the teams that start at the top can only exit by losing countless games in a row. A team that was missed from the top 25 can only climb into the top field by never losing, and often never reach the top spot. The undefeated 2008 Utah Utes are a great example where they clearly appeared to be a national championship caliber team but never had a chance to prove it in the big game. In my book, they are as much a national champion as any other split championship year.

The sure-fire way to fix the whole mess was this playoff system. And here we are. Four teams is a nice balance between including other potential champions with the need to limit injuries and stretching out the season too far. Certainly an eight team system will be considered in the future, but there is a point of diminishing returns beyond four since whatever team was “next” in the polls will always feel slighted. So, for the first time we actually have a damn good way of handing out the crown.

Now, if you share my obnoxiousness, you might be asking about all of the previous claimed national champions. Nothing, of course. Every team can claim whatever they like from the past just as they always have. However, from the anal-retentive sports fan universe, there is a major difference between a team claiming a championship in the eighties versus a team who won in the playoff system. Of course, if one of the two teams that would not have been invited to the BCS N.C. were to win the big game then it will serve to underscore just how questionable all the previous champion assertions have been. No one wants to take their crown away, but there does seem to be a need to solidify the importance of this new system.

There is a relatively easy fix that the NFL employed with the Super Bowl. Prior to 1967, all professional football games champions were determined by the League Championship. My favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, happened to win three of them. The problem was that it did not include teams outside their league. When they decided to include all the teams they created a “Super Bowl” and from that point forward the only thing that mattered was the “Super Bowl” champion - an honor my favorite team has never won. (Damn it, Chip - make that happen!)

College football now has their “Super Bowl” but this beautiful baby is currently nameless. Time to change that. Might I suggest the “Glorious Game”? “Terrific Toss Up”? “Peerless Pastime”? “Super Sexy Bowl”? Whatever the name, all of America cannot wait for the exciting show. And the even more exciting controversy when it is all over.