Thursday, November 20, 2008

Obama on a Playoff for Big-Time College Football

I am a graduate of three Mid-American Conference (MAC) schools. I work for a fourth. All have football teams that play in what was until recently known as the College Football Division 1-A. Or, big-time college football. However, that nickname is a bit foggy. As George Orwell noted in 1984, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." And no matter how good a MAC team is, it begins the season with no chance of being the national champion.

College football at the highest level has no playoff system. They have only a mythical national championship system which each year relies on the votes of pollsters, computers, and a bowl alliance system which assures that only teams from the most historically prestigious conferences get included in the best games except in rare situations. Factors out of the control of teams such as strength of schedule, how high they begin the season ranked, and how many fans will buy tickets for a bowl game determine who are considered the best teams and worthy of even playing in a national championship game. Of course, no team can control how strong the teams in their conference are and of course many "small" teams can never get home games against bigger schools. And if the "small" team is too good, the top teams will not schedule them anyway. And what does ticket sales have to do with who is the best team?

President-elect Obama is aware of this unjust system. Obama: College-Football Playoffs’ First Fan notes:

For years fans and commentators have argued the merits of a playoff in college football. Now that President-elect Barack Obama has chimed in — first on ESPN and then last Sunday on “60 Minutes,” maybe the conference commissioners of the Bowl Championship Series will give more thought to a football playoff. They’ve stubbornly resisted calls for change, defending a system that many fans, players and commentators don’t like.

In his interview with newsman Steve Kroft on Sunday’s show, Obama said “any sensible person” would support an eight-team playoff to decide the national champion. That comment has excited the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon. “Suddenly, the conference commissioners and college presidents are having to defend their indefensible positions and explain why the championships of every team sport in every division, except big-time football, are settled through playoffs,” Wilbon writes. “Of course, it’s great to see them squirm. This isn’t a sportswriter making the suggestion; it’s the newly elected president of the United States, for crying out loud.”

The Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi supports Obama’s position, too. “Who knows if President-elect Barack Obama will someday blow up Iran, but the good news today is this: He wants to blow up the BCS,” Bianchi writes.” God Bless America!”

Republican or Democrat, I think most college football fans would support this. Why shouldn't the biggest college football teams settle the issue of who is national champ on the field? If not, why shouldn't every other college sport, at all division levels, also determine their champions using a similar insane system? Maybe professional sports should use a system like this too. Who needs a Major League Baseball or National Football League playoff? I am sure which teams are the most popular and would get the best rating on TV who also have a good record could be used to determine a championship game. The FIFA World Cup could use past perceptions and popularity to make sure the United States never gets into the world championship of football (soccer) ever again. Heck, the United States would have never have beaten the Soviets in the 1980 Olympic hockey gold medal game because the US would never have qualified.

Will Obama do something? He said in a 60 Minutes interview as President-elect, "I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this. So, I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do." And Obama is right. A playoff is needed.

Will he be successful? That yet remains to be seen. Any serious effort will open Obama up to ridicule. He would be assailed by critics who accuse him of concentrating on college sports will other issues like the economy and foreign wars are not being solved. And getting the big football schools to agree to give up their privileged status would be akin to beating the Soviets in the Cold War. It can be done but is probably beyond the reach of any one or two term American president. But we can hope...

1 comment:

Scott said...

Can the president-elect get us a college football playoff (asks this graduate of an SEC school)? YES HE CAN!!