When Kansas State and Oregon lost Saturday night, the streets of Tuscaloosa were filled with jubilant Alabama football fans, exultant that the Crimson Tide might have another chance to play for a national championship.
The Sunday sports gabfests were all about the shakeup in college football, with lots of jockeying for position by partisans of different teams. Twitter was full of indignation over the so-called unfairness of the BCS system that once was hailed as a way to finally crown a true national champion of college football.
— Danny Kanell (@dkanell13) November 18, 2012
You, as a college football fan, owe it to yourself to realize how this sport CLAIMS to arrive at a satisfactorily resolved “national champ.”
— Matt Zemek (@MattZemek_CFN) November 19, 2012
But an argument can be made to the contrary; that the pile-ups and controversy and subjective nature of college football is exactly what makes it great, and what causes fans across the country to take to the streets to share in its joy.
Part of the beauty of college football is its marvelous subjectivity. Games can be won or lost on human error and judgement calls. Was the Stanford receiver in bounds and in possession of the ball when he landed in the end zone? The entire national championship picture was riding on that call.
Have you ever yelled at a friend about a blown pass interference call? Ever argued about a generous spot of the ball on a fourth-down attempt? If so, you’re participating in exactly what’s great about the sport; the fact that ultimately, it really is a game of inches.
Now comes the reality; there’s too much money at stake for any ambiguity. Millions of dollars are riding on an appearance in a championship game, from the TV ratings right down to the strength coaches’ salaries. Even the guys making a push for their team to be included in the mix aren’t just doing so for love of team. The cry for exactitude comes from a place closer to love of Mammon than love of the game.
Alabama coach Nick Saban famously asked earlier this season, “Is this what we want football to be?” Though he was asking in regard to the Oregon offense, the fact that the Ducks are likely out of the BCS title picture makes the question even more important.
When the new BCS playoff format produces unsatisfactory results, like – heaven forbid – further national championships for SEC schools, then what? Do we expand the playoff to eight team? Sixteen? More?
Or do we go farther away from the human element that makes the game what it is? Should we just allow number-crunchers to examine all the statistical data, feed it into a spreadsheet, and declare one team the champion based on the math? It certainly would make things more ‘fair,’ and would avoid all those above-the-shoulder hits that make tackle football so scary and uncomfortable for advertising executives at Tampax.
Or should we do what we’ve always done; watch the games, cheer for the victories and litigate the losses in bars and living rooms across the country, safe in the knowledge that ‘our team woulda won, if the referees…’.
The genie is certainly out of the box; the dollar signs are too big to leave the game in the hands of the fans or the athletes anymore. So as this college football season winds down, and a BCS Champion is crowned over the objections of those whose team didn’t make the cut, take a moment to enjoy the beautiful mess that is this wonderful game. It won’t be long before the mess – and the beauty – are a relic of the past.