The Pain of No Playoff

Beauty Contest Standings: Week 14

There are times when this becomes difficult to write, and this is one of those times.

I am so disgusted with the Beauty Contest that is college football that its mention is hurtful to me. I feel like the buyer of a used jalopy when the wheels fall off a few blocks from the car lot and I learn that the “lifetime warranty” expired two minutes ago, when I drove off the lot.

I should have known. It is my own fault. When I stayed up and watched that boring Game of the Century a few weeks ago, I should have known that it was, in the end, going to mean absolutely nothing. I should have known that I was buying Smiling Jack’s Pre-owned Emporium’s worthless promise. I’ve been there before.

I feel like the guy on the receiving end of the punch line in that famous “Aren’t you a bit old to be believin’ in Leprechauns, Sonny?” joke.

So here we are. Alabama gets a rematch with LSU for all the marbles, and that’s it. You can argue that Alabama is the second-best team in America. I can believe that. I can also believe that Alabama was the best team in the country last year. The thing is, last year they lost three games, not one. This year, they get a “do over.”

I think that the games should matter.

Three years ago, after bowl season, I printed bumper stickers reading, “Honk if you beat OU by 10 on a neutral field.” For those of you in different parts of the country, that referred to Florida’s 10-point victory over OU in the MNC game and Texas’ earlier 10-point win over OU at the State Fair. And the fact that the Beauty Contest gave OU the right to play Florida for the MNC instead of Texas.

And here we are again.

You want a Top Ten? Read the BCS standings. What I think and what you think doesn’t matter. The people who game the system have won. It’s over.

The glory of college football is that it’s regional. Teams play for local glory. Texas, for example, can play a team from the north or northeast and it’s “We’ll show those ugly snowbird Yankees a thing or two,” while their supporters are saying, “We’re going to show these dumb hicks what real football is all about.” SEC pride is huge in the Deep South for reasons closely related to the Civil War. It’s like that everywhere.

The glory of college football is that it is, in most places, celebrated by those who have some appreciation for higher education. This distinguishes it from the NFL version of the game.

The shame of college football—at the highest level—is that it fails to crown a champion. It is the only true team sport which is judged like a beauty pageant.

Today at lunch, a perfectly bright woman asked me why college football lacked a playoff.

Here’s why. First, you have to understand that the bowl system was originally designed as a way to boost tourism. Second, you have to understand that bowl committees understand that it is university presidents and regents and big-time donors who make these decisions. Third, you have to understand that these people are lavishly – we’re talking about your wildest dreams here — entertained by the bowl committees. You think these people want those perks endangered? Would you, if you were them?

Some people think the bowls are network-driven. Wrong. Unfortunately. Networks would give us what we want to see, not an SEC incest re-run.

Have you wondered why Michigan was selected to play in the Sugar Bowl against a Virginia Tech team that lost twice to Clemson, the only worthwhile team it played all season? Do you wonder why top ten Boise State is playing 6-6 Arizona State in the Maaco Bowl? I could go on.

It’s not about matching good teams against each other. It’s about bringing money to town.

Let’s let legendary Cotton Bowl promoter Jim (“Hoss”) Brock tell it like it is. Baylor? “They come to town with a list of the Ten Commandments and a $20 bill, and they leave without breaking either one.” UH? “Half their fans are eating at the 7-11. The other half are trying to rob it.”

So the bowls want the schools with the big-spending fans. Texas. ‘Bama. LSU. Michigan. And so forth. The folks who bring big money to town and spend it. It only makes sense.

Unfortunately, this does little to promote the idea of you and me, Fair-minded Reader, getting to see the best football teams play each other.

According to the man who really is the smartest guy in the room when the subject of how the money works in college football comes up, “Take all the money all the teams make out of the bowl system and replace it with an 8-team playoff. You double the money.” So why, in this era of It’s All About the Money, don’t the Powers That Be take the money? Back up to the paragraph that starts with “here’s why” and re-read it.

Why do people like you and me, people who care about college football, allow this travesty to continue? Good question.

Why do we?

Two football players compete in a team pageant in Washington, D.C. Photo by M.V. Jantzen via Flickr.



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