Monday, February 1, 2010

Time Out, Mr. President …

Obama cuts to the Left, unlike the escalation of the War in Afghanistan, which was a definite cut to the Right ...

Many college football fans across the country are rejoicing in light of the President’s decision to announce he has the Department of Justice investigating the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) college football bowl system to determine its legality according to Sherman anti-trust laws. Finally, an outside agency may step in and right the system that, in the not-so-humble opinion of many fans, has wronged so many very good college football teams by not giving them a proper chance to compete for a national championship.

An aside: I, for one, like the bowl system as it is currently constituted. As a former student-athlete turned athletic administrator, I can authoritatively state that having an opportunity to 1) win your last football game, 2) extend your season, and 3) win a championship, are precious. It makes the grueling preseason and off-season workouts worth it in the end. There is no question that lower prestige bowl games such as the New Mexico Bowl, Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl, or the Emerald Bowl lack the zing! of a Fiesta Bowl, the pageantry of a Rose Bowl, or the historic importance of the Cotton Bowl. But tell that to TCU and Boise State, who, a mere thirteen months after competing in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, met in a rematch in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. Some contend that the proliferation in the number of bowl games (now at 34) dilutes the importance of playing in and winning a bowl game. But I am all for young men who work to achieve success having the greatest opportunity possible to receive a modicum of it at the season’s end.

Aside #2: A playoff system is no better arbiter of who a champion is than the current bowl system. If you invite eight teams into a playoff, #9 will probably have a legitimate axe to grind about not being invited. Oh, and this year’s national champs Alabama would have had to open up with the #8 seed Ohio State while Texas would have drawn the #7 seed Oregon, who Ohio State never seemed to struggle with in the Rose Bowl. A playoff system also ends with one winner – and everyone else is a loser. While I do not advocate the little-league-ization of college football (where everyone plays, everyone gets a trophy or medal, and everyone wins!) the playoff system restricts the definition of success. I know this from experience.

In 1998, I played for a Northwestern State team that won a school record 11 games, beat 5 Top 25 teams, and made it to the “Final Four” of FCS Football, finishing with a #2 ranking in the country. And yet, it seems, so many people can only recall that we almost made it to the championship, that we were one step away. Nothing about that magical season, in my mind, should ever be constructed as a failure. And yet, a playoff system inevitably yields such rhetorical (and mnemonic) constructions.

In addition to believing that the President’s pursuit of ending the BCS’ reign over college football is wrongheaded (though, I’d love to watch BCS PR spokesperson Ari Fleischer be owned in the media all over again after a turn as President Bush’s worst White House spokesperson – quite a feat, indeed), I also believe it is ill-timed. And it always will be.

When Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) first began calling for an investigation of the BCS’s legality, I thought the timing was poor. Primarily because there will always be more pressing issues facing Americans, and our elected officials should not be wasting their time on such trivialities. I find it incredibly disappointing that lawmakers cannot reach bi–partisan agreements on Health Care Reform, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and yet, they can come together on such a unfathomably unimportant topic such as how the NCAA should decide upon its national champion.

Orrin Hatch has been making this case for years, now. In fact, it is in response to Orrin Hatch's letter to the Justice Department that Pres. Obama is now bringing up this case[1]. Hatch is one of the longest standing critics of the BCS, and even called for President Obama to invite Boise State to the White House out of fairness this year. Additionally, Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Texas called the BCS system "communist[2]," and several representatives (Neil Abercrombie, D-HI, Lynn Westmoreland, R-GA, Jim Matheson, D-UT, and Mike Simpson R-ID) also co-sponsored similar legislation one year ago. And every year, the state with the sourest grapes (i.e. a team who goes undefeated but does not play for a championship) has a senator or representative arise to carry this water, for the purposes of shameful electioneering and pandering.

Want proof that the avocation of this cause spits in the face of the citizens who elected these public officials? That a petty fight, ensuing over the precise way to name a college football champion, is at its very best, Mel Brooks-style farcical?

The Alabama Crimson Tide are your 2010 BCS National Champions.

Who cares?

Alabama is still the 45th smartest state in the union, according to the Morgan Quitno Press, the 47th worst place in terms of potential to lead a healthy life according to parenting expert Dr. Vincent Iannelli, and according to Bob Martin of the Madison County Record, the state has a whopping unemployment rate of 11% and rising[3]. And in 2008, the University of Alabama System was forced to cut $80 million from the budget of its three campuses, and eliminated over 300 jobs. Whatever pride the Crimson Tide may have brought to people in the state, it has clearly not wrought any other discernible benefit in Alabamians’ lives.

Sure, Nick Saban will receive a nice pay bonus. And the players will have memories and a legacy that will never be forgotten by them. But deep cuts to higher education, underperforming public schools, above average unemployment, and rampant health problems across the state are much more serious problems than whether or not Alabama deserved to be a national champion in college football. And if you don’t believe that, ask an unemployed, un-or undereducated, unhealthy Alabamian what he wants more – work, an education, and healthy lifestyle, or the chance to watch strangers from his home state hoist a Waterford Crystal football.

President Obama, this is an unwinnable fight. Please take a moment and let your better judgment steer you towards bravely facing the country’s problems, and furthermore, tell Orrin Hatch and Co. to join you. The hurt so many Americans are feeling cannot be stalled by timeouts and there can be no overtime if you don’t have a job to begin with.

[1] As noted on his Senate web site
[2] “Lawmaker compares BCS to communism.”
[3] “Unemployment tax tsunami hits state.”


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Patrick said...

A couple of thoughts...

1 - Asking an unemployed and/or uneducated Alabamian if they'd rather have a job or an Alabama national championship, I'm pretty sure they'd vote for the NC. But that's Alabama!

2 - I truly believe that people are capable of multi-tasking, working on Health Care, the BCS, environment, etc all at once. I have always bristled at the notion that talking about the playoff system somehow eliminates the ability to try to solve any other problems. They are always working on bunches of pieces of legislation at once.

3 - Booooooo to you sir for being okay with the current format. No one is advocating eliminating the current bowl structure, other than the top 8 for the national championship. And you mention the ninth-place team having an argument...well I would much rather us argue over who is number eight than who is number two. We can keep the Indy Bowl and Emerald City Bowl for all of those 6-6 teams out there to play in, but let's actually have the teams on the field decide the title.

~wb said...

1 - I know you're jesting, but seriously, I stand by my comment about preferring a consistent income and security over proximity to and vicarious glory.

2 - Not the argument I'm making. I dont think that they cant multitask. I think this isnt a worthwhile task, at least not for legislative bodies funded by the public dime. Its not that I cant I cant have pepperoni and mushrooms on my pizza, thats easy enough. I think mushrooms are disgusting and thus inappropriate. The BCS legislation is so many mushrooms ...

3 - If the teams on the field decide the argument (playoff bracket) we'll have just as many people upset about that method. People debate sports incessantly (myself included). that will not change ... many people will think that a new method is unfair, too. People felt shafted out of championships before the BCS, too, and they always will ...

Doc B said...

I feel you, Will, on the multitask/worthwhile task argument. This argument is not within the purview of our federal lawmakers. I get the biggest kick from the argument made by loudmouths like James Carville that the BCS system is un-American because it doesn't reward those who merit rewards. I'm sure those 300 state workers who were laid-off would appreciate an opportunity to earn their a reward or 3.

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