Monday, December 3, 2007

Hawaii Isn't So Sunny These Days

What a load of crap. As you might have guessed, I'm talking about the BCS system that has produced a title game of Ohio State versus Louisiana State.

Now, I have no problem with those two teams going head-to-head, and in fact, I'd probably venture to say that they're the two best teams in the country, at least based on the limited information I have, as a casual NCAA football fan. Sure, Hawaii is undefeated, but their schedule very weak, having only played one team viewed as a top 25 team this year (last year's Cinderella Boise State). Georgia looks to be on fire, but the fact is they aren't the champion of their conference. Virginia Tech is the ACC champion, but they lost (handily) to LSU earlier in the year, so it seems silly to send them to the title game ahead of LSU.

But hang on a second. Why does it seem silly to send VT over LSU? Could it be because we think that, when two teams "settle it on the field," the team that won is the better team? Doesn't that capture the entire idea behind a playoff system? And doesn't a system that fails to give a championship opportunity to an undefeated team seem to miss the whole goddamn point? Every chance Hawaii has had to "settle it on the field," they've come out on top. I know it doesn't look good if you put a team with such a weak schedule into the championship game, and the pressure on Hawaii (and on everyone who picked them to play in that game) would be immense, since it'd be an unconventional pick. But sometimes you've got to go with what makes sense. I applaud the few voters who gave Hawaii their first-place vote.

Here's my biggest problem. Was there any way Hawaii could've played its way into the title game? Last year's Boise State team was dominant and went undefeated, but didn't play any ranked teams. They were left out of the championship talk. Hawaii defeated a ranked Boise State team this year, but still didn't get any serious consideration for the BCS championship game.

I'm not someone who tends to think that playing fields should be leveled. I'm not crazy about affirmative action or quotas, or the concept that you can improve your stock when applying to colleges if you're able to legitimately classify yourself as Black, Hispanic, or Native American. But the reason I don't like those things is because we've got lots of examples of minorities who have achieved. Certainly not enough to be able to say that we, as a nation and as a species, have grown beyond the stigmas based on color, creed, or anything else, but enough to say that most everybody has a shot.

But that's not the case for non-BCS schools. They simply have zero chance of being able to play for the championship of their own league. That's insane. It's one thing to say, "We know we're not good enough to win the title, but we're going to go out there and play our hearts out and try to win some games." But that's entirely different from, "We're as talented as anybody, and we can win every game on our schedule. But even if we do, we won't be given the opportunity to play for our championship." If I were anyone of influence at any of those schools, I'd start telling people that we need to try to get sent back down to 1AA, so that we can have a shot at a title.

This year was like a perfect storm for a non-BCS conference team to sneak into the title game. Everybody relevant lost at least 2 games except for Ohio State, who had a notoriously weak out of conference schedule and played in a Big Ten that endured a down year. Nobody looks all that good, but Hawaii still gets no "dap." What would it take? Would a team like Hawaii, Boise State, or Utah need to schedule multiple out of conference big time BCS teams? Say something like playing Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas A&M? Oh, you mean like the Utes DID in 2004, and then they went on to wipe the floor with Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

How do we not learn from that? Or from Boise State/Oklahoma last year? Do people really think that the best team can only be one of the 65 teams in BCS conferences? And do we really think that, by picking teams only from those conferences, we're assuring ourselves of a great, competitive, memorable championship game? Let's explore the history of BCS title games, shall we? To make things easier, I've bolded the games that were won by 17 points or more:
  • 2000 - Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29
  • 2001 - Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2
  • 2002 - Miami 37, Nebraska 14
  • 2003 - Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT)
  • 2004 - LSU 21, Oklahoma 14
  • 2005 - USC 55, Oklahoma 19
  • 2006 - Texas 41, USC 38
  • 2007 - Florida 41, Ohio State 14
That's four out of eight that were blowouts. And I'd venture to say that a 13-2 game tends to not be particularly entertaining.

I'm not going to argue that there haven't been a couple of tremendous games. Ohio State/Miami was a classic, and Texas/USC was perhaps the greatest college football game I've ever seen. But it is by no means a guarantee that, when you match up two BCS teams, you'll have a highly competitive, down-to-the-wire game. So why not give Hawaii a chance?

I'll tell you why. Because nobody gives a shit about Hawaii. Hawaii doesn't have the storied history of LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, USC, and on and on. So when you poll coaches to figure out who the best teams in football are, is it any surprise that they go with the big name programs? As a matter of fact, why in the hell are we asking NCAA coaches, 95% of whom have their jobs on the line for the entire season, to make objective evaluations of every other college football team in the country? Steve Spurrier makes no secret of the fact that he votes for Duke as the #25 team in his poll until they lose. Granted, that's usually week one, but the fact that that's even possible is evidence of how flawed the system is. Whatever happened between the colleges and sports writers to cleave the writers from the evaluation process has got to be buried in the interest of a more perfect system.

Is a playoff system the answer? Probably. It's worked for every other sport I've ever watched or cared about. There isn't a playoff system out there that I've ever seen or heard of that hasn't worked, that hasn't accomplished its precise goal of making sure that the team it declares as champion had to go through the other contenders.

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