As a college football fan I am constantly amazed at how the talking heads, who are also ostensibly fans, talk out of both sides of their mouths when discussing the landscape of college football.
They tend to use information like a drunk uses a street lamp: for support and not illumination. Everyday I listen to the talking heads rationalize their arguments one way to support the resume of a team and then completely use the same information to dismantle another.
The biggest problem is how disingenuous the whole thing is. If someone came out straight and said, I have an old school, southern bias and I don’t like to look at facts or change my opinions regardless of evidence, there would be refreshing honesty in that position.
Instead, the Mark Mays and the Craig James’ and BCS officials of the world perpetrate themselves as neutral experts. They avoid inconvenient information and grope for the tidbits that point in the direction they want.
This happens in other sports, but it’s irrelevant in those sports because they have a legitimate format for determining a champion. The BCS is not a championship. It’s a fraternity and the only reason they don’t just come out and call it such is that they would be subject to congressional review and anti-trust scrutiny. So, let’s examine the slippery rhetorical tools used to support this ridiculous system.
To start with, when the “analysts” use hypothetical situations and call them fact it is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. For example, I hear statements like, “The fact is, if BSU played in the SEC they would lose several games a year.”
Beyond dissecting the truth of this statement, the real fact is that this is not a fact. This is hypothetical. Because we can’t test it in a lab or tee it up and find out, it is, in fact, hypothetical. A fact is something that is or was. Not something that would be or might be. It’s not even something that probably would be.
For example, it’s not a fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers would beat the Hooters waitresses in a game of football. It is almost infinitely likely, but it is not a fact .
What is a fact is that Utah beat Alabama last year in the Sugar Bowl. What is a fact is that BSU beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. What is a fact is that non BCS teams are 3-1 in BCS bowl games against BCS teams. So, if you want to use facts, use them. Use them for illumination, but don’t make hypothetical scenarios and call them facts . They aren’t.
Another of my favorite slippery concepts used again to manipulate rather than illuminate is parity. When a major college team loses, you can chalk it up to parity. There is so much parity in college football today. Teams can’t expect to dominate like they once did.
Well, how does that work with the notion that some teams play soft schedules? How does that work with TCU, Utah and BSU winning as much as they do? If there is parity, could strength of schedule be anything other than coincidence?
For example, the last couple of years the Michigan Wolverines have been terrible. This year Oklahoma is no prize pig. USC has three loses and two of them are to schools that are supposed to be cupcakes. So if a team were to schedule those three schools (never going to happen because the system is cowardly and corrupt) two years ago in an attempt to improve its out of conference schedule, it would find itself behind the argument that, well, they just didn’t play anybody good.
On the other hand, a team like TCU can schedule a perennially mediocre Clemson team, beat them, and have it be the year they contend for the ACC title. The fact is that teams change from year to year. Two years ago Hawaii was undefeated going into their bowl. This year they are at the bottom of a pretty weak WAC.
So when TCU scheduled Virginia, an ACC team, it looked like they were stepping up. But with Virginia losing to William and Mary among others, this is less than a notch on TCU’s belt.
The problem isn’t the scheduling or the parity though. The problem is that the minds don’t want to change about the landscape of the sport or the possibility that a TCU, BSU or a Cincinnati could be better than a Texas, Alabama or Florida.
And even if they are better we don’t want them having the money that is earmarked for those bigger named schools. So, with parity, the “analysts” use the word to explain away uncomfortable losses. They never seem to use it, however, to suggest that the non-traditional schools deserve their due.
So, rhetorically, parity is good for the big teams: Can’t win ‘em all. It’s bad for the little teams because it explains away their big victories. And it never is discussed when the topic of how BSU goes undefeated four out of six years comes up.
Growing on my list of rhetorical tricks is the abuse of the word “resilience.” When Iowa beats NIU by one at home, they are resilient. They just find ways to win. When Alabama has to block two field goals to beat Tennessee at home by two, they are resilient and know how to win.
But when BSU beats La. Tech by 10 in Ruston after leading by 27 and having a surge by the home team, BSU can’t dominate. La Tech, by the way, is the same team that went into Baton Rouge and lost by eight to LSU.
When Chris Peterson is 49-4 in his brief tenure as head coach, that is resilient. When every team BSU faces treats the game like its Super Bowl and BSU wins anyway, that is resilient. When Oregon has a year to stew and plot revenge for the beating BSU put on them at Autzen and BSU dominates them again, that is resilient. When BSU has four head coaches in a decade and maintains its winning standard while the departed coaches go on to crash and burn in their new posts, that is resilience. The word resilience wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t used as such a hypocritical rhetorical device.
So, instead of sifting through the rhetoric of the jaded and terminally dim, lets look at the college football landscape as it is with the idea that sports are designed to be competitive and determined by individual games.
How can we look at teams like Boise St., TCU, Utah, BYU, Houston and any others that emerge with the same amount of juice created by those mentioned? Well, when the topic of a playoff system is discussed, we hear about the importance of the games and that the season’s value would be watered down.
How valid is this? When we look at evidence, it appears to be more rhetorical trickery.
If the games had that much weight, then an undefeated BSU team would not have to worry about being jilted five out of its six undefeated seasons. Undefeated would be enough. Same with leaving out a one-loss BYU or Utah team in favor of a two-loss BCS team.
Shouldn't an undefeated team be rewarded for winning all of its games? That means no stumbles. If you listen to the wonks discuss the Oregon vs. BSU result, you could conclude that it’s easy to trip up. According to them, if Oregon played BSU 10 times, Oregon would win nine (again with the hypothetical being portrayed as fact).
This statement is designed, again, to explain away a loss and to legitimize the conventional powers. I particularly enjoy this statement because it ignores the actual facts (ugh, there’s that word again).
Oregon and BSU have played two games in two seasons, one at Autzen and one at Bronco Stadium. BSU won both. So the only facts we have is that BSU is 2-0 versus Oregon and that two is more than one, thus making the nine out of 10 suggestion a mathematical impossibility.
Yesterday I heard a good ol’ boy on CBS Sportsline say very matter-of-factly that Alabama would kill any of the undefeated teams other than Florida. He was attempting to use a hypothetical to express a fact again. But he was reminded that the only fact was that Utah dismantled Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which was practically a home game for Alabama.
Before that game, the rhetoric was the same: Alabama will kill Utah. I guess that’s why they play the game. The problem is...they don’t play the game.
TCU has virtually no shot at playing the game. Neither does BSU nor Cincinnati. To me this is like telling the 2006 George Mason basketball team we want your Final Four banners back because we think other teams were better than you.
Here’s another trick the pundits throw at us: the bigger schools get better recruits, therefore they would dominate week in and week out if BSU, TCU, Utah, etc. played them.
Are they talking about the Nu'Keese Richardsons of the world? How’s that working out for Tennessee? Is it possible that some of these upstart schools actually outsmart the old school powers? Few want to acknowledge that possibility, but it’s true.
Because the college landscape is so large it’s hard to completely break it down, but every year magazines and analysts tell us who got the best players in the country. But how accurate are they? I know this, Ryan Clady wasn’t the top rated tackle in his class (far from it), but he was the highest drafted into the NFL and was an all rookie selection.
What that means is that projecting a kid from high school is not necessarily accurate to how he will perform in a certain system, under certain coaching in college.
The NFL draft proves this point too. If the talent evaluations were air-tight, Tom Brady would not go 199th in the NFL draft. Joe Montana would not go in the third round. Ryan Leaf would not go second overall. Yet there is an entire industry dedicated to evaluating who got what and how good they are.
This same industry tells me year in and year out that BSU only got about the 80th best talent in the country, yet year after year they win all or nearly all of their games and produce players that produce in the NFL.
For example, in recent years the Broncos have produced Ryan Clady (starter, critical position), Orlando Skandrick (starter/nickel), Jered Alexander (starter), Cory Hall (starter), Darren College (starter), Legedu Naanee (Slot), Derek Shuman (starter), Chris Carr (nickel/kick returner) as well as some practice squad talent and some that were simply just good college players.
The point is actually this, there is increasing levels of pro talent up and down the rosters of these mid-major schools. But one thing that seems apparent as we read the national headlines is that the BSUs of the world recruit great kids who are good football players and not great football players who may or may not be good kids.
This not only keeps the kids on the field, but allows for better coaching, more complicated schemes, better game plans, better attitudes and fewer headaches. Of course none of this is ever part of the talent evaluations. But all you need to do is look at the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA to see how great talent combined with a lack of character works out from a production standpoint.
I will admit that I have been slow to adjust as well. I expected Oklahoma to wax BSU in the Fiesta Bowl. I expected Alabama to mash Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Even after BSU beat Oregon at Autzen I expected them to lose at home to a revenge-driven Ducks team.
What is becoming clear to me is that perhaps some of these teams have built a better mousetrap. But the world is slow to accept new-comers. That doesn’t mean the new kids on the block aren’t as good or they aren’t as deserving.
So that raises a different question: Are the new kids on the block deserving of the attention, credit, and money that is part of major college football? They weren’t major contributors to the landscape as college football has built its following over the decades. Should it be able to just jump in and take advantage of what the old school has created?
Here is why: the original football league was the Ivy League. The battles between Harvard and Yale go back more than a century. Watching the old Ivy League is where the fanatic lust for football began.
Back then, they couldn’t imagine a lesser academic institution beating them in sport. They were genetically superior, smarter, and better coached. Well, we’ve seen what has happened to the Ivy League in major college sports. Now the times, they are a changin’ again.
This time it’s about schools that aren’t etched into the psyches of historic college football breaking down the door. These new team powers may not have taken the baton from the Ivy League, but they are currently part of what makes college football interesting.
Will BSU beat Oregon? Is TCU the best team in Texas? These questions create interest in the sport and as such the principle players should be allowed access to the ball that they are making worth watching. If there is no Cinderella, should there be a ball? How boring is that?
Are we so dedicated to time zones and tradition that we’ve lost sight of what makes sports exciting? It's the tension of the game.
Is the match up between a multi-loss Penn St. and a multi-loss Oklahoma St. compelling? If so, how? How is it more exciting than watching an undefeated BSU with infinite recent credentials take on a traditional power house? Truth is, it’s not.
Would more people eat more Tostitos tortilla chips because Penn St. and Oklahoma St. are playing? Not really. Yet this scenario is possible because of the good ol’ boy agreements that dominate the sport.
If these tired matchups occur, are we left to wonder whether or not college football is even a legitimate sport?
If it is, it would want the questions as to who is better to be answered on the field. I would think it should be, but then why do the talking heads insist that the Alabamas of the world playing the BSUs of the world shouldn’t happen?
The slippery rhetoricians go back to work to justify. They try to explain that those teams don’t even deserve a chance to see if they could win (how sporting is that?). They use schedules and conference strengths to explain away their fear of playing the new breed, regardless of the fact that the BCS teams are not forced to schedule the BSUs, the TCUs and Utahs of the world.
Nor do they want to.
BCS bowls are not required to take the highest ranked teams. BCS components are not required to reward undefeated teams. And because there is no forced scheduling outside of conference, and less and less incentive to play these teams on the rise, the wonks have additional ammunition.
Those teams don’t play a hard enough schedule. This is the mantra of the BCS apologist. It doesn’t matter that the BCS teams won’t play the new breed schools. It doesn’t matter that the scheduling is fluid. It doesn’t matter that this year the Mountain West is superior in depth and quality to many of the BCS conferences. It doesn’t matter that BSU dominated Oregon (who will probably win the Pac-10).
As such, the NCAA and BCS risk becoming the WWE. They’re already the WTF.
If they chose a Penn St. team with two losses to their only two quality opponents for a BCS game, they would certainly become the WTF. If an Oklahoma St. team whose best win is over a five-loss Oklahoma team is selected, the BCS’ credibility would be lower than the WWE/WTF.
The logic is nonexistent. The reasoning is beyond defense. The consequences are invalidating the entire sport.
Yet Mark May and Craig James will continue to profess that their hypotheticals are facts. They will try to convince us that a multi-loss team with no good wins is more deserving than an undefeated BSU. They will forget that the games are played to determine who deserves what. They will continue to tell us that, and will we continue to believe them.
When I was eight years old my dad told me that professional wrestling was fake. I hated to hear that and resisted with every fiber in my body. Now it seems obvious to me. Likewise, the old school college football fan hates to accept that the college football game has changed. They will throw their tantrums and deny that these upstart schools are for real.
But their denials don’t create facts. And the facts are that these new teams deserve their shot. If they don’t get it, how far is the BCS from the WWE?