Troll2Troll, one of our finest commenters, has joined the Alligator Army staff (such as it is) to write the occasional piece. This is his first. I'm sure he would love comments.
The latest BCS disaster, this time in the form of a intra-divisional rematch in the BCS National Championship Game, has renewed calls for a major change in the way college football decides its champion. Inevitably these calls come from those supporting some fashion of a playoff system. The ideas range from a fairly mild plus-one model to the extremity of a full March Madness-style bracket.
It's a passionate debate, and one where I sympathize with the reformers. I do not join in their desires, however, as I think the playoff proponents have lost sight of the true evil in this sport: The National Football League, and everything that goes with it.
Before delving into why the NFL is the worst thing about the sport of American football, it's crucial to detail the ways in which "the League" has invaded the elder game of college football.
The most visible intrusion of the NFL in college football is in the coaching ranks. Fans all over the country are unfortunately familiar with being turned into miniature NFL teams, and it's not often a pleasant experience. On occasion it works spectacularly (Pete Carroll at USC and Nick Saban at LSU and Alabama, most notably), but more often than not, it results in staid mediocrity (Bill Callahan at Nebraska, Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh). This is not surprising, as long-time NFL coaches will have had years of indoctrination in the robotic, uniform, and parity-obsessed theory of football that rules the League.
Then consider how absurd and idiotic the professional football media have been in covering the ridiculous Tim Tebow circus this year. Somehow, in the myopic echo chamber that is the NFL empire, a QB running fairly simple option plays became something of a revolution, an insurgency of "otherness" in the unquestionable world of drop-back passers. The vitriol directed at Tebow from a string of drooling former pro QBs, now professional
morons pundits, was not principally due to his vocal beliefs, but that he dared play in "their" league with a skill set moderately different from their own. Whether or not Tebow succeeds is irrelevant. The reasoning for their attacks is what matters.
The NFL teaches one way and one way only: Theirs. There is no room for debate or variety. When coaches steeped in this totalitarian view of football make the switch to the comparatively wild, unhinged world of college football, the results are rarely good. For every one Carroll (who had the benefit of incredible resources, many of them against the rules), there are ten Al Grohs. It's actually somewhat rare for an NFL coach to be a genuine disaster in college, save the odd Callahan.
Instead of spectacular failures, they tend to find some consistent middle ground to make their home: Never achieving greatness, never flaming out in stupendous failure. Boring the daylights out of all of us, basically. They run the "pro style" offense, whatever the defense du jour is in the League, and do it with no personality or invention whatsoever. My fellow Gator fans, let us hope we've got a Carroll (without the cheating), and not a Groh. I'm not particularly confident.
The other major encroachment of the NFL is more recent, and far more bombastic. It would appear that the rolling disaster that is conference realignment has little to do with the NFL, but there is something more sinister at play here than the normal incompetence and foolishness of those who run college football. It's easier to see if you lay out all the possible changes on the table.
First, we appear to be heading to 16-team superconferences. This is an unwieldy and unmanageable number of teams in a sport with a 12-game season. It also happens to be the same number of teams in each NFL conference. Second, note the arrival of sharks like Larry Scott to the college football world. It's easy to see Scott as a reformer and visionary, but all he's really doing is expanding his product into new markets and maximizing TV revenue. These are the primary (read: only) goals of the NFL. Yes, college football has long been beholden to the TV networks, but in times past the people in charge had enough sense and shame to stop themselves from whoring out to every marketing suit who walks through the door. Scott and his inevitable clones will change all that. We're going to NFL size, NFL money, and almost assuredly NFL monotony.
To most people, the NFL does not seem like the evil behemoth that it actually is. What makes the League so soulless and all-consuming is their relentless pursuit of every last cent in every pocket in America. They stop at nothing to get your money. If your team, who you might have spent a lifetime rooting for and giving obscene amounts of money to, is sold to the wrong owner, you won't have a team next season. How the NFL (or any American pro sports league) has convinced fans to devote time and money to a system which may, at any time, literally steal the entire team away and move them elsewhere is a wonder. All those years and dollars were for nothing. It's a cash grab, and they couldn't be more obvious about it if they tried. They black out home games, including for teams with fans in the depths of recession, because of unsold tickets. They take part in greedy lockouts, and threaten to simply not play an entire season over their insatiable appetite for cash.
The NFL is a sports league where the winner isn't determined by who has the most points at the end of the game, but by whose cash till rings most often. If you don't pay up at the ticket window, they don't show your games. If you don't pay up in the voting booth for a new stadium every twenty years, they steal your team and move them across the country. Vegas casinos would blush at the way the NFL nakedly exploits their customers.
What does all of this have to do with bowls and playoffs? Everything, because the way you crown your champion is a lynchpin in defining who you are as a sport. European soccer leagues pride themselves on their remarkably fair system, where every teams plays every other team twice, once at home, once away. Every schedule is equal. The winner is anointed after rigorous play, and almost always without argument.
College football's system is unique in all the world. Nowhere, not even in other college sports, is there a system so nonsensical, haphazard and unfair as this. It's something you'd expect a drunk lunatic to design. Opinion polls and computer formulas to determine the top two teams out of 120? It's so bizarre I've actually spoken to British soccer fans who refused to believe that this was actually the way my favorite sport is organized. But this broken joke of system is also one of the main reasons why this sport is so fascinating.
How boring would it be if every conference champion was seeded into a playoff system, and then run through a little NFL playoff complete with a little Super Bowl? Without hurt and injustice, there can be no interest beyond the field. It's easy and "right" to say that only what happens between the lines should matter, but that stance is directly opposed to the entire history and culture of college football. Split titles and dubious championship claims are an integral part of this sport. What X's and O's matchup can exceed the drama of Urban Meyer openly lobbying for votes on national TV? Every year we see United States Congressmen threaten college football with investigations over this system. Would a playoff generate even a tenth of the passion we take for granted now?
Playoffs would be a bigger move to NFL-izing college football than hiring a hundred Al Grohs. For this reason, if no other, college football should maintain the bowl system roughly as we know it. All the unfairness and inequality the BCS can muster is forever preferable to the eternal beige winter of a minor league NFL.