Monday, August 23, 2004

Making the BCS Look Sane

I never thought I'd say the BCS's system for determining a national champion in U.S. college football would compare favorably to any other system in the world of sports.

Until now.

Until I watched and read about the all-around gold medal in men's gymnastics at the Olympics, where Paul Hamm's gold is the subject of controversy. Until I watched the men's floor exercise last night (interestingly juxtaposed to the 100 meter semis in track, where, thankfully, the winner is the guy who gets to the tape first), where a Canadian and Russian were tied, but because the gymnastics lords don't like ties, the proverbial "they" had to resort to four tiebreakers to determine the gold (for the Canadian).

It's enough to make you want to have them ban gymnastics from the Olympics, at least if you're a pure sports fan, where you like to see championships determined by the participants on the field. Perhaps if you're an advertiser you like the controversies, though, that heighten people's interest. Then again, if you like the controversies, you might be the type to pick at hangnails until they're infected.

I don't buy the U.S. delegation's covering for Paul Hamm and Hamm's comment that it's like a football game where they don't change the result because there was a bad call in the third quarter. U.S.A. Coach Colarossi said he reviewed tapes and found an instance where the judges erred by one-tenth on the score for the South Korean. Fine, but that's a heat-of-the-moment judgment call, and no one's arguing about those. My guess is that if you were to examine Hamm's performances, you might have found some overgrading there too. This is different. What happened here is that from the get-go the judges took off one-tenth of a point because they underestimated the degree of difficulty of the South Korean gymnast's routine. That's not the same as blinking during a slight wiggle during a floor exercise. The mistake that is the subject of all of the controversy is tantamount to a clerical error that should be easily corrected.

Except it hasn't been thus far, and the U.S. is steadfast in covering Paul Hamm's back. As, perhaps, the U.S. delegation/gymastics federation should be out of fealty to a great competitor. But as Christine Brennan points out in USA Today, they're sending the wrong message.

With every Olympics, you'll remember some who won, some who lost, and some for how they played the game. You'll recall the Sydney Olympics for the hobbled distance runner who was having trouble finishing his race, only to have his father jump onto the track and help him cross the finish line. You'll also remember the goofy U.S. relay team who started flexing after their victory to the embarrassment of most American fans. And you remember some results from whatever sport is your favorite. Sometimes, though, the sportsmanship, and not the results, will take precedence.

So, as Brennan points out, Paul Hamm has a choice. He should keep his gold medal, keep his explanation about the bad call in the football game, and go home to Wisconsin where he'll probably get a gym at his HS named after him. And perhaps not much else. Including a cover of a Wheaties Box. No, because those go to undisputed champions. And marketable ones (which means that the unbelievable USA Softball team might still go unnoticed, even with Jenny Finch). Not controversial ones.

Or, he can think about what transpired, how he would have felt if similarly situated, and what he would have expected his competitor to do in the same situation. And the ironic part of it is, with one magnanimous gesture in this crazy contemporary world of athletes' endorsing anything and everything for the big bucks, he'll make himself more marketable than he ever dreamed. He'll become the Anti-Dream Teamer. The endorsements will come rolling in.

Happily, too, for the man who elected to forego victory in his sport for sportsmanship.