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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

College Football and Judged Sports

The Lords of College Football are at it again, voting at their convention whether to change the current system of voting in polls. More specifically, they're voting whether to make their balloting public, among other things.

You know how I feel on judged sports (see my posts on gymnastics at the Summer Olympics) and on the BCS (see my many posts on this topic, including one on giving props to Joe Paterno for splitting his number one vote in a late poll among Auburn, USC and Oklahoma). My bottom line is that championships like those in Division I-A should be decided on the field.

And not because a bunch of coaches who don't have ample time to telephone their children or send Dad a birthday present decide it without doing the type of preparation that they do for an opponent on Saturday in terms of watching film of all the contenders and determining with precision who are the best. And not because a bunch of writers who tend to get hagiographic in their coverage of the local team sometimes exercise a regional bias. And, most certainly, not because a President of the United States (remember Richard Nixon) decides that Texas deserves a title.

This if football, after all. Not rhthymic gymnastics.

If you're not going to advocate a national championship game (which, by the way, you should), then have more accountability in the way you select a national champion. Something stank to high heaven when Cal dropped out the BCS bowl picture after "only" beating Southern Mississippi on the road by 10, and absent a disclosure as to who changed their votes, the public is left wondering whether Big 12 coaches did so in an effort to get their conference a bigger share of the huge Rose Bowl gate by voting against Cal and for Texas (again, I am not alleging this, but absent full disclosure, the taint lingers).

You always tell your players to be honest with themselves, to be accountable, and to give their best effort. You tell them to be aggressive, to be stand up guys, and to be responsible. You reward the players who seize the initiative and attempt to be difference makers.

So it's high time for your group to strap on a pair yourselves.

Joe Paterno did, and he's the model as to what a major college football coach should be. (After all, splitting your vote in a late BCS poll was not a popular move to say the least, and the only reason he didn't draw more flack is because of who he is).

Follow his lead.

If you truly believe in your system, then be accountable and don't hide anything. Of course, that type of accountability has a price, as Lloyd Carr and Bob Stoops allude to. The public hounding will be much worse, and head coaches will get asked much more about their votes in the polls than about their own teams. I agree, that most certainly will happen.

And I can understand, to a point, that the coaches do not want the hassle. That's fine, too, as that's their right. But then they should take a stand. They're big-time guys, they like the limelight, they take a lot of money to take an awful lot of heat, and they have tough jobs. No one will deny that. But with the big bucks they make (sometimes at the expense of their kids), they have to take tough stands.

And the choice, it says here, is between a playoff (that well might be a windfall for the teams in the national semis and final games but could hurt overall revenue because the Sewer Detergent Bowl and others like it will have to get scrapped) and a poll that reveals which coach voted for what team.

Because, absent that, the doubts and suspicions will remain. And tough, well-choreographed young men will have their fates in the hands of exhausted coaches who probably don't have many good metrics as to how to determine who the best team is.

And in a group (Division I-A) where many programs spare no expense, they're opting for the two-ply tires on the Escalade. It doesn't make any sense. As a result, to some, the decision about who is the Division I-A winner will have the integrity of the determinations made in Olympic figure skating and Olympic gymnastics.

If you're really a sport, then you decide your titles on the field, head-to-head.

And if you stick to the old ways of doing business, then what are you?

A great movie (as this year's season had some great games) with a potentially terrible ending? The first-round of the Ukrainian presidential elections?

Sometimes you'll get lucky, but even this past season, while USC made a huge statement in beating Oklahoma, an undefeated team was left out in the cold. 13-0 Auburn didn't have a seat at the table. In all other NCAA sports, they would have had a spot in a playoff. Except here.

So, Division I-A coaches, whatever you do, fix the system.

Everyone involved, including you, deserves better.


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