Last Saturday afternoon, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats took home field at Nippert Stadium, looking for a win over Big East rival Syracuse after two straight losses that knocked them out of the national polls. After a hard-fought 35–24 Cincinnati victory, the Bearcats became bowl eligible with a 6–2 record!
I trembled with excitement as I ran to my laptop, sprinting to the UC website to sign up for updates about bowl ticket availability. I couldn’t wait to hear the news. Where would they go? The New Era Pinstripe Bowl? The AutoZone Liberty Bowl? Or better yet, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl? I closed my computer as a smirk of satisfaction spread across my face.
This, Evan, is what it feels like to be on top of the college football world. It’s time to go hard tonight, to celebrate Cincinnati’s accomplishments so far and the momentous achievements to come.
Of course, I actually didn’t care at all. And I fell asleep at 11 on Saturday.
Sure, it’s nice when your team makes a bowl game. There are some bragging rights on the line, and it’s another game to watch over winter break. And granted, Cincinnati isn’t worthy of playing in a BCS game anyway.
But I know exactly how the experience will end up. I’ll get myself worthlessly pumped up and watch the first quarter anxiously. Midway through the second half, I’ll be asleep or on Facebook, as will half the people in the stands.
Let’s make my wholly original point clear: The bowl system is almost completely useless. Really, what’s the point? Kudos to college football for creating a postseason where the games are somehow less watchable than in the regular season. At least regular season games have conference championships and national rankings at stake — the postseason is actually less important. Even the non-championship BCS games are technically useless — what does it mean to have won the Orange Bowl in a given year? Nothing — other than having won the Orange Bowl. Congrats. How should we compare that game’s winner to the victor of, for instance, the Rose Bowl? Perhaps we could pit the two teams against each other … in a sort of playoff system? What a fantastic idea.
I already got started, but don’t get me started about the BCS. It’s been said many times, many ways, but there has never been a worse way to determine who’s best at something. It’s corrupt enough to warrant government investigation and infuriating enough that I occasionally convince myself it exists only to create a self-feeding media cycle. There’s no such thing as bad press, after all.
Let’s retread the well-worn argument using this year’s approaching calamity. Moving into the last few weekends of the college football season, there are still five undefeated teams in the BCS. As ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach states, we’re headed toward yet another “BCS cliff” because only two teams can play for the national championship. No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Kansas State, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Notre Dame all sit unblemished, as does No. 9 Louisville. The Louisville Cardinals don’t get any respect because they’re from the Big East, but who’s to say they couldn’t beat one of the top teams in the country? West Virginia sure destroyed Clemson in last year’s Orange Bowl in their last season as a member of the Big East.
But moving into discussion of the top four, why are these four teams ranked the way they are? Aren’t they all undefeated? Have they played each other? No. So do we really have any way of comparing them? Of course not.
Yet, just as inflation is mostly set by expectations, sportswriters and coaches rank these teams to conform to their initial preseason expectations. Let’s take a took at how the current top four teams were ranked in the AP preseason poll: Alabama was second, Oregon was fifth, Kansas State was 22nd and Notre Dame was unranked. And how does the AP poll have them ranked as of Sunday? No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Kansas State, No. 4 Notre Dame. Isn’t that something? If not for the human polls only accounting for part of the BCS standings, the teams would be ranked in the exact order they appeared in the preseason poll. According to voters, apparently you can’t be ranked any better than a team that was supposed to do well in the first place. And if you’re a team that’s exceeding expectations, any little hiccup is a disaster and the end of your national championship game chances.
Notre Dame is feeling this most acutely at the moment. They managed to finally overcome a mediocre but feisty Pittsburgh Panthers team in three overtimes on Saturday. The Fighting Irish are still undefeated. But, according to the media, the fact that they did not win convincingly is enough to keep them out of the national title game. It’s ridiculous. To put it nicely, I strongly dislike Notre Dame. I don’t like their national TV contract, I don’t like that they’re somehow the “America’s Team” of college football, and most of all, I don’t like that they stole UC’s former head coach, Brian Kelly. So the fact that I’m defending them shows that I really, really hate the BCS.
Thank goodness for the playoff system coming at the end of the 2014 season.
And thank goodness for college basketball.