Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.
-- Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread
Earlier this morning the United States House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection summoned our peerless overseers of the Bowl Championship Series before their authority. Led by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas, seen here) of Arlington, the subcommittee gave audience to the desert criers of college football, represented by the commissioner of the Mountain West Conference.
One assumes they also rolled out the blue [sic] carpet for Boise State’s athletic director, who told them exactly what they wanted to hear, unlike the current BCS commissioner, regarding the appropriateness of a playoff. Furthermore, the subcommittee examined the diligent efforts of not only the BCS but also Derrick Fox.
Derrick Fox, you say? The Derrick Fox, head of the Alamo Bowl? Hero to millions? Beloved by mothers and desired by daughters? Correct, good reader, so you know this is serious. Besides, what other possible concern could a commerce subcommittee have to worry about these days?
Under what auspices I cannot fathom, but in an apparent show trial, Rep. Barton has decided to let the world know that he really wants a playoff for college football, which is strange considering that he’s a Texas A&M fan, and they’re on the verge of becoming the fourth best team in Texas (c’mon TCU). Also, hasn’t he ever heard of a message board? Or, given that he considers the BCS a form of communism, maybe shouting on a street corner is more his bag.
But other than despoiling what would be an otherwise glorious recognition of International Workers’ Day, what will Barton and his ranting accomplish today? Not much, to be generous. He’s confident that his proposed playoff, were it to reach the President’s desk, would be signed, but that’s not going to happen. And good for it too. The last thing we need is a basketball player from Chicago trying to fix college football.
Herein lies the trouble with fixing college football: it’s not broken. Or, to be straight, it’s no more broken than it’s ever been. No offense, Mr. President, but I won’t tell you how to mobilize millions of votes from an otherwise cynical and disaffected generation, and you don’t tell me how to hate Notre Dame. I’ve been doing it for a long time and, frankly, I’m pretty damn good at it.
Granted, the BSC is far from perfect--in fact, it’s pretty lousy. But it’s a contained lousiness that only renders, say, the Orange Bowl meaningless. A playoff would be a full-blown pandemic, a pigskin flu, if you will. The contagion would spread throughout the regular season, discouraging out-of-conference scheduling and decreasing the importance of each contest, each rivalry.
What is really happening on the Hill today is but one more manifestation of the American public’s changing view of sports from spectacle to product. For example, the Kentucky Derby takes place tomorrow, as does possibly the best boxing match-up in the past decade, yet there’s little concern for either but for the remnant of an old guard and a litany of compulsive gamblers (redundant?).
Both have been replaced in the casual sports fan’s imagination by more consumer-friendly alternatives. The investment/return ratio on horse racing or boxing is a rip off compared to NASCAR’s weekly autopocalypse or Ultimate Fighting’s creature-comforted bar-brawls. The airy talk of noble breeds or sweet science lacks the clean, clearly branded, result-oriented product available on the open market.
Not that a playoff in and of itself is a necessarily awful idea. No one watching the opening weekend of March Madness or awaiting tonight’s Celtics/Bulls series ender would dare say something that stupid. But neither event is college football, and that’s where a playoff makes as much sense as stilts on a giraffe.
Unlike any other sport, college football is unfair. More so than pro football, more so than baseball, especially more so than college basketball; and this inequity, this uncertainty to its claims, is to college football’s great benefit. There are perpetual underdogs. There are haves and there are have-nots.
College football is, in an increasingly fleeting and mobile cultural ocean, a marker of regionalism and identity. Its uncertain ending mirrors our own. We know not when the game ends, but we know the clock is ticking. This is not just what is so, but what must be so.
If you want your college football team to matter, then make them matter! Pay some asshole four million dollars to coach them! Drag 84,000 of your friends to watch them scrimmage on a rainy afternoon! Give a damn! College football is unfair, but it is fairly unfair.
Would a playoff make college football equitable? No. A playoff is not a mechanism of fairness, but a branding tool to reduce the demand on the consumer’s attention and increase the yield for his impatience. A playoff is only desirable in the same way that saying “gimme a number three” became desirable over saying “I’ll have a burger, fries, and a Coke.”
And what of Barton’s complaint? Is the BSC a communist cartel? From each conference according to its ability, congressman, to each conference according to its need. Greetings, comrade.