D-I College Football 2014: Turning a Corner
This past season of Division I College Football was a watershed season in its pitiful attempt to have a true playoff season to determine the national champion; at least it was better than the no-playoff of all seasons prior. For all its shortcomings, the 4-team playoff labeled with the names of three of the “big bowls” did represent, in my opinion, a “continental divide” back over which we will never return. For that alone, I suppose, I should be grateful as a college football fan. However, for a Texas Aggie fan, it was a football season answering the question about life after Johnny Manziel, and, more importantly, it was a season whose end witnessed a quantum leap of improvement for the players, for student-athletes.
As I heard over the media and over the tables of sports bars the excitement of a 2-tiered “playoff,” I could only shout in my head two questions: “WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?” and “CAN YOU EXPAND THE NUMBER OF TEAMS, PLEASE?” How about an 8-team, 3-tiered system, or, better, a 16-team, 4-tiered system like Division II or lower?
Let me indicate the advantages of having an 8-team playoff in 2014, reminding all football fans of what we missed. First, teams like Baylor and TCU would have gotten their shot to win it all, as they should have. I’m not a fan of either, but those two teams were as worthy as any of the four who did make it. Second, seed the teams 1 through 8 like a tennis tournament, and look at the four match-ups we would have had in that fantasy fan world of common sense: 1 vs 8 would have been Alabama vs Michigan State; 2 vs 7 would have been Oregon vs Mississippi State; 3 vs 6 would have been Florida State vs TCU; and 4 vs 5 would have been Ohio State vs Baylor. These would have been like quarter-final match-ups. Neglecting that farce at Jerry-World called the “national championship,” note in each of these match-ups there was an actual winner and actual loser in the “semi-finals” or bowl. Using these actual results, the semi-final round of four teams in this fantasy 8-team playoff would have been 4 vs 8 Ohio State vs Michigan State and 2 vs 6 Oregon vs TCU. The two winners of these two games would have met for a “truer” determination of the national champion. Note how conference-wise the SEC and ACC would have been shut out, the Pac 12 and Big 12 flush with bragging rights, and the Big 10 with the biggest bragging rights of all.
The fantasy I just described is an 8-team playoff of 7 games over 3 weekends, the national champion having to win three straight. A 16-team playoff would be 15 games over 4 weekends, the national champion having to win four straight. And for 32 teams, it would be 31 games over 5 weekends, the champion having to win 5 straight. The pitiful attempt of 2014 was 4 teams, 3 games, 2 weekends, and 2 games to win. [The non-wild card playoff formula goes like this: the even number of teams is expressed as 2^n, n an integer greater than or equal to 2. (2^2 = 4; 2^3 = 8; 2^4 = 16; 2^5 = 32; etc.) The number of weekends (the number of “tiers”) to play out the playoffs and the number of consecutive wins for the champion is n, and the number of games or “bowls” for a complete playoff is 2^n – 1.]
For n = 2, like the fledgling “playoff” we just had, the money and excitement nationwide is minimal. Yet, look at what n = 2 generated: college football has a chance to surpass the NFL playoffs in the national sports psyche; we will have to wait for Super Bowl 2015 to see if that happens. In my opinion, college football is a “lock” to surpass the NFL if n = 3 or greater. Think about that, all you “true” fans like myself who follow the game for its own sake; think about that all you football betters who bet the Las Vegas line all season; think about that all you who play fantasy football. Our passion, Division I College Football, has a chance to be #1 again, game-wise and money-wise. And all because the 2014 season had the courage to try something reasonable and pragmatic — to try something every American understands, fan or not.
Football-wise and other-sport-wise, 2014 was a good time to be an Aggie fan. With regard to Texas A&M’s joining the SEC, 2014 continued to vindicate that decision, many times over. In Kevin Sumlin’s third season, 8 wins were chalked up in football despite devastating off-the-field QB problems, and I’m not talking Johnny Manziel, who left for the NFL. 2014 turned out to be a A&M football season that, in my opinion, vindicated Johnny Football as a gridiron blessing, not an off-the-field pariah. Regardless of his success or failure in professional ball, JFF was made by 2014 to be seen as not near as bad as perceived by much of the media while he was at College Station; turns out, we were lucky to have him two years; he will deserve any tangible accolades given him by Aggieland in the future, like a Heisman-winner statue to compliment that of John David Crow.
Texas A&M athletics today not only has unprecedented success in all men’s and women’s sports, A&M athletics have the best facilities and financial solvency EVER! Recruiting is growing in geographical outreach and success; coverage of Aggie athletics, thanks to not only networks like Fox Sports, ESPN, and CBS, but also to the new SEC network, is broader and deeper than ever before. Texas A&M is not only the largest school in the State of Texas and largest in the SEC conference, it is being perceived as such in and out of Texas, something we never received while we were in the Big 12.
I predicted the 8-5 2014 Aggie gridiron record, not because the numbers matter (I don’t bet football games nor play fantasy football.), but because they really don’t. Fans who want their team to win because it makes them money from their bet or in their fantasy league need to be called something other than fans. W’s and L’s are secondary or tertiary to a fan; what is primary is putting on the field or court the best team resources can make possible and then having the team play as best they can, each and every game, regardless of outcome. Aggie football is benefiting from being in the perennially toughest division in the nation — the SEC West. W’s and L’s have, are, and will take care of themselves, as shown by the SEC West’s 2014 bowl record — 2-5 (All seven teams were bowl qualified, but only A&M and Arkansas won their bowl games.) When you take a gander at the new multi-million-dollar Kyle Field in the fall of 2015, W’s and L’s will seem pretty insignificant from that season on.
A little tip for fans to avoid the angst of W’s and L’s: don’t bet on sports or play fantasy football; make your money some other way. Then, to gently deal with your fan psyche, predict next season’s record upon the last by subtracting one W and adding one L. Therefore, I now predict next year’s 2015 Aggie football record to be 7-6, including a bowl game. This way, if they duplicate or exceed 2014’s 8-5, I will have a satisfactory season outcome as a fan. I would like them to win every game, but “if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas!” After all, it’s only football!
The lasting triumph of the 2014 D-I College Football Season happened after Ohio State won its quasi-bullshit national championship. And it happened off-the-field, which is hard for me to admit, as I try to ignore tabloid sports media coverage and concentrate upon X’s and O’s. The “Big-5″ D-I conferences banded together and showed the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) it is little more than an impotent, unimportant bureaucracy; those who play the game “rule the roost,” as it should be. The NCAA was forced to agree that an athletic scholarship cannot be revoked based upon athletic performance or injury and that student-athletes, in addition to tuition, books, medical care, and board, get a stipend of spending money so they can lead a normal life off-the-field; or, as I like to call it, student athletes now get “pizza money.” IT’S ABOUT TIME! Finally, finally, we will have no more of that silly signatures/awards/paraphernalia for money that unfairly got Ohio State in trouble a few years ago. Finally, finally, the NCAA recognizes the brutal fact that for so many student-athletes, their families cannot afford pizza money; that for so many student-athletes, their scholarship is their way out of socio-economic depression. Most scholarship athletes do not come from families as financially well off as the Manziels.
Rise up in indignation over how Baylor and TCU were left out of the cold! Demand tweaking of the target rule and increased efforts toward safer helmet technology. Work toward an expanded playoff system. Pray for more beer sold in stadiums. Come on, fans, there is much to do in the off-season! Stop making your bookie and/or fantasy league manager rich and look forward to the day we no longer think of keeping up with changing bowl game names, but, rather only need to think of games in the rounds of quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the one true championship game.