On Pigskin and Petrol

Imagine the drama if a three-loss Florida team had a shot to defend its national title, riding the skills of Heisman-winning touchdown machine Tim Tebow. Or if Colt Brennan could throw Hawaii to the Promised Land. Or if the Virginia Tech Hokies might continue their late season momentum and win a national title, providing a sense of collective joy to a school that’s seen such tragedy.

But no. Instead we get something quite different. We get, in the words of my favorite local sports radio guy, “Ohio State and LSU. Two teams that have backed their way into the BCS championship game.” Ah, the majesty of college football: the only sport where after a year of drama two teams can back into a championship game.

Yes, it’s December, time for holiday wreaths, hot cider and blood-curdling whines by fans from coast to coast about the BCS, easily on the Mount Rushmore of hated abbreviations, along with DMV, IRS, and FBI.

There are many aggravating factors in college football: the fact that players don’t see a dime for their labors, the scholarships that get pulled after injury, the Byzantine rules of the NCAA, or that Nick Saban will be making $32 million. Many people of good conscience find themselves on different sides of the above issues. Yet the one question that seems to unite all factions is the BCS — a lightning rod in an endless winter of discontent.

The reason for this is quite basic: the BCS fails the test of sport, finance and most basic logic. A college football playoff system would crown a true and just champion, as well as set record ratings and raise scads of money. A team’s blood, sweat, and tears wouldn’t ride on preseason polls, computers and surly coaches letting equipment managers fill out their rankings. A season’s efforts wouldn’t implode because a team loses late instead of early.

Fans, players and prominent coaches like Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville and South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, among, others want a playoff system, but it still doesn’t happen. It’s time to move away from anger and to start understanding why.

The BCS has become an anchor around the neck of progress in college football. Think of it like oil dependency. There is broad agreement that the use and overuse of oil in the United States is more dangerous than kissing a light socket. It damages the environment. It costs a fortune. It has become, as General John Abizaid said, the reason we are in the Middle East with no end in sight. Even George W. Bush, a man whose family has always shown a taste for black gold, called for the country to end it’s “oil addiction.” And yet oil is still the lubricant of choice. The U.S. makes up five percent of the world’s population, but uses 25 percent of the oil. This is because there are very powerful interests with remarkable political pull that maintain an oily status quo.

The oil-baron equivalents in college football are university presidents happy with the easy money that comes with the bloated bowl structure. Right now there are 32 bowl games. Sixty-four teams that get the “honor” of playing in bowls, and those teams’ conferences get a piece of that football manna. “You have presidents that for some reason look at it more as for the money than having a national championship on the field,” said Tuberville last year. “Presidents take the money and go spend it, but they don’t worry about the business of making it better.”

Tuberville is echoing the words of W.E.B. DuBois (Is that the first time those two have ever been mentioned in the same sentence?), who worried a century ago about the corrosive effect of “king football,” with its money-generating powers, had on university presidents. DuBois was correct then, and Tuberville is correct now.

The cheap financial fix is blinding university leaders from progress. Granted, it would be a crime to take away the pageantry of the Papajohns.com Bowl from the sports landscape, but this is about more than a playoff system. It’s about the triumph of logic in the face of ideas that can only be described as prehistoric. If we can get rid of the BCS, maybe we can develop some alternative energy … to fix all that ails college sports.

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of “The Muhammad Ali Handbook” (MQ Publications) and “Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports” . You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com



DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.