On The Contrary: Defending Pointless Arguments [How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BCS]
It’s getting to be that time of year again with the elections over and the holidays still a month off, we Americans need to find something to argue about. Luckily the BCS has started publishing its poll of standings for College Football, an annual hot topic for debate for anyone whose alma mater of choice is not an automatic Bowl qualifier (or is outside the SEC).
For anyone who is not familiar with college football, I’ll lay out the basics here. College Football has no system of playoffs at the end of the season. The rankings of teams are governed by an organization called the BCS (Bowl Championship Series), which creates a poll of teams ranked by power each year. These rankings are determined by college coaches, writers, and also have some kind of computer algorithm that determines what order teams should be ranked in. This takes into account things such as total wins and losses, the competition (how good were the teams you played against), and strength of victory (how much did you win by).
The problem is, every season there are several teams that have identical win/loss records at the end of the year and have never had the chance to play against one another. These teams can be ranked very differently. For instance, a small college might win all of its games, but be ranked lower to a team that has lost a game but is deemed by the computers to have played against stronger opponents. Boise State University has had this very thing happen to it several times. No matter what they do, they simply are never given the opportunity to compete for a National Championship on the field because polls or a computer algorithm determines that they are not as good as another team.
This is of course grossly unfair. That’s what makes it wonderful. Let me explain my reasoning.
Remember as a child when you were consoled after a loss that “it is only a game.” Well, that’s still true. It’s easy to forget for those of us who devote so much energy to following and thinking about sports, but really what difference does it make if your team wins, loses, or doesn’t get to play at all?
Now, this is not to say that sports are not important. In fact, I think they are as important as art, literature, film, music, or any form of expression/entertainment. This is because sports allow us to find a healthy outlet for violent nationalism and groupthink. We need that Dionysian release of passionate competition. We want our teams to obliterate their rivals, and we cheer wholeheartedly for the vicious hits, for the holes we open up in their defenses as we run all over them! I’m getting riled up just thinking about it. The point is, we need a healthy outlet for this impulse, and sports give us an outlet that is both meaningful and completely frivolous. Some people joint cults, the Hitler Youth, or the Tea Party… I joined Steeler Nation. For my money it’s a lot healthier because essentially I’m just cheering for a uniform colors and a perceived connection to the city (or college) they represent. There does not need to be any residual dislike for the opponents after the games are over. For a few hours each week I am a raving madman calling out for blood, but then I go back to being a kind, caring human being with respect for my fellow man (even Philadelphia Flyers fans). Why? Because it’s only a game.
Now back to the BCS. Every year there are teams that are ranked above other teams that some people will find more deserving, and because there is never a game or a playoff system to truly find out which team is better, there is never a true answer. What need does it fill? Why, the need for pointless argument of course! As you might be able to deduce from the title this blogumn, I like to argue. I think good argument is the best form of communication. Through it you learn other peoples’ perspectives and hone and evolve your own point of view. Many people don’t see it this way though. They see an argument as a kind of fight that must be won, and usually leave an argument with hard feelings. Even I get that way some times. So we need to have something frivolous to argue about that doesn’t have an absolute answer. And since the Oscars are four months away, college football rankings fill the void nicely.
Sure, a playoff system would be more equitable to all the teams, allowing the athletes to determine the championship on the field without the interference of computers and opinions. And it could easily work, despite what the BCS says (they’re really in it for the money anyway). But what would we lose? We’d lose a conversation topic that can bring people together across political, social, and team loyalty barriers every year. We’d lose a go-to non-weather-related conversation topic for when you are forced to sit next to Uncle Smitty at Thanksgiving dinner—you know, the uncle that lives in a log cabin and likes to wear a pistol on his belt when he goes to buy milk.
The world isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. Why do sports need to be fair? Every year each team starts out from zero, so it’s not like winning a championship one year carries over to the next. And while people don’t need championships for their team, they do need a subject to fill out sports columns and barroom debates for several months. The disappointment of players not having the chance to win a shiny trophy is a small price to pay for the good of the nation. After all, it’s only a game.
featured image credit: @jbtaylor