My team, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, was idle this weekend, happily perched at number two in the BCS standings (at least for a few more hours), licking its chops for the chance to face LSU in a rematch for the BCS Championship Game. Whether or not it gets to do so will be revealed later today.
Oklahoma State was ranked behind Bama in the last poll. Both teams have one loss–Bama’s was a 9-6 overtime loss to the SEC Champion LSU Tigers; Oklahoma State lost in overtime to Iowa State, an unranked team that finished its season 6-6.
Instead of arguing who is most deserving of meeting LSU in the BCS Championship, the argument should be over which is the better team. Without having played each other, or even in the same conference, there is absolutely no way to tell. Obviously, Oklahoma State wasn’t better than Iowa State on the day they played them (but please, shut up about the team grieving that day over the deaths of two Oklahoma State female basketball coaches–commentators that think such things matter to a football player or team’s performance obviously don’t have even the slightest inkling of the psyche of the average football player or team), but so what? It was just one game. The Cowboys won their conference championship last night by annihilating the Oklahoma Sooners. Alabama didn’t even win its own division within its conference, but then, that was because of its one and only loss, by three points, to the BCS leading, and undefeated, LSU Tigers.
Perhaps the championship game berth should be awarded to the team that played in the best conference. But that’s no easier to ascertain than which of the two teams is the best. The SEC has won a string of BCS championships lately, but past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. There’s not enough common opponents between the conferences to even make an arguable case one way or another, as if that were a valid method for evaluating a conference or a team.
Big-time college football faces an evolutionary dilemma, of the sort that explains why the keypad upon which this post is being typed is of the “qwerty” design.
Evolution can only work with the raw materials at its disposal. For example, the optic nerve in a human being is situated smack in the middle of the light-gathering region of the retina’s rods and cones, creating a blind spot for which neural compensation must continually be made in order to present a useful view of reality. Why? Because the gradual development of the eyeball and its neural circuitry had to take the route available to it. It couldn’t just start over and create afresh the most efficient system for gathering light and transmitting impulses to the brain.
Big-time college football’s attempt to designate a national champion was subject to similar constraints, beholden to the structure of the existing bowl system and the sports writers (who have always had a say in who is anointed champion), in which monied and powerful interests were vested. And like the human ancestors that gradually developed the eyeball’s configuration couldn’t wipe the slate clean and design a visual system anew, college football couldn’t wipe away the existing bowl system and design an equitable playoff system from which a legitimate national champion could emerge, even though there would have accrued great benefit to either of the human ancestor, or college football, had it been possible.
There are a great many examples of the limitations on adaptive evolution posed by the need to preserve or work around existing structures. With living organisms in nature, that necessarily must preserve life while also adapting to a changing environment, there is no possibility of starting afresh, except perhaps by the rare beneficial mutational quirk. Within human organizations, existing power structures that are necessarily supremely concerned with their own continuation will not allow radical design changes. Though starting anew is within the domain of organizational possibilities, it doesn’t happen without external forcing, because organizations have the same imperative to continuation as do organisms. It’s why the financial system had to be rescued in the context of its existing structure, with only a bit of superficial redesign around the margins. No thought was even entertained that there might be a better way of designing an economy and its attendant financial system infrastructure, though it has become painfully obvious to a great many observers that it screams for redesign from the bottom up.
If whichever team that is anointed to play LSU in the mythical national championship game defeats them, perhaps the inequity of not allowing any others a chance will force a fresh look at the impossibly inefficient and inequitable means with which college football presumes to crown a champion. But don’t count on it. At least not unless some means can be developed whereby the existing structure enhances its power and the riches it is able to reap.
While it is easy for me to see a way clear to use the existing bowl structure to award a more or less true national champion (use the big four bowls as the first round of a playoff composed of conference champions, and a couple of at large bids–pretty much returning the bowls to their historical conference relationship, but just continuing with another two weeks of games to award a champion) that would generate more interest, and money for the bowls, but doing so would take quite a bit of cooperation, and in nature, as in human society, cooperation in the struggle to survive is generally the exception, rather than the rule.