In North America, sports are a crucial part of the culture and society. They are enterprises that generate huge amounts of revenue as well as a point of community engagement and pride while also providing opportunities for less fortunate individuals who otherwise would not have the connections, opportunities and resources to attend university. While the major sports league, such as NFL and NBA, receive the most attention, college sports are also a crucial cog in the sports world. This is due to both giving athletes a platform to further grow and show their skill against a higher level of competition, but also for states/provinces and cities that are not represented in the professional leagues to have some sports representation that they can attach a sense of pride towards. Even the areas that have a professional team will feel attachment to their college teams as they are often a source of migration, money, and pride. So when controversy strikes it sends ripples that extend beyond just the affected sport programs.
Common sports logic would generally argue that if you are undefeated during the season then you are amongst the best. However, that logic seemed to escape the College Football (CFB) Playoff Committee when they picked their four teams for the CFB playoffs: University of Michigan (UM), University of Washington (UW), University of Texas (UT), and University of Alabama (UA). While Michigan and Washington made sense, both went undefeated and won their conference. Alabama and Texas had to make their case with both having lost once during the season. One team that should not have had to make their case was Florida State University (FSU), who went undefeated, won their conference, just like the number one and two seeds, yet were still left outside looking in at the playoffs at the number five spot.
A brief explainer of how this works and why it is important. With over a hundred different football teams across the US in different conferences, it is impossible for every team to play each other. By not being able to have an entirely objective ranking, it is up to a ranking committee to rank the top 25 teams using a list of somewhat vague criteria with the top four making the playoffs. Thus, there are a lot of factors and how you play is almost as important as who you play.
The ramifications of their decisions are wide ranging. For the schools, these bowl games bring in hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in revenue due to sponsorships which are used to fund a variety of programs, not just the football team. It also provides clout which they can use to build their team and pitch to recruit future potential players thus helping to build the program for the future. In regards to the players, these bowl games are incredibly important. While they often provide “swag bags” with various goods, the most important aspect is it gives these players one final chance to play for a university and team they may have become significantly attached to. It also provides NFL evaluators another game to potentially help their chances of being drafted or increase their draft position with a good performance against a team they probably did not play in the regular season which could be the difference in hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. And for those who will not go to the next level, it’s another chance to help convince the team to keep them for the next season or use it as a final audition for any teams if they plan on transferring. While there are also various other bowl games, none hold the prestige of the playoffs.
While numerous teams could make a good argument for why they should be considered amongst the four best teams, and it is not a perfect science by any means, Shouldn’t record be the main determining factor as it is in almost all other sports and leagues? In their defence, the CFB does have it in their protocols that the availability, or lack thereof, of key players that affect the team performance will play a role in their decision. However, The loss of both their quarterbacks (one for the season, the other for only one game) did not lead to any losses due to an overall team effort.
Maybe last year’s title game, a shellacking by Georgia over Texas Christian University (TCU), made the CFB committee scared of a similar outcome, thus lowering viewer numbers and limiting further betting odds. But should they be the gatekeepers and try to predict how close or entertaining a game should be? Or should that right be decided by the players and coaches who earned their wins and losses by their own merit? Furthermore, in American football, especially CFB, there are too many aspects to determine what is most important or who are the best teams outside of who they won and lost to. With the amount of different philosophies and “next man up” attitudes, injuries are not nearly as debilitating in college football than in other sports.
Some of these issues may be alleviated next year when they switch to a 12 team playoff format. However the statement is clear: what matters is TV numbers and betting odds. It is no longer about records or giving the underdogs who have earned it a chance to live up to the “any given Sunday” saying that has become a mantra of many football teams. While this is an isolated incident, it’s a reminder that these sports that we love are still businesses and how they balance the business aspect vs the spirit of the game will always be up to debate.
Foto: Kigoa Football on Green Grass during Daytime – Photo by Pixabay from Pexels