Gene Chizik said something interesting on Monday night after Auburn won the national championship. This, in itself, is news, methinks.* I mean no disrespect: Chizik is obviously a terrific football coach, and I have no reason to believe he's anything other than a fine man, and Auburn had a marvelous football season -- but, I don't think even Chizik's most fervent supporter would confuse him with Oscar Wilde.
*I am getting involved in the campaign to bring back the useful word "methinks," which methinks is MUCH better than the unappealing abbreviation "imo" or the even more unwieldy "imho." Methinks has a grand Shakespearean flair, and even a 2-year-old can use it and know what it means, and it's just time to bring it back, methinks.
But Chizik did say something interesting Monday night ... specifically when someone asked him how he felt about the BCS system. This is an annual question presented to the mythical national champion coach and year after year the answers tend to be about as useless as the question.* The coach, armed with this year's shiny crystal bit of mythology, will usually blather on about how this is the system, and everyone knew the rules before the season began, and anyway there is no perfect system, and his team won its championship on the field and so on. I do not remember a winning coach taking the opportunity to say that the system doesn't seem fair, and I don't think it's fair to expect any winning coach to ever say it. Let's be honest: "College football needs a playoff" are the words of the unlucky, the discarded, the teams that did not make it into the big game.
*A similarly useless question/answer bit of patter is when reporters ask the star player immediately after the championship game if he will return to the school or go professional. Cam Newton was getting medical treatment after Monday's game and so was only asked three questions -- and one of those was the "Will you turn pro" question. This happens EVERY year in EVERY sport, and I have yet to hear the player say anything other than "I'm not thinking about that right now ... I'm focused on this victory/loss ... I have not made any decisions ... I will talk with my coach/family/friends/super agent." I know people will insist that we we have to ask the question, and maybe we do. I do know the answer is ALWAYS one big, fat "No comment."
You might have expected Gene Chizik to sputter the same sort of nonsense except for one thing: Chizik has been hurt by the BCS system. In 2004, Auburn went undefeated. Looking back at the talent of the players who were on that team -- just STARTING with running backs Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown -- it's quite likely that Auburn was the best team in college football, certainly one of the two best. Instead USC played Oklahoma in the BCS Championship, and Oklahoma was embarrassingly overmatched. Also: The SEC has won five of the six BCS titles since, specifically the last five. Yes, it seems quite likely Auburn was the best team in America, but they did not get to play in the biggest game because of the quirks of the BCS and the unavoidable mathematics of the BCS Championship Game only having two teams. Gene Chizik was an assistant coach on that Auburn staff. He remembers feeling agony because his team did not get to prove itself best on the field.
So, that afforded him a fascinating opportunity as he stood before the nation on Monday night, having won a National Championship (while undefeated TCU played the role of 2004 Auburn). Someone asked him about the BCS system because someone ALWAYS asks. I'll reprint the entire question and Chizik's instinctive response:
Q: Coach Chizik, congratulations on your national championship. Having said that, how do you like the BCS format?
Chizik: I like it today.
That was his response. And that was interesting. Chizik did expand just a bit. He said most of the time the system is probably right. He said, yes, every so often there might have been a BCS format "that's off here and there." He made sure to point out that 2004 was probably one of those off years (the only year?). And then -- because it's a coach's law -- he said that the system "is what it is" and that "for the most part, it works."
I think if you did a serious and binding poll of current college football coaches, the vast majority would overwhelmingly vote against a playoff. There have been unserious and non-binding polls that strongly suggest this -- just last year, the American Football Coaches Association released results of a poll that said 93% of coaches prefer the bowls to a playoff. Of course, that was just for fun -- nobody thought it would CHANGE anything. And I don't know how they did this particular poll, and am a bit skeptical about the results -- 93% seems high to me. But I think the feeling against playoffs for coaches is probably overwhelming.
Of course, coaches don't run college football and should not. But I think if you did a serious and binding poll of current athletic directors, the majority would vote against a playoff. I think if you did a serious and binding poll of college presidents, the vast majority would vote against a playoff. I think if you did a serious and binding poll of college football PLAYERS, the majority would vote against a playoff too. I'm not confident in saying that about the players, but it's my best bet. The polls I've seen of players seem to be unreliable based on how the questions are phrased, but they never suggest that players are united in their desire for a playoff. And I just I don't see players voting to add more games and more practices and more pressure to their already overcrowded lives. Seems to me that players with NFL aspirations don't want a playoff, and players at schools unlikely to get into a playoff don't want a playoff, and players who feel like they already do PLENTY for their scholarships don't want a playoff. I believe just those three categories would make a majority. The fact that nobody can say for sure what would happen to the current minor bowls in a playoff system could play a role in their vote as well. I think players would vote against.
So, basically I think the plurality of coaches, athletic directors, presidents and players would vote against ANY of the playoff systems offered (with the possible exception of the plus-one -- one more championship game after the bowls -- which does seem to have at least a little bit of traction). Why do I think this? Simple. People generally vote from self interest.
When Auburn was not given a chance to play in the 2004 BCS Championship game, Gene Chizik was against the BCS system.
But when Auburn wins the national title, Gene Chizik thinks the system mostly works, and anyway there's no better system out there. He states authoritatively that the Auburn Tigers are "the best football team in the United States." In two fairly wide ranging press conferences after the game, he does not say the letters "T-C-U," at least not together.
I don't think this makes Gene Chizik hypocritical or even inconsistent ... I think it makes him human. When the system shut him out, it was unfair. When the system gave his team an opportunity to prove their greatness, it is probably the best we could do. I would guess most of us are like this in a million of ways in day-to-day life. Chizik in spirit might still be for a playoff, and he might still be waiting for a great playoff format that he can get behind. But I think his answer after winning is pretty telling. Does he like the BCS? He does right now.
If the majority of coaches don't want a playoff, if presidents don't want a playoff, if athletic directors don't want a playoff, if players don't want a playoff -- if you accept this premise -- then it's fair to ask: Who DOES want a playoff? Well, fans do, at least television viewing fans do -- and by a pretty vast majority. But again, we get into self-interest: Do fans want a playoff so badly that they will stop watching bowl games on TV? No. Do fans want a playoff so badly that they will stop going to games? No. Do fans want a playoff so badly that they will simply reject the BCS Championship by boycotting the game? No. Ratings in the BCS title game were down 11% from last year -- was that a statement about BCS fairness? Probably not since last year there was MORE controversy about who was in last year's game (Boise State AND TCU were undefeated and left out). I'd say the ratings fall was due to the game being on cable instead of Fox, and Auburn and Oregon not being as popular nationally as Alabama and Texas last year.
I guess my point is that there's a lot of talk about a playoff in college -- there is a lot of fire on talk radio and in Internet chat rooms -- but there seems to me no genuine movement here. A large majority of college football fans -- myself included -- want a playoff because the system doesn't seem inclusive and it would be awesome to have a month of meaningful college football games on television in December. That would be so great.* The larger question, though, is this: Whose game is this? Is it our game, the fans game? Or is it the colleges' game and the players' game?
*Here's something I do find strange -- and I'm a playoff advocate: Many, many people, in their case for a playoff, point out that a television playoff would generate much, much, much more money for the schools. In the fascinating and convincing Death to the BCS, the number was as high as $750 million per year. I have every reason to believe it's true. But here's what bugs me: I'm not sure why we're supposed to believe this is a good thing. The theme seems to be that this extra money could help schools pay for things like other sports that have been cut for budgetary reasons and it could expand opportunities. Is this really what we think will happen with the money? Or will this just give schools opportunity and reason to spend even more money to hire Nick Saban and build larger stadiums and better workout facilities and pump up recruiting? I mean, college football makes a lot more money now from TV than it did 20 years ago, and all you hear is that schools don't have money to keep longtime wrestling or swimming programs going. I guess my point is: Since when did we as fans start to ROOT for more television influence and more money to be infused into college football?
Ted Williams used his stage at the Hall of Fame to call for the induction of Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and other worthy Negro Leaguers, and that helped create change. If Gene Chizik had gone up after the game and said: "I'm proud of this team, and have no doubt that we are the best team in college football, but I feel for teams like TCU that aren't here and would have preferred to settle it in a playoff system" -- well that might have been the sort of statement that might help create change. He had no responsibility to say anything like that and he didn't, and I don't blame him. This was a great moment for his school, his players, his family, and I didn't expect him to make a political statement. I have little doubt in my mind that Auburn was the best college football team in America, and they should celebrate themselves, and they do.
I also think that TCU fans have every right to declare THEMSELVES national champion. I have little doubt TCU could have given Auburn a great game. And while the screaming from us fans about the unfairness of the system and the desperate need for a playoff will only get louder, and while every so often there will be a protest (like an unnamed coach going against the rules and voting TCU No. 1 this year), and while there will be some high profile support from a playoff (such as when President Obama spoke out), I don't think there will be a playoff any time soon. There are too many people in the game who don't want one. And, there are too many people in the game who are just fine with the BCS system on their happy days..