Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Champs should be crowned on the field

Penn State's undefeated season in 1994 and eventual victory in the
 1995 Rose Bowl is main the reason I no longer watch college football.

By Alan. K. Stout
Weekender Blog

Thankfully, the college football season is finally over. Now, when I open the sports page, or I put on a sports-talk radio station, and they're talking about football, they'll only be talking about the NFL.

I don't like college football. Well, let me rephrase that: I don't like the way college football chooses a "champion." In fact, many might say that it doesn't really have a champion at all. Last week, after the so-called "National Championship Game," people everywhere were still arguing over who was the best college football team.

It's ridiculous. And it happens almost every year. A couple of teams go undefeated, or maybe lose one tough game, and at the end of the season, three or four teams are all claiming to be No. 1. And frankly, I don't blame them. If you win all of your games, why shouldn't you feel that way? It's not the fault of the colleges, or the players, or the coaches that the season is a joke. It's the system's fault. And that's why I can't invest any time or interest in it. I don't watch sports for the joy of the game. I watch sports to see somebody win, and at the end of the season, to see somebody to be crowned the champion. And whoever that is should be determined on the field, or the ice, or the court. That's how it is in every sport.

Except college football.

At the end of the 1994-95 season, I went to State College to see the Nittany Lions play the last game of the regular season. Though I didn't go to PSU and could never understand how people could get so revved up rooting for a school they didn't actually attend, I'm a big admirer of Joe Paterno, and being born and raised in Pennsylvania, I was, of course, rooting for Penn State. It was a great day, as the team won the game and finished the season undefeated. But walking out the Beaver Stadium, there was an almost empty feeling. It was as if everybody knew the Lions would likely go on to win the Rose Bowl -- which they did -- but that it wouldn't really matter -- which it didn't. I don't even remember who it was -- maybe Nebraska or Miami -- but some other team won the Orange Bowl and were named "National Champions." Penn State's marvelous undefeated season meant zilch.

Why not just play a game and see who's better? That was it for me. Now, I don't even watch college football.

Frankly, I couldn't even imagine playing a sport that didn't have a true champion at the end of the season. I couldn't imagine going to all of those double-session practices, lifting all of those weights and putting in that type of commitment to something, and then go undefeated, and then have some "poll" tell me that my team was not the best. I couldn't imagine wasting my time playing a sport where the champion wasn't crowned on the field.

Perhaps no sport does this better than the NFL. The playoffs are a tournament. The quality of your season is rewarded by things such as a first-round bye and home field advantage. Yet at the same time, if you hit a bump in the road during the season, you can still make the playoffs, and if you raise your game, you can still advance. And the real beauty of it all is that it all ends with the Super Bowl. The two survivors of the long and hard season and the brutal playoff rounds meet on the field. The winner is the World Champion. Period. No discussion or debate afterward. No "poll." It's over. Fair and square. Baseball is pretty much the same. Long, hard season. Intense playoff tournament. World Series. Champion crowned. You say it wouldn't work at the college level? What would you call the College World Series? What would you call March Madness and the Final Four?

Only college football can't seem to get it right.

I love sports. I've seen my favorite teams win the World Series and Super Bowl in exhilarating fashion, and I've seen them lose the World Series and Super Bowl in heartbreaking fashion. It's what keeps me coming back as a fan. That's the thrill. And even if my team isn't in the playoffs, I can still watch and enjoy the NFL and MLB and know that I'm on my way to finding out which team is really the best.

Utah? USC? Florida? Texas? You college football fans can still dicker over who's the real champ. I didn't watch any of it. I will, however, be in front of my TV on Sunday watching the NFL. And on Feb. 1, I'll know which team is the best. There will be a Super Bowl Champion. Fair and square.

Decided on the field.