F’s for Football’s First Final Four

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Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

Yes, this flag is dirty, worn out, and a good part of it is cut off — sort of like the idea of a two-team or four-team college football playoff decided by beauty pageant judges.

It didn’t take long for the four-team playoff idea to get as dirty and worn out as the BCS Championship Game that it succeeded. There is no doubt that the final version of football’s final four will change, but the Committee deserves a resounding “F” for the profound lack of thought process demonstrated in its initial version of the final four.

It’s really very simple: This is supposed to be a national championship … national, as in “nation.”

It was 1893 when Katharine Lee Bates wrote “America the Beautiful,” and even at that early date — without the benefit of Interstates and jet travel — Ms. Bates made it decidedly farther west than Florida State or anybody from the SEC has lately. The selection committee’s SEC-warped view of America is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1.  The United States of America, playoff committee version. Here is a map of the United States, with the states with the “lucky four” highlighted.


From Sea to Shining Sea -- Committee Style

Wikimedia Commons

From Sea to Shining Sea — Committee Style

For the benefit of those who don’t know, the United States is bigger than that. Way bigger. When Ms. Bates finished off “America the Beautiful” with the line “From shining sea,” was she talking about going from the Atlantic coast “all the way” to the Gulf of Mexico? I don’t think so, but this is apparently way over the heads of the Selection Committee members, because as of now, this is the only part of the United State of America that they propose to include in the four-team national championship playoff.

2.  States allowed to compete. What makes this even more maddening is that the First Final Four teams have not allowed themselves to be tested against the rest of America. The SEC, the pollsters, and now the selection committee, would have us believe that SEC football is unquestionably the best. “All you have to do is look at their member teams’ records in nonconference play,” they tell us. Well, there are some problems with that.

First, here is a map that shows all of the states that the “Top Four” had played at the time they were anointed by the Selection Committee:


The first final four have proven themselves better than their cousins,San Jose State and Boise State in a bad year.

Wikimedia Commons

The first final four have proven themselves better than their cousins,San Jose State and Boise State in a bad year.


Obviously, there are some holes in the coverage – like most of the United States. The “Top Four” have played a total of four games against teams from outside of their cozy little corner of the country. Ole Miss got past Boise State after leading only 7-6 at the end of three quarters. (Air Force had them 20-0 in the same time span.) Auburn beat up on San Jose State, but then who doesn’t? Florida State edged Notre Dame, giving an Indiana school a shot at the “unbeatables” and the Semen-olἐs also beat ACC in-conference bottom dweller Syracuse. That’s it! Besides those four teams, nobody outside their region has gotten a crack at them.

Yes, the Top Four – Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Ole Miss – have done a commendable job of beating up on their little cousins in the Sun Belt and Conference USA. But outside their little corner of the country, as of the release of the first final four list, they have played only those four teams mentioned above. And San Jose State and Boise State, both out of the Mountain West, are hardly representative of the best that the West has to offer. And from this we’re supposed to conclude that we can just dismiss every team that isn’t in the lower right corner of the country?

3.  Let’s think National. The Committee has sent a clear message that it will accept the untested assertion that the SEC is simply the best, so of course the SEC teams benefit from perceived strength of schedule. After all, they have to play each other, and let’s just assume that it doesn’t get any harder than that. Lost in this line of thinking is that this is supposed to be a NATIONAL championship, not an SEC championship rerun with neighboring Florida State thrown in.

Also lost in this reasoning is the FACT that over the past four years in BCS Championship Games, the ONLY outsider the SEC has truly dominated is a Notre Dame team that squeaked by BYU and barely beat a mediocre Pitt team in overtime.

For those who have forgotten — and I include the selection committee here — this is what a map of the United States is supposed to look like:


The United State of America that most of us recognize

Wikimedia Commons

The United State of America that most of us recognize — 50 states, not three, from sea to shining sea.

Chances are that by the end of the season one or possibly two teams representing the rest of America will elbow their way into the mix as the SEC cannibalizes itself. The problem, though, is that top teams from other parts of the country shouldn’t have to elbow their way in while the SEC gets three teams in out of the blocks — while deliberately avoiding potentially enlightening competition with most of the United States. Besides that, it is every bit as likely that the Pac-12 and Big 12 will cannibalize themselves, leaving the rest of the country out of the Southeastern U.S. National Championship.

Division I-A college football is in a class of its own for its method of crowning a champion, and this is not meant as a compliment. Major league baseball, the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, Division I-AA football, NCAA Track & Field, swimming, gymnastics … you name it – everybody gets a chance.

Why? Because unlike the selection committee’s prejudiced line of reasoning, it’s the American Way. Including teams that fail to win conference championships at the expense of those that do smacks of corruption. We can hope for the best for the Pac-12, the Big 12 and the B1G, but the Committee has made it clear: this isn’t a football championship; it’s a dog show.

Top photo by Wikimedia Commons

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