Some College Football Speculative Fiction
I’ve always wanted to write some good alternate history or dystopian future fiction, but I’ve never been able to fully realize a vision, including all the little details and ramifications of a single pivotal change, around which one could build a story. Until the nightmare I just envisioned tonight.
Now, I’ve been saying all week that with a win over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati would be able to edge TCU (suffering from a bye week) for that coveted spot in the Bowl Championship Series rankings right behind Texas, waiting to overtake them and challenge Alabama for the National Title, should the Longhorns falter. Sure, Iowa fans might cry foul for losing a potential at-large BCS Bowl bid to Texas or an ACC champion of questionable quality. Undefeated TCU supporters, whose coach is a proclaimed supporter of the BCS system, would claim superiority and conference discrimination until the end of time. But it wasn’t until the Longhorns tempted fate with a single (almost debatable) second remaining in the Big XII Championship game against Nebraska that I realized the ridiculous drama and “doomsday” scenario that very well might’ve played out had the Longhorns lost that game (they won on a field goal kicked after that one second was put back on the clock, following an official review).
Year after year, the BCS keeps happening upon new and inventive “doomsday” scenarios. Computer rankings differ too much from the human polls in 2003. Too many undefeated teams in 2004. Every team that makes it to #2 keeps losing in 2007. Too many one-loss teams in 2008. 2005 was about the only recent year that it worked, and in 2006, Florida and Michigan tied in the computer rankings in the battle to play Ohio State for the title. Well, really, if all computer rankings were taken into account, Florida had a slight edge, but BCS rules drop the highest and lowest rankings when creating the average to make things fair. Annnnyway, it came down to the human pollsters to decide who would end up in second place. Florida ended up ahead by no more than 40 points (out of a couple thousand) in both of the voter polls used by the BCS. Sadly, as pollsters don’t need to explain themselves on the ballots, there’s no way to measure just how much of a factor the possibility the title game could’ve been a rematch between the Big Ten teams played in those voters’ decision to drop Michigan to third.
Fast forward to tonight, with the stability of the BCS system hanging on the accuracy of a 46-yard field goal kick in Arlington, Texas. After top-ranked Florida fell to Alabama and undefeated Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh in dramatic fashion for the Big East title, the No. 3 Longhorns found themselves down in a surprisingly close Big XII Championship game. After the clock ran down to zero (the first time) and it went under review, and while the game paused for a Nebraska timeout in an attempt to ice the kicker, amidst the flurry of text messages to friends and Kirk Herbstreit basically freaking out at Colt McCoy on national television, I saw the future. And started digging up some numbers to confirm such a future was possible.
Had the clock actually run out or Texas missed that field goal, all hell would’ve broken loose in football-land. Texas would’ve dropped in the rankings, to be sure, but how far? And where would that leave Cincinnati, TCU, and… Florida? Florida and Alabama were tied in the computer rankings going into today’s SEC Championship game, with Cincinnati a fairly distant third, and Texas hot on its trail (TCU in fifth place). Obviously, each computer ranking functions a bit differently than the others, and despite making playing with BCS numbers a hobby, I’m no mathematician. But I’ve got reason to believe that Florida would’ve still managed to squeak by all the others, at least in the computers, to claim that runner-up spot. Basically, left to computers alone, Florida and Alabama would have played each other again in the National Championship game (computer rankings for years haven’t been allowed to factor in the margin of victory – in the case of Florida-Alabama, 19 points – in rating quality of wins).
Yes, even over undefeated TCU and Cincinnati, Florida would’ve stayed on top of all of them. It shouldn’t come as that huge of a surprise, really. You can’t get a better quality loss than to the highest-ranked team other than yourself. And while Cincinnati beat a 15th-ranked Pittsburgh team, Texas would’ve lost to a Nebraska team ranked at only 22. In short, Texas would fall a hell of a lot further than Florida, and Cincinnati’s loss-less record still might not be enough considering the teams Florida has played (however, don’t get me started on how overrated LSU is, was, and always will be). And unfortunately for those underdog mid-major conferences, TCU just wouldn’t have been able to cut it.
Once again, it would’ve been up to those darned humans. Unlike nice, controllable computers, humans have to deal with all those biases and emotions, potential tendencies towards unfairness and corruption, and the ongoing burden of creating “a game America will enjoy”, etc. But this time it’d be even worse – they wouldn’t just be voting in a tiebreaker, they’d have to intentionally vote any or all of those other teams well ahead of Florida to make up for the difference in the computer rankings if they wanted to avoid that dreaded rematch game. Would the Horned Frogs and Bearcats (ok, seriously, these animals are ridiculous) split too many votes and Florida not fall far enough in those polls? How harshly would they punish Florida for the manner in which they lost the SEC Championship? Which Gator would be the first to cry foul and start accusing voters of stuffing the ballots for other teams not based on the season-long performance of the teams, but based instead on how they wanted the bowl games to play out? Who voted for whom and why? Was there money or TV ratings involved? Would Lou Holtz get held for contempt in an ESPN “Final Verdict” segment after accidentally spitting on Mark May?
Unfortunately, Texas won, and none of this will ever come true (but watch to see how far Florida doesn’t fall tomorrow morning in the computers! Yes, I’m calling it!). At least not this year. Maybe next year this doomsday scenario will actually happen and yet another flaw in the BCS system (basically, forcing voters to consider game matchups, not actual rank of the teams’ performances, when assembling polls), and move us one step closer to its none-to-soon demise.
For now, I think I’m gonna start a series of compelling and intrigue-filled novellas about closed-door meetings, dramatic press conferences, and ESPN talking head battles with never-before-reached levels of violence over football rankings. In the controversial last installment, the student athletes realize nobody’s really just watching the games anymore, and they’ll all quit and run off to Canada to simultaneously enroll in Canadian colleges and suit up for their playoff-system-using gridiron teams and also dodge the draft when we go to war with China.