Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stewart Mandel Tries To Talk Some Sense Into Dumb College Football Fans

I know what you're saying- isn't this an anti-sports media blog? Well the answer, of course, is yes. We do specialize bitching and moaning. However, our contract with Google states that we are legally allowed to make three (3) posts that are in support of a sportswriter per calendar year. And after reading what CNNSI.com's resident college football mailbag answerer had to say about the "my conference is better than your conference!" argument, I felt compelled to use one of our exemptions. After all, they don't roll over to 2008. Why not use 'em while you've got 'em?

You see, there's nothing that frustrates me more than fans getting hot and bothered about which conference is more powerful than the next. I rant about this to my real life friends (all two of them) at least once a week every fall. Honestly, people... how the hell can you tell which conferences are better than others unless a variety of teams from each square off against each other? You can speculate about common opponents, strength of schedule, coolest fight songs, and best tailgates all you want. But in the end there is no other way to judge conference A against conference B unless a bunch of their teams play. There just isn't.

Sadly, I often feel like I'm pretty much alone in holding this opinion. We live in a culture obsessed with trying to figure out what's going to happen next, rather than just basking in the here and now. Sports and sports media hype today is all about predicting the unpredictable. Which 9th grader is going to be the next 1,500 yard rusher in the NFL? I guarantee there are dozens of creepy rivals.com analysts out there who could debate this topic for hours. Who should be placed atop the eternally meaningless "power rankings" column on your favorite sports website? If you want to lose hope for humanity, check out the comments section attached to a power rankings article anywhere. How so many people so hung up on where a random sportswriter ranks their team is beyond me. How many more years will (suffering team X) go without a title? It's a topic tailor made for "Around the Horn."

And of course, debating the relative strengths of conferences fits right into this clusterfuck of unbridled speculation. But this doesn't stop it from happening ad nauseam every year from August until the first week of January. People just eat this shit up. Everyone and their brother wants "experts" to weigh in this meaningless argument and side with their local conference. It drives me bonkers. How about we just worry about the games that are actually being played? Do we really need to waste energy figuring out whether the Sun Belt is better or worse than the MAC at the halfway point of the season?

So on that note- thanks, Stewart, for articulating my feelings on the matter better than I ever could have. Either click the link and read his whole mailbag (which is very good), or if you're pressed for time, sit back and enjoy these excerpts.

Mind you, this whole thing is a relatively recent phenomenon. While people used to complain about certain teams' soft non-conference schedules (Kansas State, Virginia Tech, etc.), I really don't remember reading any 12-page manifestos championing the Big Ten over the Big 12 or the SEC over the Pac-10. These days, however, some fans get as worked up about defending their favorite conference's honor as they do cheering on their favorite team.

It seems to me this can be traced back to Auburn's 2004 exclusion from the BCS championship. While there were certainly BCS controversies before that one, I rarely remember conference affiliation entering the equation. But when this happened, fans of not only Auburn, but also the entire SEC, were indignant. To them, this wasn't just about an undefeated team being deprived an opportunity at the title; this was about an SEC team getting shafted.

And so, over the two years that followed, SEC coaches and fans alike took every opportunity to make sure such an injustice wouldn't happen again, beating it into the rest of the country's brains just how much tougher their conference was than everybody else's. This of course only intensified after Florida demolished season-long media darling Ohio State last January -- which in turn has caused backlash against the SEC from fans in the rest of the country.

All over a topic for which -- and I can't emphasize this enough -- THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER.

We could literally go on like this for days, people, and we'd just keep going in circles. The only way to truly gauge the respective conferences is when their teams play each other, usually either early in the season or in the bowls, and even then, those results invariably come with asterisks.

When it comes to the various conference loyalists versus critics, it seems the truth is often whatever you want to make it. For the love of humanity -- and more importantly, my sanity -- can we please move on to some other topics?

I like it when professional journalists feel the same way I do! Almost makes me feel like I'm not living in my parents' basement and eating Pop Tarts three meals a day. If they can get paid for feeling this way, why can't I? You know, besides the fact that I have no journalism experience, no connections, and no writing skills.

10 comments:

Chris W said...

ok, but the SEC and PAC-10 are clearly much tougher than any other conference this year...and that is a clear answer

so what's mandel's point?

i don't like him. he takes potshots at ND any opportunity

Jarrett said...

I'm sick of the media saying how tough the NCAA is. The NAIA is SO MUCH tougher than the NCAA could ever hope to be.

Matt said...

The Auburn example shows why some people care so much about this crap in the first place. It falls at the feet of the BCS system & the lack of any sort of playoff scheme for Div. 1 football. You wanna talk stupid...

Chris W said...

I completely agree with those who agree that Auburn should have been in the NC 2004.

Fact of the matter is a team who's undefeated going through the SEC should be in the NC game.

I don't think the SEC is some sort of super-conference, but it's clearly a lot harder to go undefeated through it, beating, as Auburn did that year LSU, Tennesee twice, and Georgia, in addition to a rivalrly game AT Alabama.

Yeah, Oklahoma beat Texas...but absolutely no one else, unless you want to count Oregon, K State,or Nebraska (ho hum)

USC beat Cal and that's about it...(obviously they beat some pretty DECENT teams).

However, since OK and SC didn't play as WEAK of teams, even though they didn't play many significantly good teams, they got to play in the NC?

Why? b/c they both started the season atop the polls?

I'm not, like, crying 96 tears for Auburn, because fuck Auburn, but seriously, that was pretty fucked up and USC are some chump-ass chowderheads

larry b said...

matt- I'm with you re: playoffs. (PLAYOFFS? YOU TALKIN BOUT PLAYOFFS? Hahahahahahahaha, Jim Mora reference!) Hopefully Ohio State loses to Michigan, BC loses to VT or someone else, Kansas loses to Oklahoma in the Big XII title game, and other teams like S. Florida, Hawaii, LSU, Oregon, and West Virginia win out. That way the season will end with like eight solid one loss teams, plus HAwaii. Where you at now, BCS? If last year was bad with the Michigan vs. Florida debate... imagine the shitshow of anger this imaginary scenario would create when the BCS announced its title game pairing.

c-dub: Agree to disagree. How is it 100% clear, with no doubt whatsoever, that the Big XII doesn't belong in the debate? Because Kansas and Missouri aren't "supposed" to be good? Because Texas A&M can't possibly be a decent second tier team? Colorado beat Oklahoma... I guess this shows that the conference is weak. But when Vanderbilt beats South Carolina, that shows that SEC is super duper tough? Here's what's happened between the conferences this year: Georgia roughed up Oklahoma St. at home, Missouri roughed up Ole Miss on the road, and Auburn staged a big comeback to beat Kansas St. by 10 at home. As far as I'm concerned, that's inconclusive.

pnoles said...

Oh man, could this be the beginning of another classic, 20-comment thread?

Chris W said...

larry:Agree to disagree. How is it 100% clear, with no doubt whatsoever, that the Big XII doesn't belong in the debate? Because Kansas and Missouri aren't "supposed" to be good? Because Texas A&M can't possibly be a decent second tier team? Colorado beat Oklahoma... I guess this shows that the conference is weak. But when Vanderbilt beats South Carolina, that shows that SEC is super duper tough? Here's what's happened between the conferences this year: Georgia roughed up Oklahoma St. at home, Missouri roughed up Ole Miss on the road, and Auburn staged a big comeback to beat Kansas St. by 10 at home. As far as I'm concerned, that's inconclusive.

i'm not talking about this year. i'm talking about in 2004 when those teams were all lousy in the big xii and those teams were all good in the sec :shrug:

dan-bob said...

I'm pretty sure LSU will be in the title game this year anyways. And they really do have better tailgates down here. But worse fight songs.

- Reb

larry b said...

OK, 2004 was questionable. I think voters/computers (easily manipulated by their creators) were sending Auburn a message: don't schedule UL-Monroe, The Citadel, and La. Tech for your non-conference games. Step up to the plate and at least play ONE team from a BCS conference, like Oklahoma (Oregon) and USC (a very decent Virginia Tech) did. That's what it came down to, I think.

Anyways look at your first comment:

ok, but the SEC and PAC-10 are clearly much tougher than any other conference this year...and that is a clear answer

That's what I was originally talking about.

larry b said...

dan-bob originally showed me this, so I'm not taking credit for finding it. But just to back up his point about LSU tailgating:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDtp7sEGDis