COLLEGE FOOTBALL: THE ENDS JUNK THE MEANS

Before we close the book on the college football season, I wonder if you had the same feeling I did watching Florida trounce Ohio State for the national championship. It didn’t leave me cheering. It didn’t leave me satisfied.

It left me depressed.

College football is a mess. Of all our major sports, it is the most confused and the most hypocritical. It has grueling practices in August, lopsided matchups in September, wonderful rivalries in November, silly bowls in December and a way-too-late championship in January. It is a sport operating on conflicting levels, like a four-headed monster always arguing with itself.

For example, college football proclaims one thing (“we must protect the students’ exam period!”) but does another (drag those students six extra weeks to play a meaningless bowl).

College football rewards your number of victories (so teams load up on creampuffs early in the season) yet denies a title chance to a school with an undefeated season (Boise State).

College football decides its championship on a field, but determines the combatants with computers and polls.

And college football culminates in a night so disconnected from its season you have to be reminded to watch it.

Like I said, a mess.

Idle hands ruin momentum

The Gators whupping the Buckeyes might have made Urban Meyer happy (and rich), but I’m not sure what it did for anyone not wearing Florida colors. One of my fellow columnists suggested it proved the BCS got it right, but I disagree. I still believe the Ohio State team that beat Michigan in mid-November would have beaten Florida the following Saturday.

Problem is, they didn’t play the following Saturday. Or the following one, or even the following one. College football is the only sport that fails to reward momentum. You can’t get “on a playoff roll.” You can’t even get off the couch. Ohio State spent seven weeks inactive before that kickoff Monday night. Consequently, what the championship game rewards is not action, but adjustments. Who can come up with a better seven-week game plan? Which team’s players won’t lose focus over the New Year?

Excuse me, but what does that have to do with college football? The rest of the season is about carrying effort from weekend to weekend, growing momentum.

Not the championship. Meyer reportedly got his Gators ready for the big game by building up six days at a time, as if there were a game, then not playing one. In other words, pretending Florida was actually active. Congratulations, college football. You are coaching make-believe.

As a result, nobody knows nothing. Most of the “experts” (myself included) were proved wrong (allowing the Gators to use the most overused phrase in sports, “No one gave us any respect”). And yes, it’s fun when the experts look like idiots. But let’s be honest. If the experts are always wrong – and No. 2 has beaten No. 1 pretty often – maybe it’s not the experts.

Maybe it’s the system.

Which crown? Conference or national?

This speaks to another conflict in college football, one felt acutely in the Big Ten: going for a conference championship versus going for a national crown. A school like U-M has long prided itself on – first and foremost – winning the Big Ten. But doing that seems to require one approach, while winning a national championship requires another. The teams that survive the Big Ten grind usually pound the ball well, block well, defend well and use the momentum from week to week. Teams that win the national title seem to move like lightning, throw like crazy and get geeked up for one spotlight event.

I’m not sure why this is. I don’t buy the “SEC is better” argument. First of all, U-M, OSU and Florida recruit nationally, not locally. Secondly, if the SEC is so superior, why did Arkansas and Tennessee – two of Florida’s “impressive” victories – lose bowls to Big Ten teams?

All I know is the net result is unsatisfying. College football has more unhappy fans than any sport. The bowls are a joke. The polls are one big argument. And the championship game comes in the middle of the NFL playoffs.

One team goes home happy – and sometimes surprised – while everyone else ranges from confused to confounded. And, thanks to big TV money, nothing will change for at least four years.

Which is the most depressing part of all.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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