by | Nov 15, 2006 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

In boxing, every guy has a plan until he gets hit. In college football, everyone has a national championship system – until it doesn’t work.

Lately, pundits have been shooting down a possible Michigan-Ohio State rematch for the national title. They don’t like it. Even Bo Schembechler has said he wouldn’t want one. Of course, I remember Bo when he didn’t want any national championships, either.

The arguments go like this: “If Michigan and Ohio State play again for the national title, it waters down this weekend’s game.”

Or “If they play again, it’s like splitting the series.” Or “If they play again, and the loser wins the next time, then it’s … it’s …”

It’s what?

It’s – to paraphrase Hyman Roth in “The Godfather”- the system we’ve chosen.

And that system is to let computers help rank teams and put the top two in a national championship game.

Hey. I didn’t invent the thing. I’ve been in favor of a four-team playoff for years. But we don’t have that. We have rankings. And if No. 1 plays No. 2 and it’s a close game, and you follow the way this dumb system has worked all year, then the two of them playing each other again is hardly out of line – and it shouldn’t matter whether you like it or not.

You can’t be Mr. Spock most of the season and Captain Kirk at the end. Can’t stop it now

Remember that computers don’t account for things like hype or boredom. The computer doesn’t care that you can’t get revved up for the same game twice in seven weeks. (Which, by the way – with sports what it is – is laughable.)

A computer’s job is to stick with the facts and apply them as equally in the first week as in the last. So let’s run a few scenarios.

Say Michigan-Ohio State is decided by a late field goal. Michigan wins. (Hey, it’s my scenario, I can pick who I want.) Who, besides Ohio State, should U-M play?

Well, next up is USC, No. 3 in the BCS rankings – the same USC that squeaked past lesser opponents this year and only jumped this high because a bunch of other one-loss teams became two-loss teams. Now suddenly the Trojans, who got thumped by – ahem – Oregon State, should play for the title over the Buckeyes? Why? Isn’t losing to Oregon State worse than losing to Michigan?

But wait. USC has to play Notre Dame, which has been climbing up the outside like a racehorse. What if the Fighting Irish upset the Trojans? Their fans would say Notre Dame must play Michigan for the title.

Except these two teams already met, and the Wolverines trashed them. Why should the Irish get a second chance when the Buckeyes can’t? Why is a rematch of an early-season game any better than a rematch of the season finale?

Someone will make a case for No. 4 Florida. But the Gators already lost to Auburn, a team that has lost twice, including a beating by Georgia. Someone else will say, hey, No. 6 Rutgers is undefeated. But are you telling me a Michigan-Rutgers national championship is more desirable than UM-OSU?

You live with a computer, or you lose it. You can’t just unplug it. Blame the system

Now it’s true, the BCS also is determined by two polls voted on by coaches and writers. And those voters might say Ohio State had its chance or only conference winners should play for the title or nobody likes a rematch.

But none of that is true in other sports. In pro football, the team you play in the season finale can be the team you face in the Super Bowl. In the NBA or NHL, conference winners can be eliminated by wild-card teams.

You can say that’s what makes college football different. But that’s silly. What really makes it different is the dumb BCS system – a system designed to address this problem.

By the way, if we had a playoff involving the top four teams, with No. 1 playing No. 4, and Michigan beat Ohio State on Saturday, guess who U-M might face in the next game.

No. 4 Ohio State.

The truth is, rematches don’t ruin anything except an argument. So is college football in the national championship business or the argument business?

Sometimes I can’t tell.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. He will sign copies of his best-seller, “For One More Day,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble, 500 S. Main, Royal Oak.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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