LSU-Alabama Rematch in BCS Title Game Shouldn’t Happen Regardless of What Occurs Tomorrow in Tuscaloosa
Earlier this week the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran an article about the debate over whether the loser of tomorrow’s #1-versus-#2 LSU-Alabama game deserves a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Yesterday the Chicago Sun-Times ran a similar article.
Neither article endorses the idea of a championship rematch, but both articles (along with several others) serve to legitimize the debate. Clay Travis, of Outkick the Coverage and 104.5 in Nashville, has been an outspoken advocate of a title-game rematch on his radio show and on Twitter. (He’s certain that Oklahoma State will lose to Oklahoma, clearing a path for Saturday’s loser.)
Exhausted as I am by the hype surrounding the LSU-Alabama game, I understand where rematch proponents are coming from, even if I don’t agree.
The Argument For an LSU-Alabama Rematch
If we are convinced that the Tigers and Tide are the two best teams in the nation (and if I had a vote in a poll of any significance, I’d probably rank them #1 and #2), then one shouldn’t be penalized for losing to the other. Unless one team wins by a large margin Saturday evening, it shouldn’t be too hard to make a convincing case that LSU and Alabama are still the two best teams.
And, in theory, the two best teams (as determined by coaches, panelists selected by the conferences, and the computers) should play in the BCS National Championship Game.
"I could be the Jimmy Chitwood of college football, if only you'd give me a chance."
My Argument Against an LSU-Alabama Rematch
Here’s the problem: Division I-FBS college football is a sport with 120 teams, each of which plays a 12- or 13-game season, that decides its champion with a 2-team playoff. It is the only major sport in which a team can be eliminated from championship contention without ever being defeated. Most of the best teams never meet.
Perhaps the most common defense of the current system is the idea that, in college football, every week is a playoff. During the average season, there is at least one game each week that has direct championship implications. (Granted, there are about 57 that don’t, but whatever.) A game in October has the potential to eliminate a team from championship contention.
While there are obvious flaws to a system in which a team’s title hopes can die before Labor Day, a sport that only invites two teams to play for a championship needs regular season de facto elimination games. It needs to be able to say, “You’ve had your title shot. Let’s give someone else a chance.”
This is especially true in the case of LSU and Alabama, who not only meet during the regular season but who also have 6 common opponents (the other 4 SEC West teams and Tennessee and Florida).
An LSU-Alabama rematch in January would be like having two American League teams play for the World Series.
There’s a big college football world out there. Even if we think that LSU and Alabama are the sport’s two best teams, another squad (whether Stanford or Boise or even a one-loss Big 12 team) deserves an opportunity to prove itself. We won’t know how any of these teams would fare against the LSU-Alabama winner if none of these teams doesn’t get a chance to play Saturday’s winner.
A system that already relies too heavily on assumptions needs as many match-ups between top teams as possible to test these assumptions.
"You come after me! I'm a man! I'm #1 in 6 of the 7 computer polls!"
Of course, all of this talk is premature.
It assumes that both LSU and Alabama will win all of their remaining games. It’s entirely possible (however unlikely) that LSU could lose to Arkansas or that Alabama could lose the Iron Bowl or that Georgia or South Carolina could pull an upset in the SEC Championship Game. It also assumes that Oklahoma State, currently #1 in 6 of the 7 computer polls, will not finish the season undefeated. If the Cowboys win out and beat Oklahoma, they will—for all intents and purposes—clinch a spot in the Championship Game.
But considering the limitations of the BCS system, tomorrow’s contest needs to function as an elimination game.
Follow Josh at twitter.com/joshtinley.
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