Friday, November 21, 2008

The Day I Defended the Indefensible

I moved from Utah to New York in December of 1984. My wife, Kerry, had accepted a job at WROC-TV in Rochester as the weekday meteorologist. We arrived in Rochester on Friday, the 14th of December and she began working the following Monday.

Three days later I went to the TV station between the 6:00 and 11:00 news broadcasts and met some of the people that she worked with. I remember vividly meeting the sports anchor and discussing college football with him. Eventually our conversation moved to the Holiday Bowl that was being played the following night in San Diego between #1 rated BYU (11-0) and Michigan (6-5).

It was his opinion that even if BYU beat Michigan they should not be awarded the 'mythical' national championship as they 'hadn't played anyone'. It was true. They were the first, and remain to this day, the only college football team to be ranked #1 at the end of the regular season without having played even one team ranked in the top 25 in any major poll. I was as ticked off as anyone that BYU was playing for a 'national championship', but I felt obliged to defend them.

I maintained that it really wasn't their fault that their schedule wasn't very strong. As schedules are booked several years in advance it is virtually impossible to know who will be good in any particular year. In their defense, I pointed out that they had played at Pittsburgh (1984 record of 3-7-1) the first game of the season and won. When that game was originally scheduled, Pittsburgh was coming off of a national championship season themselves (1976) and had back-to-back-to-back one loss seasons from 1979 - 1981.

Further, I argued that if anyone was particularly interested in proving that BYU wasn't the best team in the nation they should arrange to play them in a bowl game. BYU, by virtue of being WAC champions, was committed to play in the Holiday Bowl , and nobody (not even BYU, as I recall) was willing to discuss a buyout of that commitment so that BYU could have played a top ranked team in a bowl game.

There were a number of teams that could have accepted an invitation to play BYU, including third ranked Washington (10-1), but they all decided to take a larger payout and hope that Michigan beat BYU. For their part Washington accepted an invitation to play #2 Oklahoma (10-1) in the Orange Bowl. BYU ended up beating Michigan in a very unconvincing manner 24-17, while Washington beat #2 Oklahoma 28-17 in the infamous Sooner Schooner penalty game.

BYU was voted the 'mythical' national championship at the end of the season. I guess they deserved it for the most part. They were the only undefeated team in the nation. No team could claim that they were better by proving it on the field. I think BYU was certainly a top 10 team that year - maybe even a top 5, but most assuredly were not the best. In my opinion the BYU 1983 team was better.

There was minor outrage at the end of the season that BYU had been awarded the championship. It seemed for a while that this incident would lead to a true national championship game. Instead, eight years later in an even bigger money grab, the six largest football conferences and Notre Dame developed the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Sorry, the BCS is even too indefensible for me to try mounting a defense.

Tomorrow in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah (11-0) will play BYU (10-1) for the Mountain West Conference championship. If, as expected Utah (the good guys, wearing the red hats) beats BYU (booooooooo!) they will have a far stronger claim for consideration of the national championship than BYU did in 1984. They will have beaten five teams that had been ranked in the top 25 during the year (Michigan - okay they didn't deserve it, but they were ranked at the time, Oregon State, Air Force, TCU and BYU). They will likely receive a big bowl game payout from one of the BCS bowls, but should be a given a chance to PLAY for a title.

Utah went undefeated in 2004 and became the first team from outside the BCS structure to be awarded a berth in a big payout BCS game. Unfortunately, they were invited play an extremely undermatched, Big East Conference champion, Pittsburgh team in the Fiesta Bowl who they beat 35-7. I wouldn't for one minute claim that Utah was the best team in the nation that year. They probably would have put up a better fight against USC, however, than Oklahoma did in the Orange Bowl (final score 55-7).

Our newly elected president of the United States, Barack Obama, has indicated that he thinks that college football should have an end of season tournament to determine a national champion. It is maybe the only thing he has said that makes sense to me. It may not happen in my lifetime, however. The money for the six BCS conferences is just too big and the rest of the country doesn't have the clout (or television viewing populations) to unseat it at this time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Go Cougars!