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More mailbag (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday December 26, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Wednesday December 26, 2007 12:29PM
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You said that voters are starting to treat the last ballot of the season differently, in that they think about who really deserves to be in the national championship game. And you emphatically state that this is a positive development. Why do you feel that doing something like this should somehow be distinct from ranking teams in order of how good they are? More simply put, why would you, or anyone else, ever feel that anyone other than THE BEST TWO TEAMS deserves to be in the title game?
--Nate, Columbus, Ohio

That's all well and good, except for one itty, bitty problem: I don't have the slightest idea who the two best teams in the country are this year. Neither do any of the other voters. If there were two teams that were indisputably better than all the others this season, then I'm sure they would have been voted Nos. 1 and 2. In the absence of such clarity, however, I would emphatically repeat that basing the final ballot on perceived merit (as voters have done the past two seasons) is far more logical than basing it on someone's purely subjective opinion that Team A is better than Team B. Yes, we do it that way throughout the regular season, but none of those polls carry any actual meaning; the final one carries a whole lot. It's really not that different than what the NCAA basketball selection committee does when it sits down to seed the teams on Selection Sunday -- the four teams with the best perceived "resumes" are awarded the No. 1 seeds, just as the voters did with Ohio State and LSU.

I do think it's becoming increasingly difficult to identify those two most deserving teams and will readily admit that, barring an absolutely classic game between the Buckeyes and Tigers, questions about one or the other's legitimacy will likely linger well after it's been played. (Especially if teams like Georgia, Oklahoma and USC post blowouts in their games.) In fact, in SI.com's recent "Ultimate Playoff," you, the readers, picked the Trojans to win the title. Apparently you feel they're the best team this season. I don't deny that's possible, but I'm also a little unclear on what "evidence" you guys based that on. I assume it's mostly a "gut" feeling, which is certainly one's prerogative, but if we were to decide the BCS title-game participants that way, then we might as well skip right over the entire regular season and just place the preseason Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the title game.

Whether you agree or disagree with it, the biggest positive to college football's oft-criticized championship method is that it rewards teams' play over the course of the entire season. Contrast that with the NFL. As is painfully obvious by now, the New England Patriots are the best team this season. They stand a win away from finishing the regular season 16-0, something no team in the history of the sport has ever accomplished, and they've already beaten the two teams with the next-best record (the Colts and Cowboys). Yet as of next week, those four months of achievement will basically be rendered meaningless. If by chance the Patriots stumble during what is essentially a separate, three-game season next month, some other, less-accomplished team will be remembered as the sport's champion for 2007.

The day that happens to college football is the day I "retire" from covering the sport.

Why are most bowl games played in the southern states? I understand the weather is usually warmer and more predictable, but I hear a lot of people say the biggest reason is because fans don't want to sit and watch a bowl game in blizzard conditions with freezing temperatures. Am I mistaken, or do I see 100,000+ fans packing Beaver Stadium, The Horseshoe and the Big House every week, regardless of the weather? It doesn't seem fair that people in the northern states have to travel long distances every year to watch their favorite teams play.
--Kent, Brilliant, Ohio

Kent: You make it seem like these teams are being dragged kicking and screaming to Orlando and Phoenix in the middle of winter. Bowl games -- at least as they were originally intended --- are meant to be as much a mini-vacation as they are a sporting event. The teams get to stay at swanky resorts, and the fans get to visit Disneyland, South Beach, Bourbon Street, etc. With all due respect to our friends in the North, people aren't exactly rushing the travel agencies looking to flee to Ohio or Pennsylvania in late December. Long-standing games like the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl became the successful events they did specifically because of their locations.

I understand that there's a new generation of football fans that don't really give a flying hoot about the "bowl experience" and are more concerned that their favorite conference finishes with a winning bowl record. I also understand that everything I just wrote is a little harder to take seriously when we now have bowl games in the likes of Detroit, Toronto and Boise. But there's a reason those games still largely host marginal teams, while the bowls hosting the highest-ranked teams are all held in "destination" cities. The "prestige" of a bowl game is tied closely to how big a payout it can offer the participating teams -- and the best-funded bowls are the ones in places where fans want to travel.

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