Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s name was all over Twitter yesterday after he publicly questioned the practicality of adding another game to the ledger for teams in the national championship hunt.
As Spencer Hall pointed out, Meyer was for a playoff before he was against it. That sent me back to the BCS Championship conference call in December 2006.
The head coach of Florida at the time, Meyer was a beneficiary that year of the backwards way the BCS works. His Gators were awarded a spot in the national championship game for lack of a better alternative, (and of course we know that eventually worked out pretty well for them and their coach*) but he still sounded like someone looking for a better way.
“I believe there’s an imperfect system,” he said then. “Everybody believes that. That’s just the way it is. It’s going to be imperfect again next year until at some point we figure out a way to determine it on the field.”
Later on the same call, he talked about his distaste for style points and their potential to interfere with a coach’s decision making and sportsmanship, hinting that was something that could be reduced or eliminated by the expansion of the field of teams playing for the national championship when all is said and done.
“The term ‘style points’ is one that has nothing to do with athletics,” Meyer said. “The more I hear that, the more I think, ‘It’s time’: If style points have anything to do with young people trying to win a game, then common sense is it’s time to move forward and have a national champion crowned the correct way, and that’s on the field.”
Five years and two national crowns later, Meyer said Tuesday (via the the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) he isn’t sure another game is appropriate for the players, a conclusion he seems to have come to based on first-hand experience with a pair of teams that played for the crystal football. That is an important distinction, as is recognizing that he said he hasn’t studied closely the options of a new system that is likely to be put in place before the 2014 season. Who knows how his opinion might be altered if he did.
His comments in Georgia mostly mirrored what he said in January when he met Columbus media upon taking over the Ohio State program from interim head coach Luke Fickell.
“I wouldn’t change it,” he said when asked about the BCS on Jan. 12. “I love what it is. I really do. We were the first school to be a week removed from all the other bowl games and that was awesome. That whole experience. You couldn’t do any better. We had it happen again two years later. I don’t know, if you start talking about playoffs, start talking about taking away bowl gams, start talking about the plus-one. I’m not educated enough on the plus-one system. I could listen and try to learn it. I’m hearing a lot of things about that, more than I ever have. I would have to think that’s going to be thrown on the table and there will be serious discussion about that.”
His concerns are worth considering – especially because they’re based on first-hand experience he did not have when he talked to us on that call prior to the debacle in the desert more than five years ago – but they don’t change my opinion that a playoff is the way to go.
Coaches should be commended for taking players’ wellbeing into account, but ultimately players want to play games, and I’m not convinced one more will make a huge impact. The NFL stacks three or four playoff games on top of each other with no one ever mentioning the potential physical toll. If nothing else, it’s part of the deal. I’m not sure why 15 games should be considered a significant number, either. That’s how many they play to pick a champion in every division of high school football in Ohio as well as (I believe) every lower divisions in the NCAA.
Is playing two games a greater challenge than one? Obviously. But playing one game set off so far from the regular season is often counterproductive, so we’re going to have to tolerate some collateral damage if we are to hold ourselves to the ideal that deciding it on the field is essential. We’re doing just that by playing one postseason game, and history has shown one game isn’t enough to do that with much satisfaction. Moving to three games (in a four-team system) does not eliminate every problem, but it should do much better to include every deserving team, a far better alternative than consistently leaving one or more out.
I tend to think Meyer was right the first time he went on record about the system.
*While I was always in the camp that Florida was the most deserving choice for No. 2 that year, the 2006 season was another reminder that choosing two and only two – no more, no less – creates more problems than it’s worth. There’s a lot of talk about the integrity of the regular season in college football, yet that was a year – much like this past season with LSU – in which one team was clearly the best during the regular season. If anyone deserved a shot at the title, it was Florida as the champion of the best league in the country. The Gators then won the game in convincing fashion and deservedly took home the trophy, but nothing from the regular season really indicated anyone deserved that chance compared to Ohio State’s body of work. If we are going to be governed by the idea the regular season is the end-all, be-all for college football, deciding the national champion with a game taken completely out of that context makes no sense.