Please welcome guest blogger Jonathan Tu of 82 Sluggo Win.
On purely philosophical grounds I applauded then-Senator Obama's choice of subject during his appearance on the pre-Election Day Monday Night Football halftime show five months ago. Like throwing money at education and ushering in an epoch of hope and change, pushing for a college football playoff is a no-brainer platform appealing to the masses and, more importantly, capable of uniting the broad spectrum of the American voting public.
My own feelings about a college football playoff are, in a compound word, non-existent. I don't have an emotional attachment to the way things are and I wouldn't feel outraged or relieved if a playoff were to happen next year. But for all my ambivalence, I will say this: if there is to be a playoff, the Cotton Bowl should be a part of it.
This is exactly the type of thing you would not expect Obama to say, by the way, which is entirely okay. That's not for him to say. It's probably for his Secretary of State's Chief of Staff to say in an obscure paper at the G20 summit, or something else equally lateral. So I didn't expect Obama to lay out a minimum BCS ranking for playoff teams or what to do with Notre Dame if conference champions get automatic berths or whether conferences should be allowed more than two teams in an eight team playoff if those teams are ranked highly enough. These aren't talking points, after all. They're details, and details are boring to everyone who isn't reading this blog or drooling over a high school junior all-purpose athlete projected as a college cover corner (this last being an entirely other, different, certainly sadder subject whose immensity this writer cannot begin to comprehend, and whose terrifying and delectable mix of un-ironic and naked desire make Old Testament stories like Sodom and Gomorrah suddenly understandable.) Any discussions on BCS coefficients make normal Americans bleed from their eyelids. This is probably why every pundit who's ever panned the computer polls hasn't bothered to begin the process of failing to understand the Colley Matrix, which is understandable given that there are Greek letters in there somewhere. But let me say it again because it's important to state the details people tend to ignore: The Cotton Bowl is important.
Once a member of college football's postseason pantheon, the Cotton Bowl has been reduced to a(n admittedly upper echelon) Big 12/SEC tie-in game that (maybe?) airs around the same time as the Capital One Bowl. For all the talk of the prestige of a New Year's Day game, exclusion from the Bowl Alliance in 1995 in favor of the Fiesta Bowl seemed to herald the final phase of the change wrought by the latter's 1987 MNC game between Miami and Penn State (a game so rife with symbolism and portent it's obvious a senior ESPN editor phased back in time to make sure the match happened so this sweet article could be written in 2007.) Attempts at inclusion in the BCS have since failed and won't be feasible again for at least another five years. The Southwest Conference - the Cotton Bowl's standard bearer for four decades - perished the day the NCAA destroyed Southern Methodist, the Death Star of the SWC. ("Many Bothans died to bring us this information. Craig James probably killed them.") The Red River Shootout came close to dropping the tradition of Oklahoma and Texas meeting at the Texas State Fair because, in part, the Cotton didn't have the right kind of facilities to warrant the loss of a true home-and-home. There's been enough cosmetic upgrade for the two schools to agree to a few more years of guaranteed tradition, but the fact remains that the bowl has not hosted a national championship game since the Joe Montana-led 1977 Irish. It seems time has passed the Cotton Bowl by, and outside of UT-OU, the Texas high school playoffs and an occasional concert series, the venue is now like a 92,200-seat Miss Congeniality.
And in 2010, the Cotton Bowl's getting dumped for another stadium after 73 years of continuous use. The site of questionable morals but identifiable assets? The Dallas Cowboys' new facility in Arlington. Pretty, but relationships are built on history. Then again I also think Miami should never have moved from the ramshackle carapace that was the original Orange Bowl.
Sentimentality has nothing to do with the fact that the Cotton Bowl ought to be Issue The First for those who wouldst the playoff propose. In any kind of legitimate scenario one has to account for a hard number: four. This is the number of bowls already included in the current BCS structure. Over the past 22 years the Fiesta Bowl has integrated itself into our collective consciousness as a Bowl Of Import, with games in 1987, 2003 and 2007 doing a lot to cement that image. There is no question that the Fiesta is now a full fledged member of the BCS. Any playoff structure has to understand this and so include a minimum of four different venues, and, after the recent change to five BCS games including the national championship there will be significant resistance to reducing that number.
Most playoff system proposals center around the concept of seeding, ranking, selection committees and conference automatic berths. Playoff proponents rightly understand the university presidents are the main obstacles to a playoff, but just like the argument that a playoff would diminish the importance of the regular season, the bowls--and here I'm referring to the BCS bowls, mainly--want to maintain their status. The Rose Bowl's been whining for fourteen years and has been consistently opposed to a playoff, including both the Mountain West and Southeastern Conferences' recent proposals. That's not likely to change without the return of the Pac-10/Big Ten matchup at the very least, but will absolutely increase if any of the dafter solutions that include a field of anywhere from 16 to 64 teams gets on glossy paper, put into a binder and mailed to the Arroyo Seco. Some people are apparently serious in that they'd like Detroit to host the first round of an NCAA Division I-A football playoff. Almost no one seems to take the point of view of the bowls into consideration which is, to say the least, kind of odd since the bowls have been a fixture of the postseason since 1916.
Which is itself odd, since the Cotton Bowl--one of the oldest, most prestigious-est bowls in existence--was hustled out of the big money years ago. Any worthwhile playoff system has need of more than four bowls, and what better bowl than the Cotton? There is of course the legitimate question, "What kind of historical cachet will an Arlington-based Cotton Bowl bring?" None, I guess, but the Sugar was originally hosted by Tulane, and as mentioned before, the Orange is now in Dolphin Stadium. And if there are any Sun Bowl supporters out there, yes I hear your cries of "We're the second oldest bowl game out there!" but 1) you're in El Paso, and as much as Dallas isn't where I'd want to be in January, El Paso is where I definitely don't want to be in January and 2) you're sponsored by Brut.
If there is to be a Truth Commission and they're to go over things like misallocation of federal toilet funding, I'd also like them to address what happened to the House That Doak Built. I also happen to think that sometime in the next 3.5 years, when the presidential agenda is (hopefully) looking less daunting, Obama could very well circle back to his MNF idea and actually put the weight of the Executive Office behind a playoff. It's the kind of endearingly kooky thing we expect out of our politicians. Darfur? Global warming? Nah, senate races are coming up. Let's sponsor a bill congratulating Oklahoma on juking Texas out of a chance to play for a national championship.
As for myself, I know thoughts of recession will fade come spring football, fall camp and the week before kickoff, and then the season, with its bright gestures and gaudy hopes. I am okay with this annual anesthetizing of my soul, but like any serious addict I take seriously the obstacles which might prevent my enjoyment. So, please, President Obama: when you're done with carbon trading and health care reform, put the Cotton back on the map.