A House subcommittee approved legislation Wednesday aimed at forcing college football to switch to a playoff system to determine its national champion, over the objections of some lawmakers who said Congress has meatier targets to tackle. "What can we say - it's December and the BCS is in chaos again," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He said the BCS system is unfair and won't change unless prompted by Congress.Glad to see Texas Republicans have their priorities straight! (Barton represents part of Fort Worth, where undefeated TCU, which was shut out of the BCS national title game, is located, but not Austin, where undefeated Texas, which is in the title game, is located.)
Isn't college football, an extremely expensive zero sum endeavor, interesting enough without a playoff system? What could be a better use of rich Red Staters' philanthropy than constructing ever more state-of-the-art weight rooms?
I also have an aesthetic objection to a national championship playoff. National championships are great for less viscerally appealing sports. But football's appeal is that it's the game closest to war. My hazy impression is that English villages started playing some ancestor of football (and its cousin sports) about the time they stopped making war on each other. Instead of besieging your neighbors and sacking their town, you challenged them to a mass melee game involving propelling a pigskin, as a way for young men to enjoy some of the fun of war without too much maiming, raping, and pillaging.
The traditional model of college football that emerged by the mid-20th Century reflected a rather 18th Century balance-of-power version of war, in which teams engaged in set-piece battles with traditional regional rivals, and the ones who did best this year were invited to an intersectional exhibition game on New Year's Day. But, like in an 18th Century European war, there was no single overwhelming winner and everybody else a loser. Half the teams finished their seasons with a victory. Everybody had something to look back upon gladly and something to regret.
So, while a playoff system makes perfect sense for NCAA badminton or whatever, increasing the emphasis on Complete Conquest and Final Victory in our national war game strikes me as distastefully Napoleonic. Of course, lots of people liked Napoleon. For a century, he was the most popular delusionary identity in lunatic asylums.