Was it coincidence or some cosmic reminder that yesterday, Americans saw a crime committed on live television, almost 60 years to the day after the Sunday when ABC News aired the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby in real time? To add to the paranormal nature of these two events, both offenses took place at approximately the same time, noon on the East Coast. And even though both breaches took place in plain sight, neither was without controversy which generated a multitude of conspiracy theories.
Of course, I am talking about the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s decision to choose Alabama over Florida State as the fourth and final participant in this year’s quest for a national championship. As with any crime, we need to ask, “Who was the perpetrator who had the motive, opportunity and skill to commit such as felony?”
Was it the selection committee? Is this what happens when the star chamber consists of a majority of gray-haired, white guys with names like Chris, Mitch, Boo, Chet, Warde, Jim, Mark, David and Gene who are more beholden to memories of the past than the possibilities of the future? Most are current or past coaches and athletic directors at universities such as Nebraska, Kentucky, NC State, the Naval Academy, Baylor, Utah and Michigan. Their academic backgrounds include degrees in sports administration, communications and business. The only female, Kelly Whiteside, is also the only sports journalist on the committee. Where are the humanities graduates who might remind the committee Americans relish stories like those written by Horatio Alger about impoverished youths who, against the odds, make it to the upper rungs of society’s ladder? Or the theologian who could argue what could be more compelling than the next David and Goliath story?
In this age of sports analytics, one might assume the committee would defer to the only member, Rod West, who holds a degree in mathematics which he earned at Notre Dame. Since the committee’s deliberations are not public we will never know if West pointed out the Atlantic Coast Conference’s record against non-conference Power 5 conference opponents (10-9) was better than the Southeast Conference (7-9). Or that head-to-head the ACC won six of the ten games against SEC teams. Or, of the four the SEC won, one was against Virginia with 3-9 record and two were against Georgia Tech (6-6).
Yes, the SEC has been the premiere football conference for most of the 21st century. However, that is hardly the case this year. But for the worst coaching decision of 2023, this would have been indisputable. On November 25, Alabama was trailing Auburn 20-24 with 42 seconds remaining in the game. The Crimson Tide faced a fourth and goal at the Auburn 31 yard line. Instead of blitzing Bama quarterback Jalen Milroe or even calling for a standard four-man rush, Auburn coach Hugh Freeze employed a three-man front line which was more interested in containing a Milroe run than forcing a short pass which would have given the Auburn backfield more than enough opportunities to stop the receiver before reaching the goal line.
According to ChatGPT, on a typical passing play, the quarterback has 2.5 to 3.0 seconds to release the ball. Freeze’s no-man rush gave Milroe just over six seconds to set up the play that won the game. Otherwise, Alabama would have had two regular season losses and would not have been part of the playoff conversation. They would, however, still played in the SEC championship game this past Saturday. The victory over Georgia by a two-loss team would have made it quite clear the SEC was unworthy of even one shot at the national title.
Now consider Florida was just a 1-point favorite when it was still unclear whether second string QB Tate Rodemaker or third string QB Brock Glenn would be leading the Seminoles. When it was announced Rodemaker would not play, many thought FSU was finished. But FSU’s defense carried the team to a 16-6 victory. For which the committee suggested FSU, without their star quarterback, had no chance against any of the other three teams in the playoffs. Did the committee never hear of the 1963 Chicago Bears which rode the league’s and maybe the all-time best defense to an NFL championship? Or Don Larson pitching a no-hitter in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
Defense has won championships in other major sports. This season we might have learned whether the same thing was possible in college football. Sadly, we will not get the chance.
For what it’s worth.