Parity not No. 1 way to crown a champ

November 25, 2007|By RICK MAESE

From the beginning, we're hooked by the Darwinian nature of sports. We trust that at the final buzzer, the best team will be the one left standing. It's this simple and unalienable truth that keeps us coming back for more, that encourages us to wave foam fingers and build our entire week around three hours of weekend couch time.

I love that the best competitor reaps the rewards, and I like that after the season the soil is tilled and every team has the chance to start anew. But I should probably make a confession: While I love the idea of parity in sports, too often, the practice of it puts me to sleep.

It's an admission tinged with guilt. As a glorified typist who's granted regular real estate on the sports pages, I spend a good chunk of my time thinking about important things such as competitive balance, fairness and a sense of equality that gives every man, woman and multimillion-dollar sports franchise a reasonable shot at success.

Most days of the sports calendar, it's something worth championing. In the early parts of the football schedule, it's exciting to chart the upsets, to order an Appalachian State T-shirt for the Michigan grad who works two cubicles over and to eagerly study the reshuffled deck each Monday when the polls are released.

But as the season winds down, these feelings are changing. The impartial observer in me loves the welcomed injection of parity in a sport like college football. The fan in me, however, is starting to wonder whether it'll be worth staying up late for a national title game that pits schools like Missouri or Kansas against a team like West Virginia.

I had groused as loud as the next guy about being force-fed Notre Dame games each Saturday on television, but a part of me misses the idea of the perennial powerhouse in college football.

Let's use the NFL as an example. Even if your team's playoff hopes were dashed before Thanksgiving (um, that's you, Ravens fan), there's still intrigue remaining in the season. The powerhouse still exists and I, for one, lie awake each night struggling with internal conflict: Is it better for the undefeated New England Patriots to get destroyed as soon as possible, or should we root for them to get deep into the playoffs, where, for Patriots players and fans alike, defeat might sting more and burn like rubbing alcohol in an open cut?

How does this apply to college football? When the weather changes and bowl season arrives, it's much more fun to root against a Notre Dame (or a Southern California or a Miami or a Florida State or ... ) than to root for a flavorless, scentless Big 12 school like Kansas or Missouri. It's an unfortunate and disconcerting reality.

Parity has been the buzzword around college football this season. Press box chatter the past couple of months has revolved around the false notion that football has finally been injected with that unpredictable, any-team-can-win notion that makes March Madness the most exciting postseason in sports.

Boy, did we have it wrong. The NCAA basketball tournament is exciting because of the possibility of upsets, whereas the college football postseason has been marred because of the reality of them. The game of musical chairs in the top 10 this season has been so hectic that who really trusts that the last team standing in January will really be the best? Where is the Darwinian nature that is supposed to guide the fittest team to the biggest trophy?

With no more truly dominant teams atop the field, we're left with a long list of schools with similar records and similar resumes. If this is what we should now expect out of the regular season, then here's what we must learn to expect out of the postseason: The flaws in the Bowl Championship Series system and its inability to crown a champion will become more glaring and more pronounced.

The more one- or two-loss teams that can make a legitimate claim at belonging in the national championship game, the more we probably should just accept that a goal has been achieved - parity rules! - and that the more we get things right, the more we get things wrong.

The road through the college football season was as fun and unpredictable as any that I can remember. But college football's success in leveling the field likely has undercut its ability to crown a believable champion.

And while fair and competitive bowl games surely are waiting around the corner, it also has undercut my interest in what's supposed to be the most exciting part of the college football season.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Rick Maese -- Points after

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