Friday, January 23, 2015

The Ambivalence of Forgiveness

I have a contribution to Columbia University's Dialogues on Historical Justice and Memory Network Working Paper Series: “The Ambivalence of Forgiveness: Dirk Coetzee, Eugene de Kock, and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Please go check it out if you are interested.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Modest Proposal for College Football

So Ohio State beat Oregon in the closest to what the highest level of college football has ever had to a legitimate process for determining a national champion. This is better than the BCS, which was significantly better than the old bowl system. But it is not good enough. The two best teams in the Big 12 were shut out of the conversation based on back room machinations and of course teams from the smaller conferences were kept out entirely. The system is thus improved but still needs tweaking.

Hereby I present two proposals, one somewhat substantial but still in keeping with the overall structure of the contemporary college football landscape, while the second is more radical (and to my mind would be a whole lot more fun).

Solution 1: A 16 Team Playoff

It is perplexing to me that anyone could seriously embrace either a four- or even an eight-team playoff for one simple reason: There are ten BCS conferences. (In either of my scenarios the four independents -- BYU, Notre Dame, Army, and Navy -- would have to join a conference.) How can there not be at least ten places in the playoff system?

Thus it seems absurd to have a system that pretty much automatically excludes the winners of six of these -- possibly more if a major conference were to receive two slots in the final four, which could easily have happened this season when SEC West love was in full effect. And given how many of the programs in these second-tier conferences are state institutions, it seems unconscionable to hold them to the expensive (and almost universally money-losing) standards of the highest level of college football if you are not going to guarantee them a share in the process. So either drop the MAC, AAC, Conference USA, Mountain West, and Sun Belt down to the FCS level or guarantee them a seat at the table.

A sixteen-team playoff would solve this problem (and would be the biggest collegiate sporting event in America, far surpassing March Madness). Each conference winner would get an automatic playoff slot, leaving six places for at-large berths. And yes, the last team out will always stake a claim to deserving a shot at the last space, but with every conference winner claiming a space no team could plausibly claim to "deserve" a shot at a national title. Nonetheless the at-large berths could go to the five power conferences with one remaining truly at-large spot remaining.

And don't let anyone use the argument that this would get in the way of final exams -- the NCAA holds a playoff system at every other level, including Division III where in many cases academic standards and expectations run laps around their FBS counterparts. And March Madness takes place during a month when almost every campus in the country has midterm exams and projects scheduled at some point.  The NCAA offers a true and comprehensive national championship process for every sport at every level. The idea that the most prominent of these sports at the highest level is just to complex is absurd.

Solution 2: An 8 Team Playoff, With Conference Realignment and Promotion and Relegation

This is actually my preferred solution, but I don't think it could happen. In this scenario we pair conferences, one power conference with one of the smaller conferences (I would match the ACC with the AAC, the Big Ten and MAC, the SEC and Sun Belt, the Big 12 and Conference USA, and the PAC 12 and Mountain West.) Then you create five tiers, much like in association football (ie soccer). And in so doing you create a promotion and relegation model within these five groupings.

Obviously this would represent a dramatic, indeed radical shift. And every year some of the big boys would lose their spot in the privileged conference and would drop down, with a minnow taking its place, but that would also create real competition. Why should Colorado, with its horrible football program, be guaranteed a piece of the PAC 12 pie while Boise State knows that even going undefeated does not guarantee anything in the face of the cartel that runs the FBS?

This system, much like promotion and relegation in world soccer would also make for many more meaningful games at the end of the season as teams at the lower level fight for promotion and teams at the bottom of the major tiers would have every reason to play well at the end of the season to guarantee their place in the top tier. Indeed, this system could even be expanded to accommodate the FCS, though that might take time, as you'd have to tier those conferences as well. In the end, though, we would have a much more exciting and fun system that would allow teams to play at the level they belong, the level they have earned.

In this realigned, restructured college football world an eight-team playoff could be fine, with the winners of the five top tiers getting automatic berths and three at-large slots. Naturally after a few years the world would clamor for 16 teams, which would be fine, but eight teams would nonetheless fit fairly well. in some ways after winning in this tiered process the national championship tournament would be a lot like the Champions League(s) that exist in global soccer, UEFA's being the most respected.


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Welcome 2015! (Good Riddance 2014)

Happy New Year!

While from a personal vantage point 2014 was a fine one for me and mine, it sure seemed like an annus horribilus for society at large. perhaps 2015 will be better. I will make an effort to write more about it here even if no one will actually be here to read it.