Applying a Win-Shares Tournament Model to Football
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Hot Reads: The End is Here

January 08, 2018

Are you ready for the last bit of football? A Monday night party, but a college party?

I haven’t had any problem preparing myself to savor the last morsel of the game, but scrolling through Twitter the past few days it seems like not everyone who would normally be in that mode is actually in that mode. I see some saying they’re not interested in watching an All-SEC matchup. There’s a smaller faction of resistance against the Playoff selection process out there lurking as well.

Maybe it’s all a show. As the clock ticks down on Monday’s championship game, I expect Twitter to return to the more performative public grief of “no more football for X days. Things will feel mostly normal and supporters of the sport can start down the five stages of the college football offseason (sadness, signing day, spring football, acceptance that you should do things with your family and friends in the summer and, finally, fall camp).

Or, as Dan Wolken of Yahoo writes, maybe this isn’t just the hand wringing du jour this time, but a continued erosion of the sport. Actually that’s softening Wolken’s stance too much.

Here’s what he actually wrote:

But underneath the glitz of Monday night’s Atlanta extravaganza, it’s hard to shake the feeling that college football is unwittingly being driven into a ditch. 
The supposed guardians of this sport — from the conference commissioners to the athletics directors to television executives — have long acted like arrogant frat boys on a long weekend in Vegas, pretending as though every reckless decision will be free of consequence. 

Wolken highlights the usual culprits here: seemingly limitless salary increases for head coaches and assistants, no salary for the players, the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of the Playoff and the increasing sway television holds over the game. There’s also the firing of Rich Rodriguez at Arizona over allegations of sexual harassment, and Wolken argues that it probably won’t be the last such example. The only thing that doesn’t make the list, surprisingly, is player safety.

But the gist of Wolken’s case comes down to this:

Maybe the NCAA model always had been indefensible, but it feels like it’s being flaunted in a way that no intelligent person can rationalize any longer, and it’s being done in college football for a group largely composed of wealthy, white men clinging to an ideal the public no longer has a strong belief in. 

There are some interesting distinctions in there. I don’t know that the public no longer has a “strong belief” in college football. Things may be trending that way, but it doesn’t seem like any sort of metaphorical tide has turned. The warning signs may be a little more apparent, but the big presumption here is that football fandom is somehow rational. 

While there are certainly some who may base their decision to continue supporting the sport on the available facts (a rational answer to a question of “can I support this?”), that seems like a minority. The hurdle for flipping the majority of fans, however, seems much higher. If you’re someone who is interested in seeing the sport forced into change, you have to reach the people who love the sport.

That’s a different ballgame entirely. The question there isn’t “can I support this?”, but “how could I not?” Fandom is a license to be irrational, and thus the appeal is part of the defense. The battlefield here isn't the rational part of the brain, but the primitive part.

I’m guessing Wolken would say that’s how we got here, and he’d be right about that. I just wonder if the evidence for a future revolution is actually mounting, or if this is just the way it’s always been.

That's never adequate evidence to argue "and that's how things should remain," but it has proven to be a pretty heavy burden of proof over the years.

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