Thursday, December 24, 2020

By Defeating Me In This Title Game, You Have Proven My Point

No one expected Northwestern to actually win the Big Ten Championship last Saturday, but I would argue that the Wildcats managed to win the aesthetic battle by turning the entire thing into a grim, unwatchable puntfest that stymied the Buckeyes until they remembered that their offensive line is group of large, sentient dump trucks and they have a running back that transcends time and space.  In the end, I suppose, everyone got what they wanted: Ohio State gets another inevitable conference championship and berth in the Playoff, Northwestern proved they can lose to Ohio State with more dignity than all but one Big Ten team this season, and the Big Ten got its television money.

Northwestern's winning strategy all season-- to grab a lead and then desperately hang on as the opposition punts, throws ill-conceived interceptions in the direction of Brandon Joseph, or dies of old age-- while effective against most of the Big Ten faltered against big, bad Ohio State.  Fox television even correctly identified them the entire game. And Northwestern managed to prove a point that even though they were really bad 30 years ago, they are fine now, which remains their most important mission.

One of the luxuries in rooting for a team like Northwestern is never being in position to worry about what the Playoff Committee is up to, and so when they come out and transparently shoehorn in the teams to guarantee TV ratings into the Playoff while constructing ludicrous Rube Goldberg-style explanations for it because apparently it is illegal to outright say more people want to watch Notre Dame stumble around and get bopped in the noggin on television than Cincinnati so Gary Barta has to come out there and transcend our understanding of football to invoke a different plane of  existence that is only visible to the Playoff Committee and the people who have taken some sort of gray market psychedelic and now believe that they live in a cult compound called Fansville, it is fine to enjoy the spectacle.  In fact, in their own way they are right.  It might not be fair to the Group of Five, but I will enjoy watching Notre Dame getting crushed by Alabama while Brian Kelly turns into an undulating skin tag on the sideline.


The committee has correctly assumed American football sickos want to watch Brian Kelly appear to have been shot out of the Mars colony after activation of the Reactor

It has taken the Playoff Committee six years to go from an exciting novelty to an ossified institution propping up the same high-powered programs.  The playoff rankings remind me of a ducal war of succession where the prime territories are easily gobbled up by Alabama and Clemson and then everyone else needs to fight a punishing 30-year land war involving Ohio State.  College football has yet to find a way to crown a champion that does not involve some sort of outrage, but I would suggest that continually farming it out to unaccountable committees of bureaucrats who have yet to come up with a reason for doing anything that cannot be explained by assuming that they are only interested in television ratings is probably not the most productive way to do this; then again, the Committee seems completely invulnerable to shame, pressure, and even Group of Five teams festively taking matters into their own hands and crowning themselves champions (the best thing that has come from the Playoff system) and the conferences that they care about are making obscene amounts of money so it is pretty easy to assume that they do not give a shit.

The college football season is mercifully limping to an end.  The bowl system, already kind of stupid but enjoyably stupid, has completely collapsed upon itself with teams pulling themselves from contention, two-win teams getting bowl berths because of contracts, entire games getting cancelled because of team outbreaks-- the entire thing has mirrored the American coronavirus response in that there are really no rules or rhyme and reason to what is shutting down but the American Men's Sock Garter and Sock Garter Holster Company has paid good money for those naming rights so a couple of three-win teams are going to fall down on each other for a few hours unless too many of them get coronavirus.

Northwestern will face Auburn in the Citrus Bowl, which is as far as I can tell still happening for some reason.  Northwestern and Auburn last met in 2010's batshit Outback Bowl in the dying embers of the Wildcats having a recognizably zesty offense.  Because Florida is a lawless Zone, this game will feature the jarring sight of fans in the stands with a capacity of up to 13,000 maniacs in America's Deranged Vacation Capital Orlando, Florida.  Fans in attendance are encouraged to inspire the teams on third down by cackling.

As you would expect from reading this type of focused college football blog, I have not watched a single second of Auburn football this season and have no idea whether they are good.  I do know that they just fired legendary coach Gus Malzahn as part of what appears to me as some sort of booster-related coup with the type of dumb skulduggery that makes this sport so fascinating, so the Wildcats will be playing a team with an interim coach in the middle of a pandemic in Florida.  I don't think these circumstances merit as Bowl Game Winning Factors, I just hope they get through it, and if it means that Pat Fitzgerald gets to bray on a podium how Joey Galloway is a disgrace in fact the worst deal we've ever done while confetti rains down over a semi-empty stadium then that's fine and everyone can go home while I flip over to watch Northwestern's basketball teams go through the same insanity to play because they also have the temerity to be good this year.

I have enjoyed watching Northwestern play football this season in the way that it is theoretically possible to enjoy a Northwestern football game, but the entire season has been a travesty.  The Wildcats managed to get through the season without a reported Covid case (football camp was shut down over the summer after a positive case, but it was later described as a false positive), and while I am assured that everyone involved has been conforming to guidelines scrupulously, the price for having a football season has required football players and all other athletes competing this season to live essentially as monks.  If anything, this season has rendered the already ridiculous argument that college athletes are simply students enjoying a recreational activity with a billion-dollar TV contract even more impossible.  As college campuses across the country have shut down in various stages, athletes have carried on their practices and games and travel, navigating uncertainty and a risk of infection.  While I understand that players had the opportunity to opt out and many played because they really like it, that's fine-- they should also be paid.  If the NCAA does not like the aesthetics of cutting checks, they can officially deputize a bunch of guys with stupid hats driving long cars to pull up to every facility and hand people sacks of cash the way it is unofficially done, but even the vaguest gossamer strands of an already-lost argument against paying players cannot possibly be entertained unless the argument is "who's gonna stop us" which I guess is a pretty good one because no one has been able to answer it.

The one thing we have learned this season is that there is nothing that the NCAA, the conferences, and the schools will not do to get their television advertising money.  They will play in a pandemic.  They will make up bullshit "safety protocols" that involve college football coaches, the people least likely to wear a mask on the face of the earth, pretend to wear a mask but really just yank it down to scream at people or wear it around their entire face except where it should go.

Jeremy Pruitt models a mask style known as the "Oaf's Babushka"

They will drag themselves and everyone else over a floor full of broken glass to get these games on TV, and while that is disconcerting and an already appalling part of the horrifying broader tapestry of what Americans have been willing to ask people to get sick and die for this year, it also suggests that if anyone ever gets together and threatens to take those games off TV they just might give them anything. 

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