It was the fall of 2006, in a college football season to remember, when I violated my pledge. I never joined in internet commenting arguments, but there I was, diving right in on the CBS Sports web site.
The subject was Louisville, the team I’ve cheered for since birth, and the consensus was that the Cardinals didn’t belong in the national championship game, despite a No. 3 national ranking. Their main justification was that a team that won a shootout with West Virginia the week before shouldn’t be considered elite because elite teams play defense. Or something like that.
I fired a shot across the bow. How can you base a team’s worthiness on points, I said to some guy, when the most recent national championship game featured a 41-38 score? He came back and wondered how I could compare Louisville and West Virginia’s talent with USC and Texas. I called it quits at that point because it didn’t seem to matter. He had his perceptions and he wasn’t going to change his mind.
The thing about college football – the worst thing, in fact – is that perception does matter. Next year will be the first step in fixing that, as the sport introduces a four-team playoff, but perception will still be a big part of the equation. More than four teams might be able to contend for the title, but only four will get a shot. Counter that with the 68 who make the NCAA Basketball tournament. That field isn’t really missing any future champions.
I thought about this last week as I read Kevin Pomeroy’s column on perception in the high school football ranks. And I was really glad to be reminded that where a team ranks and how others think of that team ultimately doesn’t matter.
In high school football, you don’t have to win a popularity contest.
You have to win games.
Already, two of the top three teams in Rhode Island’s preseason media poll – Cranston East and La Salle – have lost. Portsmouth and Barrington, ranked fourth and fifth in the initial poll, handed them those losses and are now climbing the ranks themselves.
We can debate the merits of Hendricken’s defense and Portsmouth’s offense, Barrington’s ability to run the ball and the quality of Cranston East’s wins. They’re fun debates to have.
But my feelings about teams and where I vote them won’t have an impact when the teams line up for the Super Bowls in December. The best two teams will square off, and that’s a very good thing.
Somehow, college football has never been on board with that, with the playoff structure that defines every other sport. The four-team playoff is a good step, but it still won’t be perfect.
Thankfully, high school football does it right.
And there’s no debating that.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.