Dear College Football,
You promised this wouldn’t happen again. You promised that transforming the BCS to the College Football Playoff would make college football more inclusive, more accessible, more relatable. Revamping the BCS was supposed to give the Utah of the 2004 Fiesta Bowl and the 2009 Sugar Bowl and the Boise State of 2007 their time in the limelight, and deservedly so. You promised that this would be the most representative and accurate way to determine the best team in the nation. Just three years into the new system and you’ve already left that promise beaten and destitute in a back alley somewhere in Grapevine, Texas, bloodied and bruised from your manhandling. You’ve officially screwed not only the pooch, but college football as a whole, leaving a decision that affects not only millions of fans, but the quality of educational institutions and athletic programs the nation over, to a select group of elites that are largely unrepresentative of the mid-majors that populate the college landscape.
You’ve successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of the collective college football fanbase, perpetuating a system that keeps the richest and most prestigious programs at the top, a "Selection Committee" that only thinly veils the bias hid behind the "College Football Playoff" selection deliberations. You thought that computers were bad at choosing championship matchups? You thought you could solve that problem by leaving it up to people? Human beings who are undeniably slanted in their opinions?
Let me be more specific.
You messed up in 2009. I am completely partial to the University of Utah Utes. That year was a magical season in Salt Lake City with last minute wins and wild comebacks all amounting to an undefeated regular season and a Mountain West Conference championship. There was only one undefeated team in the entirety of Division I College Football that year — the University of Utah. Did they have a chance to play for a championship? Nope. Where they even given a chance to play for a title? Nada. I remember the day when the Utes were selected to play in the Sugar Bowl against mighty Alabama. I was sitting in the parking lot of PetSmart listening to local sports radio, waiting to hear where we would land. The news came in. Alabama. National media outlets gave Utah no chance. The Crimson Tide has been ranked near the top all season long and had just taken a loss to Florida in the SEC Championship, but were puffed up by their pedigree and reputation. Even Utah fans were skeptical of our chances. But I believed. That fourteen year old me knew we not only had a chance, but that we were better than anyone knew. Driving with my family across the snowy plains of Colorado, radio crackling as we went in and out of range, I listened to the domination. Utah did not just beat Alabama, they owned Alabama. 31-17. Game. Set. Match. The Utes shocked the world. Just days later I stood with my Dad on the steps of the courthouse, just yards away from Kyle Wittingham, Brian Johnson, and that Sugar Bowl trophy, singing "Utah Man" until I was hoarse. I still have my fitted block U hat signed by multiple members of that team. Wittingham called for a winner-take-all between Utah and Florida. Florida declined. Only one team stood unscathed after thirteen games. Though the record will always indicate differently, in my mind the 2009 BCS National Champions are the Utah Utes, and that will never change.
This year we have a similar situation. I’m looking at you, Western Michigan. You can talk yourself silly with advanced statistics, FIP, strength of schedule, and whatever other mathematical garbage you can muster, but you will never convince me that P.J. Fleck’s Broncos don’t deserve a shot at national glory. There are only two undefeated teams in Division I this year. One is Alabama, ranked number one. The other is Western Michigan, ranked number twenty-one. Even if the Broncos take the MAC title later this week, they Playoff Committee wont give them a chance. They’ll take Clemson, who has a loss. Ohio State? Two losses. How about Penn State? Two losses. Western Michigan? Undefeated. Fleck’s charismatic leadership and excellent schemes have created a team that is not only rolling over their competition, they’re steamrolling them. I might be the first to say that this team is better than that Utah team of 2009. Will they get the recognition they deserve? No. They won’t. But they should.
Sports’ greatest stories are built on underdogs. Nothing is greater than David beating Goliath. Could Western Michigan beat Alabama, or Clemson, or Michigan? Who knows. But that’s exactly why you play the games. Why don’t we just sit back right now and give the title to Alabama? Because you have to determine that on the field. Western Michigan doesn’t deserve a championship, not yet. But they sure deserve to have a chance to play for one. The Broncos are a have-not, somehow placed in the ranks of the haves. Inclusion in a playoff bowl would not only showcase Fleck’s genius, but would provide incredible monetary and visibility boosts for the university. You know why the same teams are good year after year? Why Alabama perpetually dominates? Money and visibility. Who doesn’t want to play for a team that receives national adoration every week? Who wouldn't want to play for a school with top notch athletic facilities and coaching staff? Who would go to Western Michigan over Oklahoma? The current playoff system preserves the stratification of the haves and the have-nots, diving up money amongst the top conferences and top schools that are selected to play in the top bowls. Big bowl games equal big national attention and big payouts which equal better recruits and programs. A championship appearance would do wonders for the athletic department at Western, both fiscally and talent wise. Mid-major programs cannot repeatedly keep up with bigger programs because there’s that basic flaw in the system — they’re not allowed to. Leaving who gets to play whom in the hands of a committee that only has two representatives from the so called "Group of Five" is downright rigged in favor the of the accurately named "Power Five".
So. Here we are. One week away from the official selection. I know what you’ll decide, College Football Playoff Committee. You’ll pick teams with better statistics over a team that has clawed tooth and nail up the rankings, proving themselves at every turn, week after week. Shame on you. Alabama and Ohio State and Clemson will all be back, year after year after year. Larger, more privileged programs are already seeking to poach P.J. Fleck. This is a one in a lifetime opportunity for Western Michigan, their fans, their program, and yes, you. If Western was to be included, and lost, you can only validate yourself. But after Michigan State’s embarrassment against Alabama last year, it’s hard to justify selections after the game has been played. You have nothing to lose by including Western Michigan, but everything to gain. What if? What if they beat Clemson, or Michigan, or Penn State, or Ohio State? God forbid they give Alabama a run for their money. You have an opportunity to have the single greatest story in college football history, but you can’t market it. You can’t capitalize on a Western Michigan playoff inclusion. You can’t sell that. There are no ratings busters there for you, no major media markets to corner. But there’s still hope. Let Western Michigan play. Let them prove themselves. Let them "Row the Boat" all the way to the College Football Playoff.
After all, you promised. It’s time to follow through.