Of participation trophies and non-participation championships

ucf

By MIKE HERNDON

You’ve got to give Central Florida this much: They’re committed to the bit.

UCF Athletic Director Danny White, seizing on his school’s status as the only FBS college football program to finish the season undefeated, boldly declared the Knights national champs after they defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

Most ADs might have stopped there, but White is not apparently one to half-ass anything. The Knights’ football program changed their Twitter handle to “2017 National Champions.” They had National Champions shirts printed. They hung a banner on their practice field and made plans to hang another at their stadium. Florida Gov. Rick Scott even signed a proclamation declaring that UCF “will be recognized as the 2017 College Football National Champions in Florida.”

Bless their hearts.

Listen, I understand their frustration at not getting a chance to play for the title. When you’re undefeated, everybody can tell you it wouldn’t have held up against a tougher schedule, but you don’t really know until you play, do you? As strong a case as conference championship week made for keeping the College Football Playoff field at four (Why would Clemson and Miami even have bothered playing if the field were larger?), the exclusion of Central Florida made a powerful case for expanding it to eight.

The Knights’ Peach Bowl win over Auburn, a team that had beaten both national championship game participants, made the case even stronger.

But Central Florida’s best regular-season win was over Memphis. You are not going to get into a four-team playoff with a Group of Five schedule unless your non-conference games are marquee matchups against top 15 programs. Central Florida’s only game against a Power 5 opponent was a win over 4-8 Maryland.

Strength of schedule means something. For better or worse, the four-team College Football Playoff is the method we have of determining a national champion. And it’s a darn sight better than the BCS, which was a darn sight better than the nonsensical free-for-all that preceded it.

You can sign all the proclamations you want, hang banners from every fence and rafter in Florida. Have a different natty shirt for every day of the week, if it makes you feel better. It doesn’t hurt anything. But it also doesn’t make you national champions.

Central Florida’s audacity caused another overlooked undefeated team to belatedly petition for a championship of its own, however, as Tulane 1998 National Championship shirts went on sale in New Orleans. Why not? Let everybody claim a natty if they want. In this age of participation trophies, a non-participation championship makes an odd sort of logic. In fact, here are a few other forgotten “champions” who deserve a banner of their own:

The 2004 Auburn Tigers                                                                             

Central Florida is far from the first overlooked undefeated college football team. Before the Knights were Tulane and Boise State and Utah. And even a Power 5 team, Auburn. The Tigers won the SEC in 2004, had four players taken in the first round of the NFL draft and didn’t get a chance to even play for the title, as USC and Oklahoma were also undefeated. USC curb-stomped the Sooners in the Orange Bowl and everyone outside Lee County and Eufaula agreed the Trojans were the best team in the country.

But it was later discovered that the Trojans had given Reggie Bush’s family everything but the deed to City of Los Angeles and the NCAA stripped them of the title six years later. Because the NCAA forced the Trojans to simply vacate their wins that year, and not forfeit them, Oklahoma did not get to erase that 55-19 beatdown. Therefore, as I proposed in a 2010 column, the championship should have been handed down to the only remaining undefeated team, Auburn.

This very sensible proposal was promptly forgotten about when Cam Newton stepped out of a phone booth and the Tigers won a national title later that year that required no revisionist history.

The 2001 Oakland Raiders

We all know the Tuck Rule was bullshit. But that, friends, is where the Patriots/Belichick/Brady dynasty began – a ridiculous call based on a ridiculous rule that any relatively warm human with at least one good eye and a couple of IQ points to rub together could easily see was wrong. A quarterback is either attempting to throw the ball or he is not. If he’s not, and he loses the ball, it’s a fumble. How difficult is that? And when Charles Woodson stripped the ball out of Tom Brady’s hand late in the AFC divisional playoff on a snowy day in Foxborough, that’s exactly what it should have been called. Fortunately, the NFL moved on from this insanity in 2013 in order to overthink and ruin other facets of the game, such as what a catch is.

Yes, the Raiders would have had to win two more games to win the Super Bowl that year – the Patriots went on to beat the Steelers and the Rams — but they’ve suffered enough. Let them hang their banner. As long as it’s in Oakland – not Las Vegas.

Metallica — 1989 hard rock/heavy metal Grammy

In the late 1980s, the Grammys finally added a category for hard rock/heavy metal and then proceeded to make a laughing stock of itself by giving the award to Jethro Tull for an album exactly three people had ever heard of. Unfortunately, all three were apparently on the voting panel. I liked Aqualung as much as the next guy, but nothing Jethro Tull did after the mid-70s was in any way memorable. And much of what they did, particularly in the ‘80s, would not even be considered hard rock. Metallica, meanwhile, had popularized a new genre of heavy metal and had put out what might still be its best album, And Justice For All (apologies to Master of Puppets). They defined heavy metal in the late 1980s and ‘90s. It’s a snub that’s still laughed about, nearly thirty years later.

Citizen Kane — 1941 Best Picture Oscar

Orson Welles’ classic film about a media mogul and the mystery of his dying word is widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made. But Welles was only 25 when he made the film, William Randolph Hearst (the inspiration for the main character) did everything in his considerable power to doom the film to failure and discredit its creator, and the Best Picture Oscar in 1941 ultimately went to How Green Was My Valley. If you are under 50 and have ever heard of How Green Was My Valley, you are far more of a film buff than I.

Roy Jones, Jr. — 1988 Olympic boxing gold medal match

In perhaps the most famous and most obvious example of injustice in the outcome of a sporting event, Jones was robbed of a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul after three of the five judges in the light-middleweight gold medal bout inexplicably scored the fight for Jones’ opponent, Park Si Hun, after watching Jones pepper the South Korean with enough punches that there should have been no doubt. Two of the judges were later banned from the sport for life, but Jones never got his gold medal and Olympic boxing has never fully recovered from the black eye it took that day in Seoul.



Categories: College football

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6 replies

  1. Great read my friend

    Like

  2. Loved the column and not just because I agree with your viewpoint, it’s because iit was a perfect mix of opinion and laughs.

    Like

  3. “Bless their hearts.” LOL
    Don’t forget about Daughtry finishing FOURTH on Idol!! 😕

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good one, but American Idol is admittedly not my wheelhouse.

    Like

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