The Super Bowl is supposed to be the pinnacle of sporting events. It’s the best of the best–a day for all of us regular folks to pig out on millions of pounds of wings, chips, pizza, pasta, soda and everything else that will ensure we become diabetics by age 40.
And much like the Madden curse, the ratings border on mythical. Many of the most-watched television programs or events in U.S. history are Super Bowls, led by last year’s Super Bowl XLV, which drew an average audience of 111 million viewers according to Nielsen.
Once again, the event is upon us–if you are able to sort through the weeks of media days, interviews, analysis and hoopla that the NFL has taken to dumping on the general public in the two-week gap between the conference championships and the game itself.
All of this hype, however, got me thinking about just how great the Super Bowl is because of what it stands for: a do-or-die chance at glory, nearly unduplicated anywhere across the American sports landscape.
I’m a baseball fanatic, and will defend the game to my grave because I love watching my team–and pretty much any team–every night from April until October. But the playoff series are best-of-five or best-of-seven affairs, with plenty of chances for a team to lose a game here and there but still win the crown.
The same is true of basketball, with the NBA being an even worse offender because it drags its playoffs out for more than a month before crowning a champion.
The genius of the Super Bowl lies in having one game that means so much, but only after a regular season and playoff system that is designed to weed out non-contenders.
Which brings me to the Bowl Championship Series.
Yes, you got me–I’m a BCS hater.
And while the college football season may be on hiatus right now–although tomorrow’s National Signing Day is arguably one of the most important 24-hour periods of the entire college season and could mean big things for the Stanford program if a couple of recruits decide to come to the Farm–I can’t help but think about how badly the BCS is failing us in the face of the Super Bowl’s success.
The BCS is supposed to give us the same kind of winner-takes-all sweepstakes that keeps us glued to our television sets for hours of pregame, postgame, in-game, out-of-game, super-game, sub-game and sideways-game analysis. Potentially hilarious commercials notwithstanding, people tune in because they know there will be an undisputed champion clutching that Lombardi Trophy at the end of the night, and no computers’ or pollsters’ opinions can get in the way of what happens on the field.
If only the BCS could be so wise.
Instead, we get a mess of a college football season that has a million exciting and amazing games that ultimately may end up meaning nothing because a machine does not like how a particular school has set up its schedule in a particular year–even if that schedule was almost certainly decided at least five years prior.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be upset that Stanford’s loss to Oklahoma State cost us a shot at the national championship game instead of just being a chance for ignorant fans to rip into Jordan Williamson? Sure, it might hurt more, but I think there would certainly be more value in at least some kind of playoff or plus-one format that could make the college football season’s “Super Bowl” more like a Super Bowl.
Yes, No. 1 Alabama tore up No. 2 LSU, and I guess since they beat the Tigers earlier this season that makes them the best team in the country. Except that didn’t happen. The season series finished at an unsatisfying 1-1, while Oklahoma State and other suitors like the Cardinal were left clamoring for more.
I know that the bowl system is based on money, and I know that the BCS has a vice-like grip over the chancellors of many of the most powerful football schools in the country. But maybe, just maybe, one of them will be watching Tom Brady go to work on Sunday afternoon and think to himself, “You know, they might be onto something here with this playoff thing.”
Until then, I’m off to Jetblue Park at Fenway South.
This is Miles Bennett-Smith’s first column after finishing his term as The Daily’s managing editor of sports. Send him your congratulations at milesbs “at” stanford.edu and check him out on Twitter “at” smilesbsmith.