Thursday, November 27, 2008
Bye Week Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Monday
The week after the Iowa State game, the Tigers received the Big XII North championship trophy at their practice facility, Devine Pavilion. Actually, they received it in the mail, and then Athletic Director Mike Alden rode into practice, rearing his trusty white steed on its hind legs, and made the presentation. The Big XII conference office in Dallas had shipped it in an old Amazon.com box packed with kettle corn collected from the aisles at the Cotton Bowl.
The Big XII North division trophy was mailed because Mizzou won it a week before the season ended. But it’s apparently against league policy to let the trophy (estimated value one gajillion dollars) go traipsing around the country on a hunch. They wait until it’s official. So the only question was when the Tigers would receive their booty (the trophy kind, not the coed variety). If the trophy was presented before the final game, it could motivate the opposing team. The Jayhawks hate the Tigers already, and seeing shiny objects sets off their primitive, Geico caveman brains. If the trophy was presented after the final game and the Tigers lost it, everyone involved would feel sort of sheepish. And if the trophy was presented after Mizzou trounced Kansas, then the team might be tempted to say, “Hey, trophy presenter dude—How about epoxying a little auxiliary trophy to this one?”
So the Big XII pretty much had to mail it.
Without much resistance on my part, I got talked into attending the Northwestern-Illinois game on Bye Week Saturday. After driving 750 miles the Saturday before, the nine-mile trek to Evanston in David R’s Saab felt the definition of a piece of cake. Plus, his car smelled like the scrumptious Popeye’s fried chicken we drove with for about seven of those miles. I dedicated years of student loan payments to Northwestern graduate school, so they’re my Big Ten team, and the chance to watch the Illini losing twice in one year represented a plum opportunity. David R.’s Georgia Bulldogs had the week off, too, so we could both enjoy the Wildcats without the colon gurgles. The ’Cats obliged by TCB’ing, clamping down a tenacious D on Juice Williams and the University of Blue, Orange, and Dull. A pleasant day, thanks in no small part to Toastie Toes™ foot warming appliqués.
Northwestern finished the season at 9-3, and appeared headed for something like the Alamo Bowl. Not necessarily the Alamo Bowl per se, but a mid-level bowl run by upstanding individuals in matching blazers. Which led me to a few bye week observations.
(BYE WEEK #2) OBSERVATION #1: The BCS system should be blown up real good.
BCS stands for “Bowl Championship Series,” but “Butt Chafing System” may fit better. Its sole purpose for existence is to pit the #1 team in the country against the #2 team in the country in a national championship game, a task it completes competently every five years or so, and then only by accident. That’s because, without any sort of playoff, college teams' fortunes are largely determined by the votes of coaches and sportswriters, as well as waiters, hobos and skateboarders. The rankings kinda sorta reflect the various teams’ records, except that the conferences don’t play each other, so they kinda sorta don’t, either. On their best day, college football polls represent a collective, educated shrug.
Compounding matters, some of the conferences (the SEC and the Big XII) stage a league championship game, while other major conferences (the Big Ten and the Pac-10) have none. Voters, many engorged with decision-imparing refined sugar products, historically penalize teams from “no championship game” conferences and reward teams from “championship game” conferences—unless a team loses their championship game, in which case they’re penalized even more than a team that didn’t make the championship game at all.
Confused? Here’s an example that’s as clear as a fogged-up helmet visor. Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma were all tied for the lead in the Big XII South Division. Texas had beaten Oklahoma by 10, Texas Tech edged Texas with one second remaining, and Oklahoma slipped past Texas Tech by 437 points (more on that later). If the teams remain deadlocked, none of the normal tie-breakers would apply. The only way to break the split would be the BCS rankings, meaning that the coaches of those teams had to lobby for votes like their bonuses depended on it. Which, of course, they did.
How stupid is the BCS system? The evening before the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama appeared on Monday Night Football and declared that college football needed a playoff system. This was a candidate for the highest office in the land, with a sizeable lead in the polls, and at time when he dared not court any controversy. And yet he decided less than 24 hours before Americans would cast their ballots that it was completely safe to come out against the BCS.
Was there a silver lining in this massive goat fuck? There was, as sure as bowl reps are old white guys. If the three teams in the South remained tied, little ol’ Mizzou would blow the BCS system to smithereens if they won the Big XII Championship. If that happens, the money-grubbing bowl weebles in matching blazers would be jumping out of their sky boxes at Arrowhead Stadium, and I would be there to laugh and celebrate and not catch them.
(BYE WEEK #2) OBSERVATION #2: Pimpin’—and coachin’—ain’t easy.
A few weeks after Ron Prince got pink-slipped at Kansas State, legendary control-freak Bill Snyder unretired at age 69 to pull a headset over his three remaining hairs. Snyder, who’s about as much fun as a dose of shingles, talked dourly about "family" at his levity-free press conference. “The important thing is to smooth the waters and draw the K-State family back into a true family,” he lectured. He mentioned that his own family suffers when he gets involved with football. Judging from his demeanor, my guess would be that they suffer when the miserable bastard’s home, too. Given his micro-managing megalomania, maybe when Bill says “family,” he means the Godfather type. In any event, we’ll all tune in next year to watch Bill Snyder lose in front of both the K-State Bill Snyder family and the immediate Bill Snyder Family at the (named-by-Bill-Snyder) Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Like the occasionally razor-thin baseball free-agent class, there weren’t many high-profile coaches available as the 2008 season wound down. Not that that stopped schools from tar and feathering the coaches currently in their employ. At Notre Dame, home of Touchdown Jesus and Extra Point Moses, fans prayed for their head coach to feel hell’s eternal flames licking at his pompous scrotum. Charlie Weis came to South Bend from the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots and pontificated (that’s what coaches do at Notre Dame) that his presence would provide the team with a pronounced “tactical advantage.” So blustery was he that after he’d won a handful of games the board of curators extended his contract to ten years. Now, he’s got seven years left and his team is competing with so little heart that their own fans pelted them with snowballs. The once-powerful Irish were faced with the prospect of buying out Weis’ remaining contract and trying to find a coach where no obvious candidate existed, as opportunisitic Chicago sportswriters began casting lots for the coach's sweat suit.
Amidst all the sideline tumult, I received a text from Cousin Jimmy: “Pinkel resigned????” All it took to calm him down was a hyphen. Pinkel re-signed. The University of Missouri Tigers tore up Gary Pinkel’s contract and wrote him a new one worth $2.3 million a year—virtually guaranteeing that Pinkel, who at 56 still rode a Harley and looked like he could, indeed, mess with Sasquatch—would finish his career at Mizzou. With twelve wins last season and nine so far in the 2008 campaign, the contract served as recognition of his turnaround of the Tiger program. For years, Missouri had been football enigma—a major conference school with no in-state rival and two large cities to recruit from that couldn’t get out of its own way. Under Pinkel, the program recalibrated its gimbals and fee-fi-fo-fumed into national relevancy.
Soon after the contract extension, a Pinkel naysayer blasted the decision on tigerboard.com. He got shouted down by a 24-1 posting margin. Tiger fans seemed to prefer keeping their current coach happy rather than risk foraging through the omniturf for a new one.
The whims of sport being what they are, chances are that Pinkel will coach an underachieving or losing team in the next seven years. But the Missouri board of curators recognized that, more than just winning at a higher percentage, Pinkel has elevated the program’s stature. There had been low-level rumblings about Pinkel filling a vacancy at the University of Washington, and Mizzou moved quickly to lock him up at the going rate for coveted head coaches. Any historian of Missouri Sports can attest that stability (Don Faurot, Dan Devine, Gary Pinkel) beats the pants off of turmoil (Woody Weidenhoffer, Bob Stull, and the drama poster-child, former head basketball Coach Quinn Snyder).
(BYE WEEK #2) OBSERVATION #3: The Oklahoma Sooners are the Antichrist.
When David R. dropped me off after the Northwestern game, our plan was to reconvene in a half-hour to watch the game of the weekend, Texas Tech at Oklahoma. But by the time my dog had slurped up the last delicious bits of offal from her bowl, the Sooners were well into putting on one of those show-offy smackdown performances that makes the BCS pollsters spray eggs. I would rather watch a Merchant and Ivory film marathon than surly OU head coach “Big Game Bob” Stoops preen on the sidelines like Napolean while his team disembowels an opponent (I'm being nice--he actually preens like Mussolini). No team runs up the score with such unmitigated glee like Oklahoma. If they scheduled a pee wee squad, I’m sure Stoops would find a way to justify practicing ball control and chop blocks on 8-year olds.
“Boomer Sooner” remains the most banal, overplayed, derivative fight song in the history of insipid sports theme music, the Boomer Schooner brings suffering and pestilence to law-abiding citizens everywhere, and human growth hormone gobbling Oklahoma players are paid under the table by crimson-faced, screaming boosters under the watchful eyes of NFL commissioner Roger Goodall. OK, I don’t have the evidence—yet—to back up some of those claims, but I am member in good standing of the mushroomingly popular facebook group “Bob Stoops hates puppies, Santa Claus, and sunshine.”
The Sooners remained scant percentage points behind Texas in the BCS poll, poised to leap frog them and face Missouri in the Big XII championship. They cannot be stopped. The are evil incarnate. My doomsday scenario was coming true.