TCU football coach Gary Patterson’s hands lay on his hips, and he’s hunched forward as if to vomit. It is Texas, about 5 p.m., so it is miserably hot. His voice is hoarse from two hours of trying to whip a young Frogs team up amid all the preseason hype.
He has challenges, and, yes, his biggest at this moment is trying to politely navigate the question of what the hell is wrong with college football?
No, seriously. I flat-out asked him: What the hell is wrong with a sport where a team can go undefeated — as the Frogs did in 2010 — and have no chance to play for a national championship?
“We won the only championship game they let us play in,” Patterson finally settled upon as his final answer.
He is talking about TCU’s victory in the Rose Bowl, and he does so without a trace of bitterness for a championship game many believed his team had just as much right to play in as Auburn and Oregon. This is in part because he calls the Rose Bowl “one of the best moments" of his life and in part because he refuses to spend time on the impossible.
And there it is, in a hoarse, sweaty whisper, but undeniable — the ugly reality of college football, where idiocy rules.
The argument for a college football playoff is old and, frankly, inane. It is like arguing that Dr Pepper is yummy or that sunny days are more enjoyable than rainy ones. If you do not accept the simplistic genius of a playoff, well, I am unlikely to change your mind. My point is one of basic fairness, and we all can agree what is happening to TCU and Boise State fails that standard, right?
If you want the best argument for a playoff in college football, it is not one of games or money or the deceit of bowls, although those are all true. The thing that always does it for me is the 2010 Frogs and the 2006 and 2009 Boise State teams, the collective resumes of GP and Chris Petersen, respectively, the players who built undefeated, giant-killing champions in places where they supposedly were unable to grow. They have helped change the discussion about college football by consistently beating “The Big Boys” that systematically exclude them.
“I told people parity was coming to college football,” Patterson told me when we talked last week.
And he is right. I have been hearing that from him for years, from a lot of coaches, actually. The guys who watch the film and try to find ways to beat increasingly improving non-BCS teams (and occasionally losing to, say, Appalachian State in the process) know how slippery that little line is and how often it moves. About the only time parity is not apparent in college football is when they crown the national champion.
The Frogs can beat Wisconsin (which they did in the Rose Bowl) and Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas Tech, as they have in recent seasons. Boise can beat Oklahoma and almost everybody else who comes into their path. They can schedule aggressively and try to improve conferences. They can go undefeated, and, for their efforts, they can get into BCS bowls. What they cannot do is play for a championship.
Purists have explanations for this: Their conferences are weak. They would never survive the week-to-week pounding of a big conference and thereby do not deserve inclusion.
Yet with the Big 12 about to lose Texas A&M, TCU has called inquiring about a spot, and they were told, “Uh, hell no.” As one school administrator noted: “The only thing they bring to the table is a yearly ass-kicking.”
And the plight of Boise is no better. They have answered the critics by playing a ballsy schedule and trying to improve their conference lot in life. They arrived just as TCU and Utah were bailing from a Mountain West Conference that many felt was better than the Big East as previously comprised. Now they are further away.
So they still segregate them, pretending a chance for their undefeated season to end in the Fiesta Bowl is equal to a one-loss Florida playing for a national championship. The reasons vary in absurdity and BS levels, from integrity to looking out for student-athletes when every shred of college news lately disputes that as somewhere between not working and patently false. The kicking in of heads and street agents and prostitutes and abortion payments kind of kill any argument that the powers-that-be in college football are the least bit concerned about how an eight-team playoff system might hurt finals week, or the product, or the kids.
So I asked Patterson if one of the greatest moments of his life would have been cheapened if a week later his Frogs had played an undefeated Auburn for a championship.
“Not if we won,” he said.
But could it have been done?
“Just give us two weeks, and we would have been ready,” he said.
Of course, that is unlikely to happen, not as long as the Gordon Gees have breath in their body, the Bowl Boys have money to wine and dine and basically bribe every athletic director in the country and the best case for a playoff in college football is ignored. TCU and Boise deserve better, GP and Coach Pete deserve better, fans deserve better and, mostly, those kids deserve better.
The argument is old. It does not make it invalid, or unworthy.
And if TCU or Boise goes undefeated this season, they deserve a chance to play in the championship game just like everybody else does.