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You Have Meddled With the Primal Forces of Nature, Mr. Herbstreit, and I Won't Have It

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Do Kirk Herbstreit's bosses know what he's writing?

In my opinion, Ohio State could do more about [improving] the image people have of its program by playing a talented USC team that right now is as hot as any in the country ... I promise you, if Ohio State goes into the Rose Bowl, everyone is going to be saying, 'USC is going to kill Ohio State.'

... Ohio State will gain more respect if it plays USC in the Rose Bowl and wins that game, than if it goes and beats West Virginia and wins the national title. From an image standpoint, Ohio State would score more points going to the Rose Bowl than by going to the national championship game. If you can believe that, that's the truth.
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Openly question the value of playing in the BCS Championship game? That's a Buckeye!
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Well, here's the thing re: cynical capitalist motivation: Herbstreit's WWL/ABC/Disney employers are still broadcasting the Rose Bowl and therefore have every reason to hype it at the expense of the mythical championship game, hosted by Fox. Herbstreit bows to no Australian gazillionaire. He also sets up his alma mater nicely - Missouri loses and clears the way for the Buckeyes into the championship game? Great! Win it all, boys. Missouri and West Virginia win and OSU gets sent to the Rose Bowl instead? Also great! Haven't been there in a decade, and it's just as meaningful a game in the long run. So make of that what you will, you skeptic, you.

But the subversive idealist in me smiles beneath the wizened exterior, because at least the idea is out there, that the "National Championship Game" is not actually the national championship game, but a corporate ratings con that carries no more legitimacy than any opinion poll ever has. Herbstreit doesn't go this far, and I think he's only responding to the current situation, not thinking systematically about the BCS as an inadequate system that makes no sense, decides nothing and should be junked. He's not college football's Howard Beale. I'm pretty sure he was on this week defending the Series against a playoff, actually, in response to a WWL fan poll in which 70 percent of respondents were in favor of some kind of tournament. He's the same guy who lobbied way too hard and foolishly for an OSU-Michigan rematch last year at the exclusion of Florida. And this stuff about everyone picking USC to kill Ohio State in a hypothetical Rose Bowl clash of titans - he's drawing on supposedly lingering perceptions of OSU's athleticism against high-end opponents from last year's debacle against Florida - is fairly ridiculous; the Trojans would be slight favorites at best in the mind of anyone who's paid attention, if that.

But this remains the only time I'm aware of that a well-known, mainstream talking head has suggested there is a greater reward than being selected for the concocted championship. USC got a little sympathy in 2003 with the AP vote, but that didn't seem to dent the myth of a real, be-all, end-all championship.  I don't remember anyone on ESPN in 2004 arguing that Auburn should be considered on par with USC for its 13-0 season. The Tigers were just screwed. Sorry, guys, and better luck next time.

This is the kind of thinking/external force that will drive the inevitable evolution of the BCS into a lamentable "plus-one" model and then a real playoff, when pundits and fans stop thinking of the "championship game" as such and start looking at the big picture in exactly the same way they did before the BCS attempted to shoehorn a happy medium a decade ago. Maybe Bernie Machen and his alleged $100 million in hypothetical playoff loot can start some kind of public relations campaign - the championship fiasco won't change until people start recognizing it for what it is.

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Hat tip: Mountaineer blogger Charley West of West By God Virginia, who does not agree with me, and in fact thinks Herbstreit is even crazier than Les Miles.