What Does (or Should) It Mean to be Crowned “Champion”?

Given that some form of a college football playoff now seems to be a reality, I am glad the BCS is gone and generally think this move to a playoff is a good thing, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently better about a playoff over any other system. There’s no “right” way to determine what a champion is in almost any sport. In thinking through this I was reminded of a piece I wrote a few years ago on the old site. I’ve included it below:

One way or the other

[A]ll this made me wonder what the designation “National Champion” is supposed to capture, anyway. The baseline that everyone — including the President-elect — seems to push for is a playoff. So we can use that to ask about each view.

Doyel’s argument seems to be that Utah doesn’t deserve to be #1 because —“People, please” — you wouldn’t really expect them to beat Texas, OU, or Florida, right? I mean, just look at all their bare victories over mediocre or mid-level teams. In other words, one could phrase the Doyel view as the “National Champion” is the team that you think is the absolute best team in the sense that, were they to be matched up against any other team in the country, they would always be favored to win.

That can’t be right, though. That’s not at all what a single-elimination playoff gives you. Had the 2007 Giants played the 2007 Patriots the week following the Giants’ Super Bowl win, would Eli and Co. suddenly have become the favorite? I think not. In March Madness, with teams playing every couple of days, do we really think that the better team always wins each game? No, and that’s kind of the point of a playoff.

Indeed, series-based playoff systems, like with MLB or the NBA, are presumably based on the very idea that one-game is not enough to determine the best team. So, if we still think the playoff is the best solution, then it makes no sense to say that Utah can’t be the National Champion just because you think the other teams might actually be better overall. Though, if you subscribe to the Doyel view of “National Champion,” then the BCS probably does a better job for you than a playoff would, because the system is all about crowning the perceived best overall team. Although it lacks the precision of a playoff, it gives you fudge-factors so that Florida’s and Oklahoma’s (though not Texas’s) losses can be overlooked.

So, maybe instead of crowning as National Champion the best team in absolute terms, that distinction is a reward for having the best overall season. I don’t really watch racing, but that seems to be what they go for with their points system. And many BCS defenders say that it makes “every week a playoff,” so the best overall season gets rewarded (let’s just pretend like that is true). Well, a playoff doesn’t give you that either: Exhibit A – the 2007 New England Patriots. They played unbelievably all year, blew everyone out, and then lost. No one — not even them — tried to argue that they should get a share of the Super Bowl via media vote or whatnot.

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NCAA’s Academic Policy for Recruits

The following piece is by Ben Malbasa, a head high school football coach in Cleveland, Ohio.

We have all seen the ads.  NCAA athletes compete in their sports as they transform into accountants, teachers, doctors, and other professionals while a voice reminds the viewer: “There are more than 380,000 student-athletes and most of them go pro in something other than sports.”  While certainly true, the airing of such ads during championship football and basketball contests featuring young men who often turn pro and do not remain in college calls to mind the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy and her friends to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”  The fact that the NCAA chooses to run the commercials, despite such an obvious disconnect between the mission of the NCAA and the reality of the young men competing in its revenue-generating sports, shows just how important it is to the organization to continue to market the noble ideal of the amateur scholar-athlete.

Think of the hat as a tie-breaker

While the NCAA does not sponsor a football championship, the marketability of the scholar-athlete has been on constant display as the powers that control college football have worked to implement a play-off system.  During the past several weeks, college football fans have followed the meetings with great interest, and if future national championship games are as fiercely competitive as the negotiations that produced them, then football fans will be in for a great treat.  Unfortunately, sports administrators engaged in far less negotiation, and college football fans gave far less attention to the process resulting in the NCAA decision to raise the minimum standards for incoming freshmen beginning in August of 2016 (students beginning as high school freshmen this Fall will be the first group evaluated under the revised system).  As a teacher and head football coach at a college preparatory school, I find these changes to be frightening; indeed, it appears that the NCAA has chosen to sacrifice academic rigor on the alter it has built to the highly marketable image of the NCAA scholar-athlete.

For the sake of clarity, it is important to understand the current and proposed systems. Today, a student must earn at least a 2.0 GPA in NCAA approved classes and earn at least an average of 21.5 on the four sections of the ACT.  In other words, a student earning a 2.0 GPA must score in roughly the 55th to 60th percentile in order to be eligible to compete at the highest level of college sports.  Under the regimen that will begin in 2016, a student earning the minimum 2.3 GPA must attain an average ACT score of 23.25 in order to obtain full eligibility.  Such an ACT score would place the student in roughly the 70th percentile. 

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Smart Links – Trick plays, TESF, Gruden’s Game Plan, Play-calling Jargon, All-22 – 6/25/2012

Let’s bring this one back — the old “Starburst” play, run by, of course, Spurrier’s old Florida Gators:

– That said, not all trick plays are worth repeating. This one worked but, well, I think we can keep it on the shelf. The over-the-shoulder:

The Crystal Ball Run reviews The Essential Smart Football. Also, Amazon dropped the price on the paperback version, and you can also find it on Barnes & Noble’s website.

My small role in inspiring noted author and gamesman Spencer Hall to write this must rank among my greatest accomplishments.

A scouting-report style look at Jon Gruden’s offensive gameplan.

Kirk Ferentz now owns the “Stanzi.”

Will NFL play-calling evolve into something simpler? I’m curious what role helmet-radios play in all of this. Also, there needs to be some argument for why they will not become simpler other than path dependence.

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Watch the left guard

While watching the clip below, that’s all you need to do: watch the left guard.

Getting excited for football season.

The Essential Smart Football: Now under $5 on Kindle

It looks like Amazon is running a deal on The Essential Smart Football for Kindle, as it is available for less than $5. The paperback is also available for under $10.

After the jump is a further update on the book (thanks to all!):

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Cool “trick” formation empty set series

Via Derek Leonard of Rochester high school. Note that the quarterback for Rochester was Wes Lunt, who is now the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State.

My favorite method for running a reverse to a wide (or slot) receiver

This method is very simple. I like it because it is not a reverse in the sense of being a true “trick” play, but instead you can actually count the blockers and evaluate your numbers at the point of attack and the associated leverage and numbers at the point of attack. The points are simple:

  • Fake an inside run to the side the reverse is going to, so the runningback can both fake a run and become a lead blocker to block an edge rusher.
  • Have the quarterback front out away from the side the reverse is going to.
  • The quarterback either fakes a quick swing or bubble pass or a true speed option away from the side the reverse is going to. Some kind of motion helps this; either “bullet” motion by a second runningback in the backfield or a slot receiver in “orbit” motion behind the quarterback, again in each case away from the side the reverse is going to.
  • The reverse player, the slot receiver, takes a narrow split and immediately begins his path towards the quarterback. His aiming point is two yards behind the quarterback. By taking the narrow split he can get to the opposite side quickly. The crease is often not all the way around end but instead just outside of it.

Gus Malzahn is the first I saw using the play, as shown below. Gus used it with orbit motion and a speed option look:

The above clip took place in Auburn’s spring game. In the first part of the video below, Gus shows how they used this very play to attack Alabama to the boundary side, as Saban and Kirby Smart have a strong tendency to bring a lot of “field pressure” — blitzes to the wide side of the field.

But Gus isn’t the only one I’ve seen use it. Dana Holgorsen has used it with much success the last few seasons, both at Oklahoma State and at West Virginia. In the first clip, Tavon Austin scores on an 80 yard touchdown run — in a blizzard — against Rutgers. In this circumstance, it is a great play in terrible weather conditions as it freezes Rutgers’ defensive players while West Virginia’s best athlete, Austin, gets the ball at full speed with blockers in front of him.

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Smart Links – MMQB, Newspapers, WVU, Fire Zones, Reddit, Solo Cups – 6/11/2012

Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe on The Essential Smart Football.

Go vote for your Verbies.

Bruce Feldman on West Virginia: “The biggest change is that everyone’s getting along with each other.”

Is Buffett Right About Newspapers?

Matt Bowen on fire zones from a Cover 2 look.

Quickish and Dan Shanoff are now a part of Gannett. Congrats to Dan.

The culture that is Reddit.

Simon Schama on Shakespeare’s histories.

The most important thing you’ll see today.

Finance bloggers on what has changed or shaped how they think.

Like Smart Football on Facebook.

Grantland’s One-Year Anniversary – Quickish’s Top 25 List

This list, from Dan Shanoff’s inimitable and essential Quickish (other than my little bits of course) is full of awesome stuff. All of them are great pieces, but I particularly recommend all the ones on here from Brian Phillips and Tom Bissell. I’m just honored to be a small piece of such a great group:

Grantland 1-Year Anniversary Greatest Hits Top 25

Today is the one-year anniversary of Grantland’s launch. After looking through the handy Quickish archive of Grantland tips, here is an assuredly incomplete list of the 25 best sports things the site has published, with designations appropriate for the occasion:

“Rushmore” — Four Things People Think About When They Think of Grantland:

“Growing Up Penn State” (Michael Weinreb)
“B.S. Report: Barack Obama” (Bill Simmons)
“The Importance of Ichiro” (Jay Caspian Kang)
“The Malice at the Palace: An Oral History” (Jonathan Abrams)

“Pantheon” — 10 More Things People SHOULD Think About When They Think of Grantland:

“The Garden of Good and Evil” (Katie Baker)
“The Future is Now” (Chris Brown)
“The Fiberglass Backboard” (Bryan Curtis)
“The Greatest Paper That Ever Died” (Alex French And Howie Kahn)
“Wilt vs. Elgin” (Dave McKenna)
“The Rise of the NBA Nerd” (Wesley Morris)
“The Long Autumn of Roger Federer” (Brian Phillips)
“Tim Tebow: Converter of the Passes” (Brian Phillips)
“James Brown’s Augusta” (Wright Thompson)
“Occasional Dispatches From the Republic of Anhedonia” (Colson Whitehead)

“Also Receiving Votes” — 11 Other Things That Represented the Grantland Ideal:

“The Murder of Tayshana Murphy” (Jonathan Abrams)
“A Requiem for the Dream Team in Philly” (Bill Barnwell)
“Madden and the Future of Video Game Sports” (Tom Bissell)
“Ode to the War Daddies” (Chris Brown)
“What Would the End of Football Look Like?” (Tyler Cowen)
“An Evening With Jose Canseco” (Bryan Curtis)
“Three Man Weave” (Chuck Klosterman)
“A Fighter Abroad” (Brian Phillips)
“Soccer’s Heavy Boredom” (Brian Phillips)
“Novak Djokovic: The Shot and the Confrontation” (Brian Phillips)
“Oden on Oden” (Mark Titus)

 

Grantland: Charlie Strong, Joe Lee Dunn, and the Birth of the 3-3-5 Defense — An excerpt from The Essential Smart Football

An excerpt from my new book, The Essential Smart Football, is now up over at Grantland:

Even with his success, Dunn’s career can also be a warning about the 3-3-5. He’s held down jobs with good schools, but he never was able to break out beyond schools like Memphis, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. While at their best, his defenses were suffocating and hard to plan for; when the talent dropped off, the aggressiveness once viewed as a virtue seemed to bleed over into a lack of discipline and a penchant for giving up big plays. Since then, he has coached at Ridgeway High School, New Mexico State, and now Division III McMurry. In football, pragmatism rules, and inflexibility — even if it’s with a great idea — leads to the rest of the landscape passing you by.

His legacy is nevertheless secure. Dunn is essentially the father of the 3-3-5, and the coaches that now use it, even if only in certain situations, are his descendants. The original “30 stack” 3-3-5 is no longer the defense of the future. As with most schemes, age has exposed many of its weaknesses, and many of its leading practitioners, like Charlie Strong, have moved on to other fronts and use it as only a subpackage. But in the age of pass-first and spread offenses, the principles underlying it — movement, disguise, aggressiveness, and an extreme focus on speed — are more important than ever.

Read the whole thing, and the book can be purchased here.