So my beloved Sooners will face the Mizzou Tigers for the Big 12 championship for the second year in a row. Anyone care to make it interesting? Come up with something good and I’ll take you up on it.
Photo by Flickr user tanjou
Below the flip, I’ve got some thoughts on the intersection of political organizing and college football.
In case you don’t follow college football, the way that Oklahoma reached the championship game this year was a lot more interesting than last year, although probably still a lot more satisfying than Mizzou’s run through a depleted Big 12 North Division. Oklahoma went undefeated, save for midseason loss to archrival Texas. Texas was in turn only defeated by Texas Tech, whose sole loss was a crushing 65-21 beatdown by the Sooners. With a three-way tie occurring between teams who defeated each other, the logjam was only cleared by the conference’s fifth tiebreaker. It states the team in the division with the highest Bowl Championship Series (BCS) ranking will advance to the conference championship.
The BCS was instituted a decade ago to make sure the top two ranked teams in college football would play each other to determine a national champion. (The traditional system of bowls did not often match the most highly-ranked teams against one another in a bowl, the single postseason game a college football team has.) Three components comprise the BCS: the Harris Poll (the polled include reporters, former players and coaches, and “experts”), the Coaches’ Poll (made up of current coaches), and an average of 6 computer rankings. The three components are averaged and the teams ranked accordingly.
Naturally, since polls are human, they’re inherently flawed. No reporter can watch every game, and coaches have even less time to watch other teams’ games, let alone fill out rankings. And coaches have every incentive to game their rankings to boost themselves and lowball rivals. For some reason, one coach found it reasonable to rank Texas number one for the first time this week, even though Texas beat an awful unranked team at home, and every other team near the top of the poll posted impressive wins on the road against rivals.
So what does any of this have to do with politics, the usual focus of this blog? Politics actually enters into it nearly every season. The athletic departments of virtually every major university spend a great deal of money and effort lobbying those with votes in the polls for higher rankings for their teams and make a case for postseason awards for their players. Mizzou famously spent thousands of dollars to send black and gold “Viewmasters” to Heisman voters, loaded with QB Chase Daniel’s pictures and stats. Texas coach Mack Brown personally called friends and acquaintances with votes in the Harris and Coaches Polls and spoke for several minutes on ABC’s primetime broadcast of the last Oklahoma game, hours before voters watching that game would essentially go on to vote between Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech on which team would win the division. This is nothing new for Brown – he won with a similar argument that placed Texas in the Rose Bowl ahead of Cal in 2004.
But this year, we’ve seen an explosion of viral sports marketing originating separately from college coaches and athletic departments. Texas boosters hired a plane to fly above the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game with a banner “45-35”, signifying Texas’ win over Oklahoma and main argument to finish ahead of Oklahoma in the polls. And fans organized a sign campaign to display during the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry game televised nationally on Thanksgiving night. Any time the TV cameras showed Texas fans, a multitude held up signs displaying “45-35”, and a website, Facebook group, and MySpace page all with the same message. Even now, I see ads on Facebook for Colt McCoy (Texas’ QB) for Heisman, with a clickthrough to a Facebook group directing fans outward to various online polls and e-mail addresses with suggestions on simple and direct messaging. Has it been successful? Sure. Several voters in both of the human polls flipped from Oklahoma to Texas despite a solid road win by Oklahoma last week.
It’s definitely the year of the online campaign in more ways than just Barack Obama.