Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Boise State should be the national champions. I can type it with a straight face, and I almost believe it. Well, O.K., not really, but I do believe that they've been jobbed. First the criticism was that even though they hadn't lost, they hadn't beaten anyone of consequence. Then they beat Oklahoma. Before Boise State beat them Oklahoma was one of the teams that was deserving of a chance at a national championship. Despite injuries and suspensions at key positions (running back and quarter back) they had managed to run their record to 11-2, and if not for two horrible instant replay decisions in the game against Oregon, would have most likely been playing Ohio State on Monday night rather than Florida. Once Boise State beat Oklahoma, however, they went from being deserving but forgotten to an also ran in a conference having a down year. This is the same kind of logic that had Michigan at #2 one week and #3 the next, with them not having taken the field in the interim. This logic is also now being employed to anoint Florida the team of the decade after it beat up on an Ohio State team with a defense that had already been exposed by Michigan, that had been out of action for almost two months, and lost its playmaker on offense after he scored one of their only two touchdowns at the beginning of the game. The best anti-Boise state crap I have heard is to belittle their victory as the consequence of trick plays and long weeks of preparation. First of all, wouldn't that preparation argument work for Florida too. Second, didn't Oklahoma have the same amount of prep time? Third, wasn't it an interception by Boise State that necessitated the comeback to ties and then win the game which is where the trick plays were used? Fourth, weren't the 'trick' plays ones that were practiced, well executed, and used in order to take advantage of identified weaknesses in Oklahoma's defense? Maybe they wouldn't have a shot at Florida, but Florida State almost beat them ...

This may seem like another pointless sports debate, and it is, but it is also an illustration of the dangers of eschewing bright line rules in favor of contextually based interpretations. A bright line rule, such as the undefeated team wins the championship, might well be wrong. The indiscriminate application of bright line rules, without cognizance of contextual variation, is a recipe for disaster. Contextual cognizance, however, must be studied, deliberate, and analytical. Context can be sloppily and inaccurately assessed. Alterations in context can be pointed to in order to justify self-serving positions. Any pre-existing position can be justified with reference to the context. This is why any positions, whether in sports or politics, that takes contextual variation into account (and they all should) must be presented along with an explanation of the way in which the context was assessed. This assessment should be consistent from situation to situation and across time.

The bottom line here? Boise State may not be equal to Florida. Michigan might not have deserved to play Ohio State. Wisconsin, despite defeating a top SEC team, might not deserve to be in the National Championship discussion. That all may be true, but from week to week the way in which the context is assessed in order to asses a team's strength vis-a-vis others shouldn't change.

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