Page 282 of BETTER OFF WITHOUT ’EM includes a brief explanation of the methodology I used in figuring college football consensus national champions dating from 1950. That page also includes a brief but important—to me, anyway—recollection of the 1973 Sugar Bowl between Notre Dame and Alabama.
Because it’s relegated to smaller type and a back-of-book Notes position, I have a feeling very few people actually read the thing.
But as it’s central to my overall argument about the bogus nature of college football polls, of sentimental value to me and relevant to this coming Monday’s national championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama, I’m posting it here.
For a longer treatment of that epic 1973 game, by the way, check out this terrific New York Times piece that ran in December.
Note #9 from Chapter 4 (Football: Louisiana State, ESPN, BCS, and the gridiron Delusion of the SEC) of BETTER OFF WITHOUT ’EM:
Since the very first national college football championship was “split” between teams from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) and Queen’s College (now Rutgers) of 1869, choosing a titleholder has been a maddening process producing a number of dubious results. According to page 72 of the NCAA record book cited below, during the last 142 years more than 30 different bodies have been involved in selecting national champions. Often they have disagreed.
I used 1950 as the starting point for my national title calculations for three reasons. First, 1950 is the year the NCAA record book begins its listing of “Consensus National Champions,” so there is that governing body’s stamp of approval, debatable though it may be.
Second, 1950 is the year that the first coaches poll was published; originally the UPI poll, the coaches poll has more recently been passed between ESPN and USA Today and become an important part of the clumsy apparatus used to decide national champions.
Third, many of the older national championships, particularly those from the 1800s, were granted retroactively according to formulas that gained prominence in the 1920s and ’30s.
Even with the NCAA endorsement, figuring “consensus” champions is a challenge. For example, the NCAA’s record book lists Tennessee as the 1951 consensus champion. What the record book fails to note, however, is that this title was granted before the number-one-ranked Volunteers’ final game against number-three-ranked Maryland in the Sugar Bowl played on January 1, 1952. Maryland won that game 28-13 to finish its season 10-0. That the Vols finished their 10-1 season with a loss to #3 Maryland yet somehow managed to retain their “consensus” championship is merely evidence that rigging titles in favor of the SEC is a longstanding tradition.
Alabama has also benefited from obvious fraudulence.
In the 1973 season-ending Sugar Bowl, for just one example—I’ll provide another shortly, simply because I can’t resist pointing out all of this unadulterated rah-rah SEC bullshit—the undefeated and number-one-ranked Crimson Tide squared off against the undefeated and number-three-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a game that the entire country understood would decide the national championship. Well, almost the entire the country. Rather than wait for the outcome of the game, the UPI went ahead and crowned Alabama national champions, even before the two teams met. (As well as having a tie blemish its 10-0-1 record, #2 Oklahoma was on probation for having ineligible players on its roster and not allowed to participate in bowl games.)
Notre Dame ended up beating Alabama 24-23. The AP, Football Writers Association of America, National Football Foundation, and pretty much every fan in the country recognized the Irish as the 1973 champions. The UPI, however, did not change its decision, keeping Alabama as its champion. That “championship” is one those alleged thirteen football titles hilariously referenced by Alabama fans on T-shirts and websites such as Roll Bama Roll.
I believe that 1973 Sugar Bowl, by the way, was the high point of my Notre Dame graduate father’s sporting career. The game was also either the first or one of the first live sporting events ever televised in Juneau, Alaska, and the memory of Dad’s smile in our living room after the game remains to me almost as satisfying as it was to him.
Incidentally, of the thirteen Alabama titles claimed on those ubiquitous (in Tuscaloosa) T-shirts and that Roll Bama Roll website, only three are recognized as “consensus” titles (1979, 1992, 2009) by any non-biased organization or publication. Much of that Bama titles list is padded with “national championships” “earned” by teams like the 1941 Crimson Tide. Alabama went 9-2 that year yet somehow managed to win a title endorsement from some outfit called the Houlgate Poll.
Meanwhile, ten other bodies, including the AP, Sagarin, and the National Championship Foundation, named the 8-0 and number-one-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers as national champs. Alabama wasn’t even the SEC champ in 1941. Mississippi State was. Anyone questioning my application of the C. Vann Woodward quote at the start of this chapter about southerners clinging to illusions, fantasies, and pretensions might do well to review the almost-comical psychosis of fans who proclaim themselves champions in light of such obvious contradictory evidence.
There are, of course, a number of ways to play with numbers and statistics, but I believe my tabulations are fair to the SEC. I wrote that counting national titles from 1950 statistically favors the South and the SEC and indeed it does.
Were one to count all consensus national titles from the inception of college football in 1869 to the beginning of the BCS era in 1998, the championship winning percentage of southern teams would be just 9.375 percent, as opposed to the 20.83 percent I cited in the chapter. While starting the historical count from the very beginning of college football history seems logical, it also struck me as an unfair way of calculating the success of southern football programs, given that Alabama didn’t even field a team until 1892 and the SEC wasn’t officially created until 1932.
Point being, that while I acknowledge there are ways to cook most of these numbers—Should one count that 1973 Alabama UPI “title” as legit? I did not, even though 1973 Bama quarterback Gary Rutledge recently told the New York Times that he still wears “my 1973 national championship ring”—I remained diligent and fair-minded while making my calculations.
In this effort I received invaluable help and guidance from researcher Patrick Clark.
Where were you when you first heard Joe “Put Y’all Back in Chains” Biden’s latest gaffe?
I was taping an interview with Dennis Miller when the story broke.
The two-segment interview aired yesterday on the Dennis Miller Show. This is the second time I’ve appeared on the show and, as you can hear by clicking here – 082012_MILLER_THOMPSON — though we sometimes occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum, I think we do enjoy each other’s company.
The link above is to an MP3 file. It takes a minute or so to load but be patient, it’ll get there.
Dennis was a great supporter of To Hellholes and Back and I really appreciate him being one of the first radio hosts to have me on his show.
Check out more Dennis Miller here: http://www.dennismillerradio.com/
Since last week’s publication of Better Off Without ’Em, reader correspondence has been running about 60-40 against me.
But amid it all, some have been sending along a few interesting items.
Like this link from the Center for a New American Security, which shows U.S. Marines marching through Beirut beneath a Confederate battle flag.
The photo is from 1958, but read the comments below and you’ll find service members revealing that U.S. troops still sometimes fly the Confederate flag, such as “VisitorRon Dickenson” who says he flew one at a combat outpost in Mosul in 2005.
The practice of displaying the Confederate flag by American soldiers isn’t new, and the link above provides me with a rare chance to promote my own book cataloging WWII sites in the Pacific.
Page 80 of that book includes a note about southern troops of the First Marines Division at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 hoisting the rebel flag above Shuri Castle, in honor of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., whose father had been a Confederate general.
The slave days flag still occupies a prominent position in front of the South Carolina capitol, of course, just as it does around plenty of other government buildings in the South.
To the chagrin of many, it ain’t going away any time soon.
On the eve of the publication of Better Off Without ‘Em, how about a couple of crazy cool of wolves and bears?
I shot both a couple weeks ago during a four-day kayak trip through Glacier Bay National Park with my longtime hiking/camping pal and pro photog and game tracker extraordinaire Pat Costello.
Pat is one of the best outdoor photographers in Alaska. If you want to see a whole gallery of shots he took from our trip—which was a great way to prep for the Better Off Without ‘Em book promo and short tour later this summer—check out his Juneau Photos Facebook page.
Everyone has seen photos and video of bears hanging out in streams and rivers munching down on spawning salmon.
But until this trip I’d never known that wolves do the same thing.
Makes sense. Wolves are carnivores (omnivores according to some) and will eat pretty much whatever they can get their paws on.
Still, hanging out on a hillside in Southeast and getting a chance to watch wolves fishing—and interacting with bears invading their turf—was a rare and thrilling experience.
Here’s a brown bear with a pair of cubs in the same stream.
In this one the mama bear gives full-on chase down the stream and eventually catches up with a very speedy fish.
Look closely at the water just a few feet ahead of the charging bruin and you can actually see the fish zipping through the water as it attempts to elude the pursuing bear.
Just watching a bear hauling ass after prey like this at close range was intimidating. Glad we weren’t the ones being charged.
The 2012-13 college football season will once again play out according to the BCS/ESPN business model with assurances that the organization’s largest investment—the Southeastern Conference—will once again be installed in the championship game.
This season’s game will be played in Miami on January 7, 2013, between the SEC champion and another team, very possibly one from the SEC, as was the case in 2012.
Slavishly following the directive laid out in spring by ESPN (“LSU faces smooth road to title game”), the recently released USA Today coaches poll has SEC teams occupying the top two spots (LSU, Alabama) and includes five SEC teams in the top ten and seven (more than half the conference) in the top 25.
The all-important “strength of schedule” title thus gift-wrapped, the SEC’s seventh-straight title shot is virtually guaranteed before a single ball has been snapped or groin muscle pulled.
Once again, it’s the SEC vs. the field.
Here’s how the game is fixed
For those who still haven’t figured out what goes on behind the smoke and mirrors, the BCS/ESPN business plan works like this: preseason rankings, which function like pole positions in an auto race, typically include three or four or five SEC teams among the nation’s top ten, more than from any other conference.
This year is the snoozy rerun that proves the rule.
From the outset, this bias for SEC teams builds into the system a near insurmountable advantage.
Start the season with two of the top four teams from the SEC, as was the case in 2010 with Alabama and Florida, and in 2011 with Alabama and LSU, and the conference is virtually guaranteed to be represented in the title game—and this is an important point—even if neither of those two schools end up winning the conference.
To be the best, so goes to the old sports adage, you’ve got to beat the best.
But since only SEC teams are consistently declared the best, only SEC teams get the chance to prove themselves against “the best.”
It’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Does the SEC get favorable rankings because they’re so good? Or is the SEC so good because they get favorable rankings? I argue for the latter.
In 2010, for example, the Auburn Tigers began the season with a consensus ranking of #23, behind SEC rivals Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Georgia.
The only way a team regarded so lightly early in the season can possibly climb into the national championship game—which Auburn did that year—is to beat a slew of highly ranked opponents, which Auburn also did that year.
Because polls are pre-arranged so that SEC teams will face the most highly ranked opponents over the course of a season—in the jargon of the BCS this is called “strength of schedule”—only teams from the SEC are time and again able to manage this feat.
Why the SEC always comes out on top
ESPN, of course, is the commercial entity that dominates the college football landscape and has a near incalculable economic interest in promoting the nationwide perception of the SEC’s elite status.
Actually, you can calculate that interest.
In 2008, ESPN and the SEC signed a fifteen-year, $2.25 billion agreement allowing the Worldwide Leader in Sports to televise the conference’s football games.
In addition, ESPN owns the rights to televise all BCS games, including the national championship game.
In 2011-2012, ESPN and its partner ABC broadcast 33 of the 35 college bowl games. Which is to say that for all intents and purposes ESPN, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, the most successful spinner of dreams and fables in world history (not counting the Republican Party) owns college football as a commercial entity.
Think about it this way—if you’d invested $2.25 billion in a commercial enterprise, would you just sit back and “hope” the chips fell your way each year? Would you just place your bet with the sports book and pray that your side covered the spread?
Or would you—as a prudent businessperson—take every step you possibly could to ensure that your investment paid off?
You’d be an idiot not to do the latter—or believe that people who deal in billions of dollars don’t know how to guarantee that their investments pay out.
So go ahead and cheer for your teams this year—I’ll cheer for mine. So long as these bullshit rankings are based on multi-national corporate investment strategies, however, please don’t try telling me anyone knows for certain which teams and conferences are the best in the nation.
Oh, and by the way, spare me the “SEC is the toughest conference top to bottom” bluster. For God’s sake, it’s tougher to go undefeated in the Colonial Athletic Association than it is to run the table in the SEC. That putative miracle has been pulled off for the last four straight seasons.
Kirkus Reviews calls the book “often thoughtful, always irreverent” and “a raucous road trip through the South with a funny, informed, sardonic and opinionated Yankee.”
Publishers Weekly calls the book “hilariously over-the-top” and “thought-provoking.”
The July/August issue of Washington Monthly magazine includes a lengthy essay review by Colin Woodard, U.S. social history authority and author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.
Woodard calls Better Off Without ’Em “viciously funny” before dissecting—and disagreeing with—the book’s central call for a peaceful/friendly secession. It’s an interesting, thoughtful review, an engaging counterpoint to the book.
The real news out of Jackson, Mississippi, last week wasn’t that a predominantly white church responded to the objections of white parishioners by turning away a black couple scheduled to be married there on the day before their wedding ceremony.
We’ve seen this kind of southern ecumenical opprobrium before—most recently in Pike County, Kentucky, where the Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church voted to ban interracial couples from joining the congregation in 2011.
And who can forget the 2009 case of the Louisiana justice of the peace who refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple?
The familiar display of good ol’ rebel racism in the Mississippi capitol was nothing new.
The real lesson there comes from the invisibly potent forces of denial and enabling, the twin pathologies that ensure that offenses like this keep happening, and will keep happening, in the pious Confederacy.
Witness the supposed outrage from the “good” members of the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs upon hearing the news that those poor black folk had been trundled off to exchange their sacred vows elsewhere.
“This is a small, small group of people who made a terrible decision,” church member Casey Kitchens told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper, and reported by the AP. “I’m just ashamed right now that my church would do that. … How unfair. How unjust.”
Caterwauled another: “I blame the first Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, I blame those members who knew and call themselves Christians and didn’t stand up.”
And of course Mississippi Baptist Convention executive director Reverend Jim Frutal raised himself to a full and upright position while reassuring the media that the episode was “not reflective of the spirit of the Lord and Mississippi Baptists.”
Someone please wake me when this rerun is over.
Don’t look at me, I didn’t do nuthin’
During my two years of research for Better Off Without ’Em, I heard just this sort of denial of culpability restated over and over again.
Talk with southerners about social issues and, while acknowledging the heavy burden of problems such as racism and religious intolerance, to a man, woman, and gun-toting child they’ll insist that they themselves do not embody those predictable characteristics and behaviors often used to portray the less attractive side of Dixie.
We aren’t crazy religious—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who you’re thinking of.
We aren’t racist—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who have a problem.
We aren’t single-issue abortion voters or the ones who have a problem with gays—that’s just a small percentage of southerners who the media unfairly fixates on and uses to vilify the rest of us.
All of these statements may be true. The majority of southerners are not loud-mouthed, uneducated, redneck fuckwits flying Confederate flags from the backs of their KIA and Mercedes lynch wagons.
To what extent they were ever true many of these notions are comically outdated.
What the majority of southerners are, and have always been, however, is willing to allow the most strident, mouth-breathing “patriotic” firebrands among them to remain in control of their states’ most powerful and influential positions, be they in the realms of politics, business, education, or religion.
Just as it was southern zealots who pushed the country into the Civil War, it was southern zealots who, while the rest of the South turned its back, were allowed to construct and maintain the legal foundations of Jim Crow; who were allowed to turn the Scopes Monkey Trial into a humiliating circus; who were allowed to circumvent Brown vs. Board of Education and school desegregation by calling out the National Guard and building segregation “academies”; who were allowed to resist Civil Rights with dogs and water cannons; who are still allowed to sidestep equitable school funding and proclaim without ridicule that a black president’s birth certificate is fake and throw secessionist balls and insist that slavery had nothing whatsoever to do with the Civil War, and swear that all of this was and is somehow being done in the name of a liberty to which they feel deprived due to their miserable lives of oppression and persecution beneath the stars and stripes.
Maybe the fanatics do represent a minority of southerners.
That’s still an extremely powerful group that the rest of the South enables—or succumbs to—or aligns with—or votes for—or prays alongside—year after year, decade after decade, century after century.
Theirs are the voices that perpetuate the agenda because theirs are the voices that ring with the most sincerity, that are most bereft of apology, that in their bellicosity resonate as the most historically and authentically “southern.”
As Jackson teaches us again this week, if there’s one thing about the South that hasn’t ever changed it’s the hypnotic influence of the crusader and zealot.
The big news out of Livingston Parish, Louisiana—and how often you can say that?—is state Republican (of course) Representative Valarie Hodges renouncing her once-solid support of Governor Bobby Jindhal’s pet education project, a school voucher program that would use taxpayer money to allow students to attend “private” religious schools in lieu of public schools.
Hodges (who looks like someone’s sweet, peach-cobbler-baking mom, btw), had been super keen on the idea until a Muslim school applied to be part of the program.
That’s when she went all Deuteronomy on school vouchers.
Her freakout after learning that the sacred freedom-of-religion guarantee in the Constitution extends to all religious groups, not just the televised KKKristian kind, led Hodges down the worn path of southern political hyperbole—what we all here in the North call “bald-faced lying.”
Lied Hodges to local media: “There are a thousand Muslin schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana … We need to insure that [the voucher program] does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools.
“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools.”
Deadpanned the Livingston Parish News: “Hodges mistakenly assumed that ‘religious’ meant ‘Christian.’
Hodges not walking alone down that beach
If you think this sort of “The Muslims are Coming!” Dollar Store dumbfuckery is limited to one crazy, majority-elected lady in some backwater bayou fuckhole who can’t spell her own first name right, you might check out the Religion chapter in Better Off Without ’Em (which comes out August 14).
In that chapter, I recount sitting in a completely unexceptional Wednesday night Baptist service during which a preacher warned an aghast congregation that six new Muslim mosques were being built right here in Mobile, Alabama, for the express purpose of announcing Islam’s victory in its war to conquer America.
The six mosques of Mobile were phantoms (lies), just as Hodges’ “a thousand Muslim schools” in Louisiana are phantoms (lies).
The weird thing? Hodges is absolutely right!
But here’s the really crazy part—I actually agree 100 percent with Representative Hodges and her paranoid southern brethren!
Like her, I don’t think taxpayer money should be used to support or promote a batshit nuts religion like Islam.
That’s a redistribution of wealth that makes Obamacare look downright Reaganesque.
Of course, I don’t think taxpayer money should be used to promote the “private” functions of Born Again radicals, either, any more than it should be funneled to the Mormons (enough money already), Scientologists (not till we see some hard evidence of our alien overlords), Catholics (what, for more Sanduskian cover-ups?) or any other faith-based operation.
It’s called freedom of religion, not free money for religion.
What Better Off Without ’Em really means
This is what a lot of people don’t and probably won’t understand about Better Off Without ’Em—that the phrase cuts both ways, that both sides of the debate actually agree on the fundamental principles, even if for completely different reasons.
That I’m just as sick of the tyranny of morons and assholes and borderline seditionists imperiling the future of “my” country as southerners like Valarie Hodges are sick of the tyranny of morons and assholes and borderline seditionists imperiling the future of “their” country.
Those who might consider this decade-old story ancient history—or at least an anomaly in the pasteurized “we don’t tolerate racism anymore” South—should check out a story that ran last week on Jezebel documenting the case of a 21-year African American who was physically removed from a North Carolina bar, presumably for drinking while black.
The “isolated incidents” keep on coming.
This week it’s some old photos of a Georgia sheriff posing in a KKK costume, presumably as part of a hilarious send-up of a famous scene from Blazing Saddles.
The shocking part of all this is that anyone remains shocked that this sort of shit remains so pervasive in Dixie.
After all, South Carolina is the state whose current lieutenant-governor, Glenn McConnell, giddily dressed up as a Confederate Army general and posed with two black “slaves.” Massively depressing photo here.
Asked by ABC’s Nightline about the Confederate flag he fought to help keep on the grounds of the South Carolina capitol (also covered in Better Off, along with a dissection of the South Carolina capitol’s bigot-celebrating grounds), McConnell replied with Colbert-esque aplomb, “I don’t see black and white. I don’t see racism.”
Neither, apparently, do plenty of his confederates.