SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – For once, maybe it was a good thing that this edition of college football's arranged marriage disguised as a national championship was scheduled to kickoff in Glendale, Ariz., Monday night, roughly a month after the regular season concluded. Accidentally, it may provide a moment's diversion for the people of Arizona -- ground zero for Saturday's mass murder that rocked all of us -- from all the sadness for the six people killed and 13 wounded.
Flags around the state, like those at the Camelback Inn Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the BCS conspirators (officials and those of us in the media) are holed up, were lowered Sunday to half-staff.
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I don't suspect the ultimate college football game of the season kicked off under such a pall ever before.
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But this is what sports do, and should. Arizona postponed a Saturday afternoon basketball game against Stanford until Sunday out of respect to the victims, like the wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and because so much security was diverted to the crime scene. The Coyotes' hockey game in Glendale on Saturday evening against the Buffalo Sabres went on, however.
Had the Auburn-Oregon game been scheduled Saturday night, it most likely would have gone on as planned, too. After all, in the grand scheme of things it is just a game. It is only with the title, pomp and circumstance the folks who run college football have afforded it that it is something grander.
The so-called national championship college football game still doesn't satisfy me. It won't until every worthy team is awarded the opportunity to play for all the money through a playoff, as most of the Auburn and Oregon players polled last weekend by my colleague Brett McMurphy said they preferred.
TCU is just as undefeated as the Tigers and the Ducks, but its season ended in the Rose Bowl. That's not right.
It is refreshing, however, to see that Auburn and Oregon advanced to the title match rather than some of the usual suspects. One might think that Auburn is a perennial football power but it really is not. It has one national championship trophy. That was earned during the Eisenhower administration, over a half-century ago. Oregon has never won a football championship.
The last three BCS title games looked a lot like Monday's, too, with six different teams battling it out. Alabama beat Texas last year. Florida topped Oklahoma the year before. LSU upset Ohio State in 2008.
One could argue that the BCS system of consulting computers and taking ballots from coaches and my media colleagues have opened the door for more diversity in the national championship game. It's not just Miami, Notre Dame (remember it?), Oklahoma and Penn State like it seemed to be in the '80s. Or Alabama, Notre Dame and Oklahoma like it felt in the '70s.
But it's still not properly inclusive.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who was an assistant at Auburn in 2004 when it finished undefeated and uninvited to the national title game, said Sunday he thought the current system worked well.
"I'm not sitting here from any other aspect because I have been on both sides, but usually if you go back, more times than not, the BCS formula has been right on," Chizik said.
"Am I saying there is a better way out there to do it? I don't know. I think there are so many different speculations on how to do it with a playoff system, and how many teams do we use, and how long does the season last and how many playoff games are there," he said. "But I don't think there's that one perfect idea yet that everybody can come to great agreement that this is the way you do it. ... Until you do that, I feel like the BCS has, again, more times than not, got it down the right way."
It certainly worked in Chizik's favor this season, and in his Oregon counterpart Chip Kelly's as well."I don't worry about things I have no control over," Kelly said Sunday. "We're playing against Cam Newton, and I'm worried about trying to tackle him [rather] than straighten out what some people consider right, not right. I don't know. Just tell me what the rules of the game are, and I will play by it."
The BCS is so seductive. It sucks most of us in somehow, someway, no matter its obvious and overwhelming flaws. Even as constant critic of the BCS, I've become another cog that makes it chug along by haranguing it until kickoff and praising the theater it winds up producing. I should, instead, begin turning my back in protest on this farce, but I haven't.
In a sense, the result of Monday's game could be even less satisfying than some others in recent years because TCU performed so impressively in the Rose Bowl against a team that was supposed to be its superior just because its players where bigger. It suffered the same criticism going into the Rose Bowl that Oregon is undergoing before kicking off with Auburn. The observation is that the Ducks, despite being from a major-league conference in the Pac-10, are smaller than the Tigers, which hails from the mighty Southeastern Conference. They won't be able to hang, a lot of observers chirped.
How did the size the Horned Frogs surrendered to the Badgers work out to hurt them? It didn't. They were faster and had more talented skill position players than Wisconsin and it added up to a victory.
Speed versus size is what promises to make Monday night so entertaining, as well as the presence of the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Newton being under center for Auburn. Whichever team is able to impose its advantage will win.
And when it's over and we as visitors depart for our homes, Arizonans will be left beneath flapping half-staff flags to get back to their lives, which so sadly this time means burying the dead. The big game will have been just that, a game.