Keith Strudler: Fighting The Good Fight
I have the unenviable position of writing a sports commentary the day after a fairly significant election, an event that generally speaking operates like a giant vacuum. Which means that not many of us have spent too much time worrying about sports over the last several days much less hours, not when what felt like the fate of the free world was on the line. Interestingly, there were actually some significant sporting events going on last night. There was a full slate of NBA games, and there was a huge college basketball game between heavyweights Duke and Kentucky last night. Which, if you’re interested, Duke won by a lot, which is kind of a big deal. Perhaps we can debate the ethics of universities scheduling major sporting events the day of a national election, which seems to both pull people away from their civic duties and perhaps send the wrong message to the college students involved in the enterprise. But I digress.
So, despite the anticipated disinterest in sports by most people right now, I will continue by discussing a topic that oddly perhaps relates to last night’s election, where lots of aspiring Democrats came really close, but just not close enough. That topic is University of Central Florida football. UCF is currently 8-0 and ranked 12th in the most recent college football playoff ranking. That’s the list that ultimately will determine the four teams that will play for the championship in a three-game playoff, a system that was designed to supposedly democratize the national championship and make sure more deserving teams had a fair chance at the title. The top four teams are Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Michigan, four blue bloods that often find themselves in title contention. Currently, three of them are undefeated, making UCF the fourth remaining unbeaten team in Division I’s top tier. Every other team between number three and them has at least one loss, and some of them, like LSU and Kentucky, have two. That means that probably no matter what UCF does for the rest of the season, even if they win every remaining game and a bunch of teams ahead of them lose, they still will probably not play for the title. Even if they are the last unbeaten team left at the end of the year.
That may sound familiar to any of you college football fans, since last year, UCF was the only undefeated team in major college football. And yet they did not get into the playoffs, losing out to Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In response, UCF declared themselves national champions after beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl, and did everything from give players championship rings to holding a championship parade in Disney World – which to be fair, isn’t all that difficult since they’re in Orlando. And after that, UCF athletics folks made all kinds of noise about how they should have a path to play for a title – like winning all their games. That, by definition, should put them in play, especially when everyone else has at least one loss. Yet despite all their efforts, having done everything they could possibly do, winning every game on their schedule now for two consecutive years, they still cannot win. It just seems, well, wrong.
So I think you see the connection here to last night. If you’re of the liberal persuasion, which typically I am, last night may not have played out exactly how you might have hoped. In particular, there were several high-profile candidates that seemed to do just about everything right, but still just couldn’t get the win. Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum – and on and on. A list of high profile candidates who, like UCF, aren’t blue blood politicians, don’t fit historical precedence, and are trying to expand the circle. They came close, but they just didn’t win. Which means that despite the 48% that really liked them, more didn’t. All of which can feel a bit depressing, especially today.
So what’s the lesson? I suppose if you’re one of those candidates, or a supporter of one of those candidates, you simply have to do exactly what UCF keeps doing. Keep on playing. Instead of giving up, UCF did the one and only thing they can. They keep on winning games. And lobbying the powers of college football to change the system to let more deserving teams in. Think of that like fighting voter suppression. And maybe, just maybe, UCF might eventually make it into that playoff – just like these candidates may just win the election next time. Which is why talking about sports the day after an election makes a lot of sense.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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