Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NFL overtime inferior to college version

They can’t figure out that computers don’t watch the games, conference title games should be unified, the two-team-per-conference rule is flat-out dumb, the six automatic bid system is even dumber and no one likes calling it Football Bowl Subdivision. But to their credit, the college football masterminds have one thing figured out better than Roger Goodell and their professional counterparts. It’s got nothing to do with postseason and everything to do with post-four quarters.


Unlike in the NFL, the NCAA gives each team a fair chance to actually win the game following 60 minutes of hard-fought football. What a novel idea. First, one team gets the ball on the 25-yard line, then the second team gets the ball on the – yup, you guessed it, the same 25-yard line on the same end of the field. It truly is an amazingly innovating phenomenon, isn’t it?

The Sunday version is a bit different. Winning the fifth-quarter coin toss is like winning Goodell’s short-term vesion of David Stern’s lottery. Unless you’re Matt Hasselbeck, say, “We want the ball and we’re going to score,” then throw a pick-six to Crystal Crowns’ favorite Packer, Al Harris to end your season. Or you’re former Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg, win the toss, take the windless side of the field instead of the ball, watch Jim Miller and the Bears march down the field and win on a Paul Edinger field goal.

Of course, winning the overtime coin toss doesn’t guarantee you a victory. In fact, according to ESPN’s John Clayton, the team that wins the toss wins the game on the first OT possession less than 50 percent of the time. Still, I’ve seen it enough; what happened Thursday night shouldn’t be allowed to happen again.

The Jets-Patriots game was arguably the most exciting game of the season. Lifetime backup Matt (Tom Who?) Cassel leads New England back from the dead, hits Randy Moss on the side of the end zone with Patriot legend Ty Law draped all over him with one second left to tie the game at 31.

Then, the Jets win the toss, Favre nonchalantly leads them into field goal range and Jay Feely ends it with a 34-yard field goal. Cassel and Moss never see the field again.

Even for Jets fan, that had to be anti-climactic. It was like ending a Bond movie with an eyes-closed kiss and a bouquet of red roses. And yet, it didn’t compare to the stomach-aching finale that occurred three days later.

Ever seen a last-second Hail Mary after which nobody celebrates? It happens every once in a blue moon, a tad more often than safeties on back-to-back possessions, which happened here less than 24 hours before. Yes, I’m talking about a tie, a stalemate, words that make all competitors cringe worse than when Mark McGwire hears, “piss test.”

Sunday’s Bengals-Eagles matchup ended without a victor. Philadelphia now sits one-half game behind the Redskins and Cowboys at 5-4-1 for second place in the NFC East and 1-8-1 Cincinnati now sits with a stupid-looking record at the bottom of the AFC North.

After 75 minutes of football the game ended how it began. The players were left unsatisfied, the fans were left even more unsatisfied; a pointless ending to a now-pointless game. Stalemates are for chess. Ties should only come in tic-tac-toe.

College football is far from perfect; the BCS is a joke and yet only half as laughable as the mere existence of the Papajohns.com Bowl. But the NCAA does have one ‘A’ on its midterm report card. Goodell should be asking for its notes.

Derek is a junior majoring in economics. Your thoughts on football’s overtime? Send them to dzetlin@badgerherald.com.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Penn State loss hurtful in so many ways

It was only one kick, three points, a mere chip shot. But oh how one upright-splitting field goal can have such an effect on a coach, a team, a conference.

An entire begging sport.

Daniel Murray’s 31-yard field goal Saturday evening at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium had more impact than any Hawkeye fan who stormed the field could have imagined.

For one, it ruined Penn State’s perfect season.

The Nittany Lions’ 81-year-old coach may have trouble spelling “BCS,” but what a story this would have been. Joe Paterno – in what many believe is his 43rd and final season as PSU’s head coach – is no longer able to stand on the Penn State sidelines and gets driven around practice in a golf cart. But at 9-0, his Nittany Lions were staring a national championship berth square in the face. They merely had to beat Iowa on the road before returning to Happy Valley to face a pathetic Indiana squad and then Michigan State. A real heart-warming story it would have been, now impossible, thanks to Murray.

It also ruined the Big Ten’s chance for a savior.

After a pair of Ohio State defeats at the mercy of the SEC’s Florida and LSU in consecutive seasons, the Big Ten has been considered by many as the most overrated conference in all of college football. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi was to Princess Leah, Penn State was the Big Ten’s only hope. With their “Spread HD” offense run by junior Daryll Clark, perhaps the Nittany Lions could have competed with the nation’s elite on Jan. 8 and re-solidified their conference’s national reputation.

Instead, the Big Ten will continue to be the laughing stalk of the gridiron galaxy, especially if PSU loses to USC in the Rose Bowl, a now-realistic possibility.

It gave life-support to an ailing BCS, bolstering an inferior system while lessening its chance of utter chaos and confusion.

With the loss, Penn State fell out of national championship contention because the Big Ten season simply doesn’t compare to those of the SEC or Big XII, and the Lions’ non-conference schedule was easier than finding a penny at the bottom of a city fountain.

Had Penn State finished undefeated, the BCS droids would have gone haywire. Would a 12-0 Big Ten campaign – without a conference title game – have been more championship-worthy than a one-loss SEC or Big XII season? That sole question could have pushed the NCAA toward a postseason playoff the entire football-watching world has been yearning since the computers took over in 1998. Now, there’s a chance that exactly two BCS conference teams can finish undefeated, making the decision simple for that three-lettered nightmare.

Every sports fan enjoys the David over Goliath defeats; they’re why games are decided between the painted white lines and not the Microsoft margins. But unless you reside in Gainesville, Fla., Norman, Okla. or anywhere in the Lonestar state, Iowa’s victory over Penn State was a not-so-happy ending to a thrilling conference contest, especially if you don Badger Red, Spartan Green or Michigan Maize and Blue.

Funny thing is, after Murray’s 35-yard miss that would have beaten Pittsburgh on Sept. 20, freshman Trent Mossbrucker was supposed to handle the field goal duties inside of 42 yards for the Hawkeyes. Instead, head coach Kirk Ferentz went with his gut feeling, giving the sophomore one more chance.

Talk about redemption. Too bad a life-changing success story ruined so much for everyone else.

Derek is a junior majoring in economics. Were you cheering when Penn State went down? Now do you wish you weren’t? Let Derek know at dzetlin@badgerherald.com.