If you want a sense of the real dynamic at work for the College Football Playoff National Championship, you needed to step away from the staged press conferences for coaches and listen to some of the questions directed at SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a smaller cluster of reporters on Sunday.
(A) “Do you think Alabama’s dynasty is bad for the rest of the league?”
(B) “What if one team in the Big Ten had a dynasty, would you consider that bad for college football?”
(C) “Do you think Nick Saban is responsible for the arms race?”
Think about those for a minute.
Most of the questions implied, subtly or directly, that Alabama winning was bad. Most came from media based in other “SEC” states – Florida, Georgia, Louisiana – and all had a faint scent of despair. The very word “dynasty” was spoken with a sort of disdain, the way Europeans spoke of the Hapsburg Dynasty before World War I as something that had been grand in its time but needed to be cleared away. To top all that off was the implication that since no other SEC team had been able to beat Alabama lately, that the commissioner needed to step in and do something, anything, to help.
To his credit, Sankey treated the questions with the calm logic they deserved. To (A) and (B), which was only a subtle variation of (A), he replied that, as far as a “dynasty,” he didn’t even use the word.
“To me, ‘Dynasty’ was a dramatic prime-time TV show from the 1980s,” Sankey said. “That’s the context I’m coming from. I prefer to say that they are a team who has had well-earned success because of their own efforts.”
As to whether Saban had caused “the arms race” – one assumed that meant the rush of spending on facilities and staff in college football, although the questioner left it open-ended and may well have meant that Saban was restocking the nation’s nuclear arsenal in between staff meetings – Sankey drily responded that he “did not attribute that to any one person.”
There was more, but a game is imminent and should be discussed. Just recognize that it is being played in an atmosphere of intense, almost crippling Alabama fatigue and the hopes of (most of) a nation are pinned on Dabo Swinney.
Clemson can win. The Tigers have very good players, a gifted quarterback, solid coaching and confidence. Picking them, as some people are doing, isn’t off the wall, by any means. There’s been a little glossing of the fact that they lost to Pitt, struggled offensively against Auburn and were in a fourth-quarter fight against Troy. To their supporters (meant in the sporting sense of “backers,” not just “fans”), the dominant performance against Ohio State last week washed all of that away.
The point isn’t that Clemson isn’t good. The point, in fact, is that the Tigers are good, so good that they represent a sort of last, best hope for everyone who feels that Alabama is suffocating the sport. Remember how quick “experts” were to declare the Dynasty dead when a bad, five-turnover performance and some lightning-strike big plays led to an Ole Miss win, a credit to the Rebels but a clear example of how a more talented team can, on occasion, lose. But Alabama didn’t shut down the strength program, recall the recruiters from the road and start selling off its excess trophies. It went back to doing what it always does, and here we are, 26 games later, with people worrying about “the dynasty” again.
Maybe Clemson can free America from the tyrant. Maybe they can unbolt the shackles. Maybe they’ll play better and, as happens in sports, maybe they will win.
Or maybe America is in for another long offseason worrying who can “save” college football. And, without guaranteeing anything, let me offer America a word of advice.
You need to get ready for that long offseason.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.