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Beyond the Boxscore

Alabama fraud: "Championship" as real as a fantasy football title; Nick Saban should return the worst trophy in sports

News_Chris Baldwin_managing editor_arms crossed

In a world of supersized trophies — one in which local Little League third-place finishers can walk away with hardware that crushes their parents' coffee table — the BCS Championship Game awards the puniest prize of all. The crystal football looks almost like a joke up there on the big stage, a party trick brought out by the Saturday Night Live cast, sure to be switched with the real thing.

It's like the BCS — the most overhyped, overblown, overstaged, meaning-light "championship" in major sports — is guiltily overcompensating for all its inexcusable excess by going small.

Even Alabama coach Nick Saban, who makes a show of enjoying the Gatorade shower this time after receiving so much grief for looking like he almost wanted to fight his players after his last post-title dousing, seems to eye The Coaches' Trophy with more than a little whimsical disdain. Seriously, I've got to pass around this little football again.

That crystal football has been around for years, but it's never looked as small as it does on the final night of this college football season. Oh sure, BCS officials will tell you how the thing's really worth $30,000 if you include the stand that no one seems to ever use. But it is not the monetary measurement that's in question. It's the trophy's true worth.

 The ridiculously contrived setup somehow leads to an even worse game than that 9-6 first LSU-Alabama "Game of The Century."  

College football national champions is the most meaningless crown in major sports, the only one that isn't close to ever being decided on the field.

So given more time than is needed to prepare a royal wedding, Alabama beats LSU 21-0 to move to 12-1, while the Tigers fall to 13-1. While Oklahoma State sits there at 12-1. And a University of Houston team that beat Penn State by the same number of points (16) as Nick Saban's team did this season flirts around the edge, completely forgotten at 13-1.

Woo hoo! Roll Tide!

People who get excited about these crystal footballs are the same type of Mensa candidates who think winning a fantasy football title is one of life's great accomplishments.

Given every advantage, and a second chance that numerous other contenders weren't, the Crimson Tide play a great defensive game under the best coach in the country. That's a hell of a Monday night. But little more. Who says this game should matter more than the Tigers winning at Alabama in the heart of the season, in the more natural rhythm of the game? Who says that it should mean more than Mike Gundy's team manning up against Andrew Luck?

When you don't have a playoff system, elevating any one game over the others is just imaginary — just like the fantasy football crown your mom won that one year or the March Madness office pool the IT guy who picks teams based on the ferocity of the mascots ran away with a few winters ago.

One Night Champs 

Alabama didn't play in a conference championship game. It didn't even win its division. It allowed an FCS (the nicer name for Division II) school to rush for 302 yards against it in late November.

Something seems wrong about all that, un-title worthy, but still no one can stop Saban from claiming that absurd crystal ball. Not when LSU only manages to cross the 50-yard line once. Not when the best team in the best conference in the land all season looks like it wants to curl up into a little ball and cry until next September when faced with Saban off of 43 days of preparation for one game.

These Crimson Tide are the champions of Jan. 9. Just like Oklahoma State is the champion of Jan. 2. And Arkansas is the champion of Jan. 6. And LSU is the champion of a whole lot of Saturdays during the regular season.

 That crystal football has been around for years, but it's never looked as small as it does on the final night of this college football season. 

It'd be easy to mock LSU coach Les Miles for arguing with a straight face that he thinks his team deserves some national championship consideration from the voters in the AP Poll on the night his team is shut out 21-0. A night when his Tigers manage 92 yards of total offense playing only 80 miles from their home stadium.

Until you think about it. And you know what, The Mad Hatter has a point. Why not LSU? There is nothing ordinary and little fair about this forced rematch at the Superdome. It's just another perversion in a college football structure that's full of them. 

Saban could frighten Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers with this college team if he had this long to get ready for one game.

Which is another thing that corrodes and warps the BCS title game — there's just way too wide of a gap before the most important game of the season. When Alabama last played a game before Monday night, the NFL was in Week 12 of its season. Matt Leinart was still the Houston Texans' new quarterback. When the Crimson Tide finally take the field again, the NFL's 17-week season and one round of the playoffs is already over.

 People who get excited about these crystal footballs are the same Mensa candidates who regard a fantasy football title as a great life accomplishment. 

No wonder why LSU looks like it's playing a completely different season from the one it finished 13-0 in. It essentially is.

Sure, Miles should have seen a fake field goal coming on fourth-and-3. Like Saban is really going to try another 49-yarder with his team already up after that kicking game disaster against LSU in round one in Tuscaloosa.

Besides that though, the adjustments are more subtle — and much more devastating. Given six weeks to discover a way to shut down the outside option runs that have bothered Alabama all season, six weeks with a defensive unit stacked with future NFL players, it's no surprise that Saban and his staff do it.

And with that, LSU's chances of winning are over. This game is not decided on the football field as much as it's decided in the six weeks in-between.

Is that any way to choose a champion?

If someone gave Bill Belichick 43 days to dissect the Giants before the 2008 Super Bowl, his Patriots would have a perfect season. But is that really what anyone wants sports to be all about?

The ridiculously contrived setup somehow leads to an even worse game than that 9-6 first LSU-Alabama "Game of The Century." What a fun parade of field goals and missed blocks! It's fitting that when a touchdown is finally scored between the two teams, the Crimson Tide kicker blows the extra point.

Throw back the crystal football, dump it right out with the Gatorade. At least that sticky shower's real. 

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