On the night before Christmas, guess what? No one in Florida was stirring after all. Not even the Florida House.
The 13-0 ACC champion Florida State football team on Sunday clambered down air stairs from its plane that landed in Fort Lauderdale, not terribly far from its campus in Tallahassee, to prepare for Saturday’s Orange Bowl against Georgia.
There was no boycott, no protest and, most mercifully, no phalanx of politicians and lawmakers accompanying the team to make grandiose statements about having been wronged. As well there shouldn’t have been.
Just because the College Football Playoff made Florida State the first unbeaten Power Five conference champion not to be chosen to play for the national title doesn’t mean that skulduggery took place, that this system to decide the best college football team was rigged, that Michigan, Washington, Texas and Alabama weren’t the legitimate four teams to play in the national championship tournament. This is no more ground for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R) to sow denial about the properness of the process than was the 2020 presidential election, the results of which they didn’t like and became part of sullying.
The possibility of something untoward, however, was the specious argument amplified by DeSantis and Scott in particular in the immediate wake of Florida State’s being left out. DeSantis huffed that he was going to free up $1 million from the state budget to sue the College Football Playoff committee. Scott fired off angry missives to CFP executive director Bill Hancock that echoed the script of presidential election deniers. “Those who feel snubbed or mistreated should not be denied the opportunity to get an explanation for the decisions that created that perception,” Scott wrote to Hancock. Scott claimed it wasn’t just Florida State fans who felt that way but “Americans across the country who doubt the integrity of the playoff system.” (Whatever happened to Republicans being able to lose graciously?)
The shame in all of this is that it unnecessarily discredits the time-honored tradition of winning and losing — or in this case, losing out — that sports seems to have adjudicated for a long time. The final score is the final score. The standings are the standings. How we lose, or accept it, means something. “Sport’s glory, I want to suggest, resides in the way the proper spirit of the game gives flesh to the fairness required by its rules — in the tension between the quest for and love of victory and the acceptance of the reality, the objectivity, of vulnerability to defeat that is bound up with the very idea of a sporting encounter, and distinguishes it from a brawl subject to surveillance,” Australian philosophy scholar Tony Skillen wrote in a 1998 journal article titled “Sport is for Losers.” “The good sport, then, has learned both to ‘go for it’, and to ‘take it’, and these intertwined lessons constitute among the deepest we can expect to be taught.”
Skillen would do us well to counsel the playoff deniers.
Was there some subjectivity employed in picking which college football teams would play next month for the national crown? Absolutely. Was there before, and will there be next year when the tournament expands to include a dozen teams? Of course.
That doesn’t mean the process needs legal or political intervention.
What DeSantis and Scott decided they should spend taxpayers’ money on is not a novel nonsense effort. After the Los Angeles Rams beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game in January 2019, a couple of Saints season ticket holders sued NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL for mental anguish, emotional trauma and other such damages. The suit was rooted in the belief that the Rams won in overtime only because the officials missed a pass interference call late in the fourth quarter. The lawsuit eventually was tossed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. That it got so far was a waste of time and labor.
After Utah’s undefeated 2008 team was snubbed by what was then college football’s arranged marriage championship system called the Bowl Championship Series, Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R) pressed President Barack Obama to have the Justice Department investigate how Utah could suffer such an egregious ruling. Hatch at one point told his Senate colleagues, “The BCS system is anti-competitive, unfair and, in my opinion, un-American.” Justice left the game to the coaches, players and college football governors.
Remember Deflategate? Some New England Patriots fans sued the NFL over their favorite team being docked a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft. It was part of the punishment after the league determined quarterback Tom Brady was in cahoots in a scheme to use deflated footballs for a better grip. A court threw out the complaint, saying “federal courts are courts of limited resources, funded by the taxpayers, and it would not be a prudent expenditure of those resources to permit the motion to progress to the hearing stage.”