The 2020 college football season deserves the ultimate asterisk originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The word "asterisk" may be the word of the year for sports fans in 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has forced every sport in America to adjust, some more than others, and this has led to a debate on just how legitimate the results of each season really are.
For the most part, I don't buy into the whole "asterisk" debate. Just because a season looks different than normal does not invalidate it. There is no sport that looks exactly the same as it did when it first started so why does it matter if the rules change in 2020? If we allow for every league to change over the course of time, why would we not allow for adjustments in a pandemic? Why are the Tampa Bay Lightning not legitimate Stanley Cup champions after winning four best-of-seven series in the NHL? Why are the Los Angeles Dodgers not legitimate World Series Champions after surviving an entire pandemic season and winning in the playoffs? Why are the Los Angeles Lakers not legitimate NBA Champions after winning in the Orlando bubble?
These seasons are not illegitimate just because they look different. And then, there's college football.
Part of the appeal of college football is its unpredictability. We love it because the entire sport is bonkers. The 2020 season took it a bit too far, however, to the point that it is hard to take seriously anything that happened.
Let's ignore things like Florida losing because a player threw an opposing player's shoe, Indiana's game of inches or the Sun Belt going 3-0 against the Big 12. Those are the kinds of things we see in a normal season.
No, I'm talking about how Austin Peay had to play without any long-snappers in the very first game of the entire college football season. I'm talking about how Houston did not even play until Oct. 8 because all of their scheduled games kept getting postponed. I'm talking about how Notre Dame was actually in a conference and almost won it. I'm talking about how Virginia Tech was missing 23 players and four coaches in its first game due to COVID-19, I'm talking about how 9-2 Army did not get a bowl bid but 2-8 South Carolina did. I'm talking about how the ACC changed its schedule midseason to give Clemson and Notre Dame bye weeks before the conference championship once it became clear they were going to play in it.
Specifically, let's look at two of the crazier conferences. The Big Ten and Pac-12 both postponed their seasons for player safety, no doubt believing the other conferences would follow suit. None of them did. Instead, the season started and both the Big Ten and Pac-12 decided, never mind and decided to have a season after all. The Big Ten left zero room in its schedule to reschedule postponed games and, guess what happened? A bunch of games got postponed. This soon became a problem because the conference had made an arbitrary rule at the start of the season that no team with fewer than six games could play in the conference championship. Ohio State, the conference's lone playoff contender, soon found itself with only five games leading the conference to rescind the six-game rule in the middle of the season.
The only thing that can really top that is what happened in the Pac-12 where Oregon won the conference title despite not even winning its division. Washington won the Pac-12 North with a 3-1 record because, yeah, they played in four games. Oregon was 3-2. Washington, however, was going to miss the championship game due to too many players testing positive for COVID-19 so the conference simply put Oregon in the title game instead and, of course, they won it!
Heck, even Rutgers had a decent season. I mean, come on! That's a definite sign that we shouldn't take 2020 seriously.
What certainly doesn't help is the completely illogical College Football Playoff rankings put out by the selection committee. Those rankings were going to be under more scrutiny this year than ever due to the unbalanced schedules and boy did it not live up to the scrutiny.
Ohio State played in only six games? Clearly, they deserve to be in the playoff even though a 9-0 Cincinnati kept getting docked for not playing enough. I get it, it's not Ohio State's fault that the pandemic messed with the schedule. But it wasn't Coastal Carolina's fault either when Liberty had to bow out of their game. What did the Chanticleers do? They scheduled a game mid-week against undefeated BYU and then beat them. That's more impressive than any win on Ohio State's six-game resume.
Florida is ranked No. 7 despite losing three games, including a bad loss to LSU. Georgia is ranked No. 9 with two losses. If someone can find an impressive win on the Bulldogs' resume, please let me know.
Here's my favorite. Louisiana went 9-1 on the season with a win over Iowa State. Louisiana's lone loss was to undefeated Coastal Carolina. Iowa State lost three games, including to Louisiana.
Here's where each team finished in the rankings: Iowa State at No. 10, Coastal Carolina at No. 12, and Louisiana at No. 19.
The committee simultaneously gave Group of Five teams zero credit for their accomplishments and also did not punish Iowa State at all for losing to one of those teams.
I love college football, but I have had a hard time getting excited about this season. The 2020 pandemic has exposed all the problems in the sport. It's crazy that the conferences get to make their own rules, the sport suffers greatly from a complete lack of central leadership, the Group of Five are all second-class citizens and the playoff is based almost entirely on preconceived notions of how good each team is and very little on the results on the field. You can get away with that when every team plays 12 games and the rules are all known going into the season, but the complete lack of logic gets exposed when the committee has to compare Power Conference teams with weak resumes against Group of Five teams that accomplished more over the course of the season.
Of course, I am going to watch the playoff and most likely the fourth edition of the Alabama vs. Clemson championship game, but it's going to be hard for me to give the winner much credit. The sport already had cracks in it, but COVID-19 broke it in 2020. There is no bigger asterisk in 2020 sports than the college football season.