Just like any other year, petty complaints abound about the College Football Playoff. Many believe that teams that aren’t brand names—like the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers or the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns or the Cincinnati Bearcats—are getting shafted in favor of the Power 5 by a biased ranking committee. A bunch of people think that four teams isn’t enough to determine a champion. And, if we get yet another year with Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State, there will surely be more sighs about how we always seem to have the same final matchups.
That we’ve reached a point in 2020 where we can have your standard sports-bar arguments about the college football postseason isn’t actually an achievement in itself. It’s really just … something that happened as time has passed, like my hair growing longer or the weather getting colder. That we’ve had a college football season at all this year demonstrates nothing other than the power of enormous sports TV contracts to dictate institutional responses to a pandemic. It’s not resiliency, or triumph, or anything besides the demands of capital that have gotten us to this point.
But holy shit, does the marketing tell a different story. ESPN’s big new promo for the selection show is hell-bent on convincing you this was a miracle on the level of Christ’s resurrection, using everything from serious black-and-white shots to a deep-throated, solemn narrator to a focus pull on the Troops themselves to elude direct mention of the virus. It portrays this dangerous farce of a college football season with the same tone you’d use to talk about firefighters on 9/11.
“Every touchdown felt like a victory,” we’re told, as the clusterfuck of playing through the last several months gets charitably described as “a Hail Mary.” See for yourself:
Even without getting into the poor taste that allows 300,000 dead Americans to be positioned as a speed bump on the road to Alabama-Clemson, the overall implication of the ad—that everyone is a hero for slogging through just enough football so the powers that be can justify a lucrative postseason—falls apart as soon as you remember just how bullshit this season was.
This slate of championship games might appear more-or-less normal, but upon even the slightest examination it becomes apparent how much chicanery was needed to create even just an acceptable facade. Notre Dame is in the ACC title game against Clemson because it temporarily surrendered its longtime status as the most prominent football independent due to the chaos this year. Ohio State had to get the rules changed to make an appearance after playing fewer than the Big Ten’s required number of games. Oregon (3-2) is playing USC (5-0) for Pac-12 glory because Washington is too sick to compete.
All across the country, games were reshuffled or canceled or played with limited rosters until every Saturday felt less coherent and less significant. That’s nothing to feel proud or mighty about. But shame doesn’t pay the bills; trumping up a phony narrative of overcoming adversity does. Just as long as you don’t think too hard about what that adversity was, and is.