Victim playing is the attempt to self-victimizing in order to bring pity and sympathy onto the manipulator. Perhaps more than any other season, we are seeing an increase in victim playing in the FBS tier of college football. And no other team self-victimizes more than the Florida State Seminoles.
After the made-for-TV announcement of this week’s College Football Playoff [sic] rankings, many across the country were surprised to see Florida State ranked fourth. Even those who criticized the Seminoles and their lackluster play all season were taken aback by the positioning. How can an undefeated team be behind three one-loss teams and be in danger of not making the pseudo-playoffs?
This position only increased the screaming of victimization. Ira Schoffel, a longstanding writer on the Seminoles beat and now with the website Warchant.com, quickly penned an article taking the entire victim playing scheme to a whole new level. It has now moved into full-blown politicization and lobbying territory. Some quick highlights from the article.
- The ratings are corrupt and absurd. It is a “Runaway Committee.”
- Struggling to win games is not a measure of a team. A win is a win and tFSU is undefeated…so…
- Other sports do not take into account performance.
- Because there is a “Power 5” alliance, it should matter.
- The BCS would have had the Seminoles second, but that’s bullshit, too.
- Because of parity, it is fair to look at more than just win/loss record, even though looking at a team’s struggles is not relevant.
- Recent history has never had an undefeated team “from a power conference” lower than number one when “every other team has a loss.” All key terms.
- Oh, and he is not into conspiracy theories.
Did I miss anything? So, essentially, everyone is out to get the Seminoles because there is a Runaway Committee that should not just look at wins and losses but should ignore how a team “controls” games because other sports don’t do it and that “Power 5” [and thus conference perception] should matter and that just because recent history has not done it then it should not start now. Oh, and it is not a conspiracy theory.
Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Or, it is all becoming figure skating.
Let me first hit the Jimbo Fisher comment about figure skating. College sports, especially college football, has long been akin to figure skating…only more radical. And by radical, i do not mean awesome. It has all been a show; who looks better. Yes, records matter, but to some extent — at some point — they don’t. Since Schoffel likes obscure examples, allow me to use one to explain context.
China has a gross domestic product of just over $13 trillion. Compare that to Liechtenstein, which has a GDP of $3.2 billion. Now, you’re probably thinking three things. First, where the hell is Liechtenstein!? Second, holy crap China’s economy is huge!!! Third, what does this have to do with Florida State? Well, Liechtenstein is a tiny country in Europe, yes China’s economy is huge, and it is all about context. China’s “wins” are huge, but when you break it down you’ll see that the per capita income for Chinese is $9,800; 121st in the world. Our Liechtensteiner friends take home on average $89,400!!! Number two in the world! Context matters.
Maybe China v. Liechtenstein loses some of you; like tFSU v. Mount Union. Perhaps Germany v. United States would be a better comparison. Two economies of large size both in similar regions…or “conferences.” Or hell, we can keep China with all of their “wins” and compare it to a U.S. that despite a few recent losses is still strong. Even though China is poised to overtake the U.S. according to one measure [purchasing power parity], plenty of other measures still hold the U.S. as stronger. In fact, there are a few countries — Germany and Japan in addition to China — that are referenced as being stronger than China based on per capita income. Hmm, three countries ahead of China. Interesting.
Anyway, back to football. The “figure skating” comparison has always existed because we have needed to differentiate between teams since not every team plays each other. It is why Marshall was not even close to being considered for the Top Four. Performance matters. Perhaps the better analogy is diving, where performance AND degree of difficulty matter. But nevertheless, performance has always matter. Why should it be any different now?
Not All Records Are Created Equal
Now, moving on…Schoffel’s article. The argument, of course, is that Florida State is the only undefeated team is THAT ALONE should be reason enough to place them at number one, or at worst number two. This is an easy argument to make since the Seminoles are the only undefeated team in the country. However, before last week’s “basketball game,” the Marshall Thundering Herd were also undefeated. Yet, Marshall was ranked 24th going into that shootout with Western Kentucky. Why? Context. In this case, it was the quality of opponents that kept Marshall out. All of the talk from tFSU about being “the only team to finish every game” was false; they would later add on the “from the Power conferences” to better qualify it. But still, it was a measure of context. Marshall was not only behind one-loss teams, but also behind two- and three-loss teams.
Here is what Seminole fans don’t want to discuss. Marshall was 24th! Now, if you want to argue that the ACC and C-USA are completely different conferences, that is fine. But you are bringing in perception — you are bringing in “figure skating.” Sorry, “diving.” Marshall finished their games; they beat the teams they were supposed to, just like Florida State. Yet, the Seminoles were third. If winning matters, then the Thundering Herd could be second behind number one Florida State. But it is not all that matters…hence 24th versus [at the time] third.
Now, what about that perception. The perception is that Marshall plays a weaker schedule so of course they won. But, they were not just winning; they were DOMINATING. With the exception of the UAB game [RIP], Marshall won every game by an average of 31.2 points. Think about that…yes, they faced weak competition but they were winning as a team would against weak competition! Now, if we are going to ignore Florida State’s struggles because we shouldn’t worry about how teams control games, should the same not apply to Marshall? Or, if we are to look at tFSU and say they struggled but against good competition you will struggle but still win; then why not say that Marshall beat the weak teams because that what happens?
Now, of course Marshall lost and the comparison is moot. And I am by no means saying Marshall and Florida State are the same. But, given that Marshall was relegated to an afterthought based on perception, why can the same not apply to Florida State? Why was Marshall undefeated and behind one-, two-, and three-loss teams and very little was said about it, but moving tFSU behind a one-loss team is a conspiracy?
The Power Five Argument
Perception! And that perception extends to the concept of the “Power 5 Conferences.” This entire notion of a Power 5 is a self-fulfilling assignment where by saying that these are the “Power 5” we simply assume that these are far and away the best teams. They are the Power 5 so we assume they are the Power 5 and thus top high school recruits will go to those schools to assist in maintaining the Power 5 mirage. And fans are led to believe this and thus non-P5 schools play an inferior brand of football.
The Power 5 argument was employed by Schoffel as a way to separate the top programs. However, he believes that this “Runaway Committee” is ignoring the Power 5, which were created “for a reason.” No, they are not ignoring it. The problem is that there are five conferences with vastly differently levels of competition. This is not an ACC sucks; SEC is better argument. But, to assume that all Power 5 conferences are the same is erroneous.
The Power 5 argument only works when separating out now one-loss Marshall from one-loss Alabama or Oregon. But you have to go back to context and when comparing teams how you finish games is just as important as the fact that you “finished” the game [by the way, every team “finishes”…some finish better than others]. Now, I do believe that too much is made of Florida State’s struggles. But, that is still relevant when comparing them to the other teams competing for the Top Four. Just like how Marshall was perceived as being behind 23 other teams, it is fair to judge the Seminoles based on their performance. This is not a question of quality of opponent; it is the struggle. If we were examining last year’s Florida State team, there would be absolutely no question that they would be number one. That team dominated every team it faced in the regular season and its position was clear. This team? Not so much.
The Committee is not ignoring it. If anything, it is saving the Seminoles because if Florida State was not in the “Power 5” they might not even be ranked despite an unblemished mark.
The CFP and Other Sports
Finally, let’s look at Schoffel’s crazy analogies to other sports. I’ll let Schoffel speak for himself. In assuming it is “crazy” to punish a team based on performance and thus placing an undefeated “Power 5” team behind three one-loss teams, he notes the following:
In tennis, Rafael Nadal doesn’t forfeit his spot in the finals of a tournament if he needs five sets to win every early round match. In boxing, Floyd Mayweather doesn’t lose his title if he’s behind on the scorecard but delivers a 12th-round knockout.
In college basketball, teams are selected for the NCAA Tournament based on who they’ve played, where they’ve played them and whether they’ve won or lost … not whether they controlled the games.
In the NFL, playoff seedings are decided entirely by win-loss records. Same with MLB, the NBA and NHL.
Okay, first we need to kick out professional team sports. These sports do use win-loss records, but do so that also benefits division winners. It is what a shitty NFC South team is going to make the playoff. It is also why in the NBA, for example, the Boston Celtics hosted the Atlanta Hawks in 2012 despite the Hawks having a better record. It is also why, this past NBA season, a sub-.500 Hawks team got into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference while the 48-34 Phoenix Suns stayed at home. Professional sports operate differently and records matter to a certain extent.
Now…tennis? The comparison is not the same. Nadal is in a tournament with guidelines that specify that the winner advances. There exist a structured understanding that the winner advances. Now, a better comparison would have been performance in a tournament affecting rankings. Well, in fact, that does as well. Novak Djokovic is number one followed by Roger Federer. Djokovic has more tournament wins and a better match record than Federer so that makes sense. However, the difference between 3, 4, and 5 is interesting.
Raphael Nadal is third with four tourney wins and a match win percentage of 81.3 percent. Fourth is Stan Wawrinka with three tourneys and a win percentage of 69.6 percent. So that ordering makes sense. But then comes Kei Nishikori at five. He has the same number of tourney wins as Nadal [in three more tournaments] and a better match win percentage than Wawrinka. Yet, he is fifth. Why? Tournament performance [and in which tournaments]. Despite the same number of wins as Nadal and a better win percentage than Wawrinka, the Japanese tennis star is ranked behind both…by quite a lot. So, even using the tennis example does not fit.
What about boxing? Again, doesn’t fit. A knockout signals victory. At that point, losing every round does not matter. The performance will matter if there is no knockout victory. But, until that time, performance does matter. That twelfth round is not until 12 January. Besides, rankings in boxing are ALL about perception and how fighters perform in the ring. That, and getting the matchup that promoters want. Maybe that is what Schoffel meant by bringing up boxing.
And then there is college basketball. Of all sports, this was the wrong one for Schoffel to bring up because it fits so well. To assume that the NCAA tournament selection committee does not take into account performance undermines Schoffel’s credibility. The thing is, I am sure that he is better than that. He’s been writing about Seminole athletics — not just football — for quite some time. He is correct that for college basketball it matters who they play, where they play, and the outcome. But “control” of the game — performance — matters. Beating Chaminade by three is not the same as beating them by twenty-three.
And, look at how seeding is done. Last year, the four number one seeds went to teams ranked first, second, fourth and fifth [according to the Coaches’ Poll; AP poll was top four teams]. One of those teams — Arizona — did not even win its conference tournament. That third ranked team was Louisville, a team ranked fifth in the AP poll. Any idea what their seed was? Second? Nope. Try fourth! Iowa State, which won the Big XII tournament and finished ranked ahead of Kansas, was seeded below the Jayhawks!! The Cyclones even had two more wins [and two fewer losses] than Kansas. This happens every year. I mean, let us not forget in 2006 when 11th ranked George Washington with one loss [coming in their conference tournament] was seeded eighth! EIGHTH!!!
College basketball seeds based on perception, rankings be damned! Yes, record matters. But so does a host of other factors. It is why Michigan was seeded ahead of Duke despite a worse record [percentage wise] or Baylor ahead of Oregon despite having more losses.
The New Reality of College Football…And How to Fix It
Schoffel quotes Mark Schlabach who notes that “we celebrated Notre Dame’s close wins in 2012.” Well, that is part of the problem. We assumed that simply because Notre Dame was undefeated that we should ignore how they were undefeated. This is not to say that 2014 Florida State is 2012 Notre Dame; I think the Seminoles are a good team and much better than that 2012 Irish team. But Schlaback, and by extension Schoffel, believes that we should continue with the old ways and apply those today rather than facing the reality that birthed with this new system.
The greatest problem is not that Schoffel is critiquing the new system. There are still flaws that need to be addressed, namely criteria. But, Florida State being ranked behind one-loss teams is actually not one of those flaws. It is actually a move in the right direction. In the FCS, still the real playoffs for Division I, teams are seeded based on a number of factors, including win-loss record but also perceptional variables. It is why North Dakota State is seeded higher than Jacksonville State despite both having one loss and the Gamecocks’ lone loss coming against an FBS team [Michigan State].
Being able to parse out team performances is something that is a welcomed change to a system that long had question marks about how decisions were made. We have covered here ad nauseum the illogical nature of polls. This committee is the new reality of college football. For years we as college football fans bitched about how the pollsters do not take things into context while the computers never made sense. Now, the committee is putting things into context, much like college basketball.
Consider the discussion surrounding Ohio State. The unfortunate injury to J.T. Barrett has an effect on the decision makers on the Committee. I like that. I think in the end that the loss to Virginia Tech should keep the Buckeyes out, but I like that when discussing their merits there is some reservation in putting them in the Top Four. That makes sense and is something very few [if any] of the pollsters realistic pondered. Furthermore, consider the Baylor-TCU debate. That game is being placed in context. A collapse by the Horned Frogs on the road was a big win for Baylor. However, Baylor lost to a lesser team. While head-to-head should not be ignored, I like that we are examining it in greater context and other factors. Hell, UConn beat Central Florida. Do people really think that the Huskies are better than UCF?
Plus, also consider that the committee releases its seeding every week. This is something that the basketball selection committee does not do. If anything, THAT should be questioned more than the CFP selection committee. With basketball, there is actually no clue until they magically appear from behind the current and say, “well, there ya go!” Relatively speaking, this process is more transparent.
If anything, the one thing that needs to be fixed is the clarity on the criteria for making the playoffs. In all other real playoffs, winning a division or conference gets you automatically into the playoffs, with some at-large/wild card bids sprinkled about. The criteria for guaranteeing a spot is understood; the system and structure is set. The CFP lacks that and is an area for correction.
The majority of Florida State fans are upset because of this new reality, one that does not care about preseason polls and what happened last year; one that looks at the games in context rather than just superficially. As tFSU fans worry, they need to remember that for a few weeks, Alabama was on the outside looking in. But, Alabama had not done enough in the minds of the committee; Alabama still had key games ahead. And Alabama knew that if they took care of business, they would be in. Being fourth for the Seminoles is a reflection of RIGHT NOW and should they beat Georgia Tech, then they would have taken care of business.
It’s time to stop playing the victim game. This is the new reality and it is time everyone wakes up to it.