The year that has been 2016 makes much more sense when you stop looking at it as “ugh the worst year ever” and start seeing it for what it is: The Year of the Meme. Everything about this year is about the meme. Harambe was never about the damn gorilla, it was about what the gorilla became online. Brexit was half about economic identity and the future of the United Kingdom and half about the online meltdown when a vote doesn’t go one’s way. The Cubs winning the World Series had little to do with the fact that they built a strong team and were the consensus front runner from start to finish and ended up becoming “Theo Epstein = Wizard”, “The Indians, like Golden State, blew a 3-1 lead” and “of course the Cubs would win in the year the world ends”. A good deal of Donald Trump’s campaign revolved around his core following being bound and determined to get him elected for a number of various reasons that had little to do with the man himself. As one user on 4Chan stated after the results were finalized “we actually elected a meme as president“. Even the general consensus that 2016 is the worst has itself become a meme. Far be it from me to jinx the next 27 days but what happened in 2016? A bunch of aging celebrities died, internet warriors acted extra snarky, a nationalist won after years of globalization and a combination of economic and racial anxiety, and the best teams in their respective sports won whether that be the Cubs or the Cavaliers, the NBA’s number two team in 2015-2016 edging the Warriors narrowly in seven games. Which brings us to the meme of Dec. 4, 2016: “the college football playoff committee got it wrong!”
No they didn’t.
Being frank there are eight teams with at least a leg to stand on when it comes to advocating for a position in the playoff. These are Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Western Michigan, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.
Alabama is the defending champion and just went undefeated, largely unchallenged, and won the SEC. No one doubts their status.
And then here is where it gets noisy. How could Ohio State get in when they aren’t the conference champion? Why does Clemson get in when the ACC is so weak? Same for Washington? OU won a conference championship and lost close to two good teams. Western Michigan is undefeated. Michigan only lost to Ohio State because they were playing the Buckeyes and the referees.
Everyone shut your talking points up and look at the realistic picture and point of the playoff. The entire point of this thing is to make sure the best team wins the national championship. It was expanded from two teams to four because of two reasons: (1) there are several times in recent history that the third team had a very legitimate claim to being in the title game and (2) money. Because we aren’t talking about money in this post, let’s focus on that first point. In a BCS year the controversy would have nothing to do with Penn State or Oklahoma and center on Clemson, Washington and maybe Ohio State. Which of these teams gets in? Clemson won their conference championship and lost by a single point to an underrated Pitt team. Washington is in a similar situation albeit with USC. Ohio State did not win the conference championship but lost narrowly to Penn State. I’d think in this scenario it would be OSU that get’s left out (no conference title) and then its a coin flip between Washington and Clemson with someone having a legitimate reason to cry foul.
We don’t have to have that argument and that is a good thing. Michigan, OU and Penn State all eliminated themselves when they took that second loss. OU and Michigan have already proven they cannot beat Ohio State (even Michigan has a good claim against the referees) and Penn State is a win against Pitt away from probably jumping Ohio State into the playoff race. Clemson shows that losing to Pitt isn’t prohibitive, but losing to Pitt and another team is. The room for error is just that narrow. All of this also shows just how insane 2007 really was. Three years of taking four teams into the playoff and between those 12 teams none of them went into the playoff with two losses like LSU went into that title game. And Western Michigan, for better or worse, was a non-starter from the start of the year. The status of the G5 at the moment needs more serious discussion beyond the scope of this post.
Splitting hairs about the status of G5 versus P5 teams, conference strength and conference titles really means nothing when there is one superior team and then there are three one loss P5 teams. This would have been a nightmare if the BCS was still a thing but thankfully it isn’t. The brass tacks are this. Michigan should have beaten Ohio State. Penn State shouldn’t have lost to Pitt. Western Michigan is a nice story but they are not a legitimate title contender. And lastly, Oklahoma lost the right to complain when they dropped two games early in the season. Steamrolling the Big 12 certainly looks nice but the Big 12 as a whole was putrid this year with a Sagrin ranking lower than the AAC and 1 non-conference win against an opponent ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll (Oklahoma State beat #22 Pitt in September).
The problem isn’t that people believe a wrong has occurred and they want to advocate for the rightful teams in the playoff, the problem is the committee was doomed before this even began. Homers from Penn State, Oklahoma, and even Western Michigan (to an extent) pushed their sides because the internet allows everyone to be heard. No one ever stops and asks “is this person advocating for X because they truly believe in X or are they advocating and debating simply for the sake of debating?” That’s what the internet has become at this point. What originally started as a communicative and file sharing tool between universities and had evolved into a global database of information has twisted itself into a global forum where everyone has a megaphone.
This places an intense pressure on people to become famous, or at least gain notoriety and standing. The only way to be heard over the other megaphones is to either have a larger megaphone or have more people looking in the direction of you before you start speaking. This reality also pushes a major problem we have with online communication today: originality. This is what has made Fox News wealthy the past few years. For decades the media largely acted in a uniform pattern. It was slightly center-left and populated by veteran newsmen like Walter Cronkite, Tom Brockaw, and others dating back even further. Fox took the uniform model and shoved it where the news don’t shine. It veered hard right, placed pretty women in front of the camera and suddenly people realized they had something different. The proliferation of fake news, borderline conspiracy theorist news sites, and even hard left sites like Salon and Mother Jones we see today isn’t surprising, they are using the internet to carve their niche out and offer a “different” voice. In a way they are all their own versions of Fox News. In a way I am doing that right now on this blog. The internet is debating the merits of the playoff committee and I am debating the merits of the internet in an attempt to be somewhat original and garner some views.
If this sounds like we are all getting lost up our collective ass that is because we are.
That desire to stand out and be a different voice applies across genres. This isn’t just a news or a political issue, it’s an issue that covers broad swathes of society. I like the Western Michigan story. I hope they win the Cotton Bowl and P.J. Fleck rows the boat down the Trinity River, Cotton Bowl trophy beside him, while giving us all the double bird. But I don’t need to put them in the playoff and watch Alabama trash a MAC team because Washington had the audacity to drop a game to a surging USC team loaded with talent. Anyone advocating for WMU to be in the playoff is ignoring reality. But they are ignoring it for a reason. You can get more clicks with a different voice, you can build notoriety with a different voice, but is it worth having that different voice if what you are speaking for is the wrong answer? That’s a tough question to answer because basic economics has spoken on being contrarian and that is that it’s profitable. I can make all the arguments in the world I want against fake and conspiracy theorist news or the merits of OU in the playoff on grounds that range from basic human decency to outright logic…but as long as their authors get clicks and make a profit I don’t have a leg to stand on economically speaking. On internet sports forums its annoying. From a national political perspective its terrifying. Either way it is what it is and we have to adapt to this new reality.
That brings everything home to the reader. The responsibility lies on you to see through the bullshit. You have to be educated, logical, and rational because the internet is actively trying to be irrational because there is profit to be made in irrationality. In its own twisted way that is what memes are all about. The irrational proposition becomes rational because it serves a purpose whether it be power, humor, or simply getting more clicks. Harambe had nothing to do with the gorilla and everything to do with the jokes, tweets, facebook posts and pictures all vying for clicks. Clicks equate to money, or at least standing, and that fuels the insanity further.
Don’t let the meme and runaway internet culture cloud the truth that is standing right in front of you. The committee had a lazy fastball throw right down the middle and knocked it out of the park. Alabama is #1 and will take on two of the three remaining one loss P5 teams in the country to prove itself. If any of those other three survive the gauntlet of Alabama and themselves they deserve to be crowned national champion.