Which fruit is the fruitiest?

You have a basket of wonderful fresh fruit delivered weekly to your house. Melons, apples, peaches, oranges, cherries, kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranates, etc. Maybe even an olive or a tomato. In all the best varieties and at the peak of ripeness. The honeycrisp apples are crisp and tart and cold. The cantaloupe is cold and juicy and flavorful. The strawberries have the deep red flesh of the best homegrown varieties and an amazing smell. The cherries are flawless and sweet. The peaches are juicy and firm but not too firm. The pomegranates open easily and the seeds just fall out. Really, it is just an orgy of fruitiness. OK, sure, it is fruit, and there are a few pieces here and there that are a little mushy, and a few that are not quite ripe. And week to week, one variety may outshine the others as the season moves one. But overall, it great basket of fruit weekly and you are very happy.

At the end of the fruit season, you are asked to taste all the fruit in the current week’s basket, two at a time. And then answer the question, “Which fruit is the fruitiest?”

But they are all good! And different. And good at different times. How would one answer that question? Why would the question even be posed? What would any answer even mean? Would we quit trying to grow the “losing” fruit? Would we try to breed oranges to make them more cherry-like? (Perhaps you like “Grapples”:http://www.grapplefruits.com/.) If a November pear is better than an August peach, do we just quit eating fruit in August? The entire discussion is just strange.

So many people — fans, commentators, US senators, etc — would have you believe that this is the best kind of system by which to judge a college football season. And that the bowl system is somehow wrong. That the only fair and American way to judge the season is to have some subset of teams play each in a single elimination playoff at year end.

This is wrong on so many levels. The sports of baseball and basketball permit multi-game series to determine the better of two teams, this eliminates any single-game hiccups. This is just not physically possible in football. The notion that a single game determines the absolute better of two teams is odd; a system that weights and values the entire resume of work of a team seems more rational. It is not obvious what a single game win really says other than “Team A was better than Team B tonight at this particular location”. Which fruit is really the fruitiest? I have no idea and a single-elimination playoff series is not really going to answer that.

Further, the bowl system today allows roughly half the teams in the FBS to enjoy an additional month of practice to better themselves. And then 1/2 of those teams get to end the season on a high note and go home with a trophy. That is a lot of practice time and goodwill spread around across a lot of teams. Replacing this with a system that has only 1 winner and a bunch of losers does not seem like a net improvement for the athletes involved. Yes one team feels a lot better, and perhaps a few more feel good about having had their shot, but the rest feel no better and possibly worse.

And the adults in the system should be running the system for the benefit of the students, who are relatively powerless, not for the benefits of frustrated fans or others. Does a move to a playoff system help the students in some fashion? It is a net reduction in goodwill for most of the athletes, is it worth it to celebrate one single team which may or may not really be the best team of the season? And is the extra playing time demanded of the students balanced by any sort of compensation for the time spent and the health risk incurred?

There are economic arguments for a playoff, but the economics of NCAA football are so screwy it is hard to give these arguments any weight. Any proposal which brings a lot more money into the sport without distributing that money to the athletes involved is morally suspect.

So a playoff has no obvious benefits for the athletes and is of dubious value in establishing which team is “best”. And in the process of distilling the sport down to a simple ill-conceived yes/no question, we would lose some of the in-season and off-season chatter that is so unique to the sport. The gnashing of teeth about the injustices of being ranked in a certain way or being excluded from certain events. The back-and-forth about the weaknesses of other conferences, about the inadequacies of other team’s schedules, all the “would-of could-of should-of” talk. All this turns into deep-seated resentment and hatred which is the pulse that drives college football.

College basketball and March Madness are fun, but ultimately are somewhat passionless. The regular season of basketball has become a drag. Individual games just don’t matter that much. A loss doesn’t sit with you and gnaw at you for years. It would be terrible if college football became just like this. There is no reason for it. Let’s embrace the difference and the wackiness that is college football and let it thrive.

Should some things change in the game? Sure. We need to pay more attention to head injuries. The economics of the sport are ridiculous. The early season games against hugely mismatched opponents all for the purposes of money do a great disservice to the sport. Let’s fix these things. But leave the end of the season craziness alone.

2 thoughts to “Which fruit is the fruitiest?”

  1. You’re an analytical guy so your assumption that determining the best team is useful or important is understandable, but that’s not what any sports championship is really for. It’s all about declaring a winner under agreed-upon rules.

    No sport, even those with best-of-seven series like hockey or baseball, always or even often crowns the best team. Your center has a twisted knee or is fighting with his girlfriends, or the umpire’s strike zone doesn’t work for the way your pitchers try to paint the corners, or any of a thousand other factors can easily outweigh differences in team “bestness” whatever that means. Multi-game series help even that out but the arguably better team still often loses.

    And that’s ok. Not only is it ok, it’s a feature! The “anything can happen on any given day” phenomenon keeps the interest alive for fans of all teams (except the Mariners) and also for athletes who know that something as random as a long ball caught one inch insider or outside the line at the back of the end zone can change everything.

    Championship games are fun because players at the top of their sport try as hard as they can under incredibly stressful situations to try to “win.” The part of the population that is not composed of elite athletes gets to go on an emotional rollercoaster as their teams’ fortunes wax and wane. At the end, the winners can celebrate and the losers can swear, “Wait until next year!”

    All your other reasons for avoiding the elimination round are sound. It is a wrong-headed notion on so many other levels. I just don’t think that either system determines who is best, or that such a determination is either useful or important. I realize this is a minority view.

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