Because I know that what follows is bound to be unpopular, I begin with the shameless fulfillment of a three-week old promise and offer the following photograph of my children in an effort to invoke your sympathy for my position:
Now that the excitement is over, certain animadversions must be answered. While we all are proud of the Georgia men's basketball team for making the S.E.C. tournament run that won it an automatic bid to the N.C.A.A. tourney, my longstanding criticisms of playoffs in general (and of the big dance in particular) received a snide broadside after Dennis's Dogs went on their title run.
Likewise, a prominent and well-respected member of the intercollegiate athletics blogosphere sent me a congratulatory e-mail in which he opined, "I assume we'll be getting a 'We Didn't Deserve It' post and an apology to Kentucky or whichever winning team UGA knocked out."
While this is not that posting exactly, the point bears making that Georgia's late-season hot streak, while generating considerable excitement, did not produce much in the way of a legitimate conference title. Through and including the S.E.C. tournament championship game, these are the conference records of the league's twelve teams over the course of the 2007-2008 basketball season:
Mississippi State: 13-5 (.722)
Kentucky: 12-5 (.706)
Vanderbilt: 11-7 (.611)
Arkansas: 9-7 (.563)
Florida: 8-9 (.471)
Ole Miss: 7-10 (.412)
Georgia: 8-12 (.400)
L.S.U.: 6-11 (.353)
Alabama: 6-12 (.333)
South Carolina: 6-12 (.333)
Auburn: 4-13 (.235)
So, yeah, even including the four tournament victories alongside the Bulldogs' four regular-season wins, the Red and Black finished eighth overall in conference play among the twelve S.E.C. teams.
Over the course of the regular season and the postseason, Georgia went 1-0 against Alabama, 2-0 against Arkansas, 1-0 against Auburn, 0-2 against Florida, 1-2 against Kentucky, 0-1 against Louisiana State, 1-1 against Mississippi, 1-1 against Mississippi State, 1-1 against South Carolina, 0-2 against Tennessee, and 0-2 against Vanderbilt. Of the seven Southeastern Conference squads that got to the end of the tournament with better overall league ledgers than Dennis's Dogs, Georgia had a winning record against one of them and, even counting S.E.C. tournament contests, the Red and Black were winless against three of them.
For those of us who have criticized the sorts of systems that produce such dubious champions as the 1997 Florida Marlins, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, and the 2007 New York Giants merely because they happened to win the games that really counted despite having been comparatively undeserving over the course of the entire campaign, this year's Georgia men's basketball team, while exciting to watch for four days in March, is a pretty undeserving conference champion at 8-12 in league play.
Yes, it was fun to watch. Yes, I am looking forward to next basketball season. At the end of the day, though, even counting the Bulldogs' S.E.C. tournament wins, Georgia's conference record earned the Red and Black a fifth-place finish in the East. There's a reason why we were wishing for a swift resolution to Coach Felton's uncertain job situation barely over two hours before the start of the title run.
Snarky sarcasm about how "disappointing" it was "to see the entire regular season rendered moot by a 4 day run in the SEC tournament" aside, the fact is that any system that can produce a conference champion with an 8-12 league ledger and an 0-2 record against the best team in the conference is a system in which the term "champion" has become sufficiently disconnected from reality as to be essentially meaningless.
Am I wrong about that? You can let me know in the comments below and give me your take on Georgia's S.E.C. tournament title by voting here, but I feel like I'm in pretty good company with the wise man who wrote these words:
Because we're typing this off our phone while waiting in line to be told that we're not making our connecting flight in Phoenix, we'll be succinct: the season remains everything in college football, and a playoff would tangibly devalue the regular season's value. Man on moon, yes; but seeing the dispassion of turning the game into a neatly compressed lump of productmeat suitable for easy heat 'n bake consumption made us irrationally sad.
As it stands, every team with a decent body of work gets their one moment in the sun, unless they get the Motor City Bowl, in which case they at least get a moment of glory in the rain of fiery ashes and locusts that has been pelting Detroit for 40 years or so. A playoff kills that dead.
Onto the plane. It's strictly working on the lizard brain level right now, but the image of a season easily ended in tidy fashion on four screens in Vegas makes us want to split the rails of a playoff train's tracks and watch the wreck ensue.
It's just this weekend's Colbert gut instinct, but it's there.
So wrote Orson Swindle, the People's Champ.