It’s the way that the world of sports bails itself out of tough decisions. Sometimes it seems to cheapen accomplishments or institutions, but * can be worth a thousand words.
After one of the most impressive wins of the college football season, the Wisconsin Badgers have defended their Big Ten Title and are on their way to the Rose Bowl for a third straight year. The win in the Big Ten Championship Game, a 70-31 rout of Nebraska, was convincing. However, a record of 8-5, including 4-4 in the conference, is not championship material. In fact, had they not had the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, they would have finished with a record of 7-5, which would possibly warrant a trip to a bowl sponsored by a used car dealer, chia pets, or Hostess. Instead, they are going to play in the Rose Bowl, one of the biggest games out there, and if they play anywhere near the way they did versus Nebraska, they may very well win and end the season ranked somewhere in the top 10.
The reason for this is a pair of asterisks. A pair of misplaced asterisks. The Badgers got to the Big Ten Championship Game because of the six teams in their half of the Big Ten (wow, that is a sad sentence. Conference realignment makes me sick) two are ineligible for the postseason this year. It just so happens those two teams are the two best teams in the division, and possibly the conference. Take it a step further, and one of them, Ohio State, might be one of the five best teams in the nation. All Wisconsin had to do to earn a spot in the championship game was beat out Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois. Those three teams finished with a combined conference record of 5-19. The two ineligible teams in the division, Ohio State and Penn State, finished with conference records of 8-0 and 6-2, respectively. The biggest asterisk in the Big Ten should be something like this:
2012 Big Ten Champions: Wisconsin Badgers*
That’s right. They had no business even playing in that game. Five teams finished with better conference records than the Wisconsin Badgers, and yet they are champions because they had a better record than three terrible teams and happened to play the game of the season versus a team they lost to earlier in the year. Heck, maybe even add an asterisk next to their name when they beat Stanford.
I think this also demands the question: Is banning teams from postseason play a reasonable punishment? I contend that loss of scholarships and fines are better methods of punishing teams for NCAA violations. Think about this year’s Ohio State team. Did they lose out, or did the world of college football and teams that had to play them? The Buckeyes got to play with house money, because, according to the NCAA, the season did not mean anything. So they made the best of it. They defied the NCAA and went undefeated, topping it all off with a victory over their arch rivals, Michigan. The Michigan game was essentially their bowl game. They may have missed out on a chance to play for a national championship, but perhaps they played so well because of this set of circumstances. They had nothing to lose. I think this season is one that every one of their fans can be proud of.
Here is another thing to think about: why do their wins not count, except when relating to other teams? If a game does not have any greater importance for a postseason-ineligible team like Ohio State or Penn State, then why should the result, win or lose, affect the team that they play?
Wisconsin was not even close to the best team in the Big Ten, let alone their division. The asterisks next to Ohio State and Penn State leave the possibility for a Rose Bowl Champion with five losses. Maybe the Badgers will hoist a trophy in Pasadena, but I think we all know who the real Big Ten Champions were.
And now it’s time to talk about steroids. The latest reports are that Bonds, Sosa, and Clemens will all miss out on Cooperstown this year. Just plain not voting them into the Hall of Fame is the worst action the baseball world can take. They NEED asterisks. The Steroid Era is a dark and confusing time in MLB’s history, and trying to sort out who used steroids and whether or not it was right or wrong is an impossible task. Considering that many players still do use PED’s, and that pitchers and hitters alike were using them, players need to be admitted to the Hall regardless of steroid use. Of course, this cannot be completely neglected either. I would be in favor of an asterisk next to the likes of Barry Bonds, reading something like: *Found to have used performance enhancing drugs at a time when they were not banned. This could be tailored specifically to players, and could possibly even add facts like, “They lied about not using them.” For a more radical idea, what about making a separate section of the Hall of Fame specifically for steroid users? One collective asterisk. However, this still leaves the possibility of players who used steroids and were never caught remaining among the regular inductees. Maybe you feel that an asterisk cheapens the accomplishment of making it to the Hall of Fame, but some of the greatest players of all time could be left out for the sake of steroids. Admit them all, and apply * as needed.
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Soli Deo Gloria