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Bet You Won't Find This On Buzz Bissinger's Amazon Page

Sports blogs and the comments within: perhaps not wholly responsible for society's intellectual demise after all.

From this, we get the following exchange in the comment section:

Billyzane: Public opinion is consensus when a majority of people agree with you and the ill-informed views of a nation of rubes when they don’t agree with you. We have a proud tradition in this country of attempting to temper the vagaries of public opinion with institutions that are more methodical and thoughtful. See the Federalist Papers for a thoughtful analysis of why doing everything the majority wants is the worst idea man ever had. And while I don’t pretend to equate the gravity of national government with something as frivolous as the college football postseason, the point is the same.

Public opinion is by nature capricious, and on matters such as this it is, taken as a whole, largely ill-informed. People voting on ESPN haven’t sat down and thought about a college football playoff the way those charged with deciding whether there should be one or not have. I, personally, have thought more about this that probably anyone else on this blog (and have definitely written more extensively about it). At first I blindly thought “Of course a playoff would be better. That’s obvious.” But after spending weeks thinking about it and studying it and writing a treatise on what a system for crowning a chmpion should be, I came to a somewhat different conclusion.

My point isn’t that if you think about it, you’ll agree with me. My point is that the public hasn’t thought about it in any meaningful way and to take their opinion as conclusive evidence of what would be best for college football in the long run is folly. Perhaps it is conclusive evidence of what the public wants right now, but that’s only part of the equation that the representatives of these conferences need to take into account. And I for one am glad that they think about it, weigh the competing concerns, and bring their own biases into the debate rather than worshiping at the altar of public opinion.

If that makes me elitist, then so be it. It puts me in good company.


Skin Patrol: I think you're wrong.

First, I think it’s probably wrong that government is better off when decisions are taken from the people.

Second, even presuming that assertion is right generally and as relates to government, the kinds of decisions best left to people are precisely those that are frivolous and lacking in gravity.

Third, even presuming you’re 2-0 on the above points, I disagree that the general public is ill-informed on College Football. Maybe they aren’t the most edumecated folks in the world, but by the very nature of the question, the only people who could possibly be informed are… the people. The question is which would fans prefer, the answer is fans would prefer a playoff. Since CFB isn’t a policy decision, has no importance outside that generated by the people who watch it, shouldn’t it follow a system the people watch? Are you suggesting College Football fans are uneducated on playoffs generally, that they don’t understand the term or concept of a playoff? Surely that can’t be the case.

Fourth, you’re a lot smarter than most of the people on the internet, and certainly me. And you’ve written extensively on the subject; I trust your knowledge on a playoffs moreso than I’d trust others. But people who have really, really, thought about a playoff system for CFB abound throughout the internet, and they don’t all happen to agree with your conclusion. There are a lot of intellectually serious people who think a playoff is preferable.

Finally, and I’m repeating myself, what’s “best for college football” is whatever the fans say is best. Since we’re talking about a sport, what’s important is not some elusive objective right/wrong for the institution, but rather whatever wets the dick of college football fans. There isn’t anything inherently worthwhile about the sport independent the value invested in it by, say, forty eight thousand seven hundred and thirty seven fans.

Ultimately it’s important to remember that we’re talking about making a SPORTS decision. Since playoffs have not demonstrably collapsed into nothing any of the EVERY SINGLE OTHER SPORT THAT UTILIZES IT, it’s safe to say we aren’t talking about the potential end of College Football when we propose a playoff. Essentially we’re talking about nothing more important than the color of the uniforms. I doubt the masses are so helpless that we wouldn’t let them make those kinds of decisions, those poor dumb bastards.


Billyzane: 1) On this point you disagree with most of the prominent founders of the country other than Thomas Jefferson (and he only from time to time as it suited his various whims). Seriously, read Federalist 10 (an argument for adopting the Constitution), written by James Madison. Here are some choice tidbits:

...pure democracy can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths…. A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking….

[The benefit of republics] is to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.

2) I dispute the premise of this assertion that ANY decisions beyond who is to represent their interests in making those decisions are best left to the people as a whole. If we must leave some decisions to public opinion, then of course it’s better that those be the frivolous ones because no one gets hurt if/when they go wrong. But we don’t have to. We choose to.

3) I’m not saying fans aren’t educated about the sport. I’m not saying they don’t understand what how a playoff works. I’m saying that most haven’t considered the deeper imlications of what a playoff will provide. This was the subject of part 1 of my flex playoff proposal. It brought up all the issues we should be thinking about when we decide what post-season system we want.

4) Part 2 of my flex playoff proposal was my personal answer to the issues i raised in Part 1. I do not pretend that no one could come to a different conclusion. In fact, in my post above I specifically said, "My point isn’t that if you think about it, you’ll agree with me. My point is that the public hasn’t thought about it in any meaningful way…."

5) I disagree wholeheartedly. If everyone was completely informed and had thought about it meaningfully, then perhaps you are correct. But allow me to briefly extract one line from the Federalist quote above: "it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves." This is the foundation of the republican Constitution of the United States. Surely it’s good enough for college football.


Skin Patrol: 1) I think James Madison was wrong, don’t know what to tell you. He was overtly anti-democratic in ways far more explicit than the one you’ve provided, and if I met him on the street today, I’d punch him in the face for being 1) wrong about so many things and 2) a morally reprehensible monster. His chief error was presuming that arbitrary undemocratic institutions were somehow better (through magic? Hope? Naivety?) at reaching the right, proper, whatever decisions than the people. The people decided that slavery was illegal in some states, the non-elected Supreme Court decided Dred Scott. People 1. Undemocratic institution 0. (Actually the correct score was People 0 Undemocratic Institution 0.) I can only assure you that I’ve read James Madison’s words from the Federalist 10 and find them totally uncompelling.

2) Obviously this entire discussion relates to what we should do, not what we do do (or, in other words, must do). I think we should have a playoff. I think one of many reasons we should have a playoffs is because that’s what actual college football fans want. I don’t think we must listen to the fans on this particular issue, I think we should listen to them. And if ever there were decisions that could harmlessly be left to the fans, it’s harmless decisions. If your argument is that some decisions are too important to be left to the people (I reemphasize that I find this position totally absurd), then that reasoning certainly doesn’t apply to college football postseasons… because it isn’t too important.

3) I think you are wrong that most fans "haven’t considered the deeper implications of what a playoff will provide." I think they have. I also think that’s exactly why they want a playoff system.

4) I thought your flex playoff proposal was very clever, and would happily take it over the current system. I also thought it was unnecessarily complicated and nuanced. Every Day Should be Saturday captured my thoughts:

We’re not convinced a pure playoff is the solution, but here’s what’s already happened with the BCS. First, we started off with a pig. Then, the pig was given rollerskates. Then, the rollerskate-pig received a transplant of an alligator’s snout. Once the pig’s head proved to be too heavy with the alligator’s snout, a counterweight was added at the tail in the form of sack of buckshot stapled to its tail. At this point, the plus one would be sewing another head onto the allipigrollerskatebuckshot beast.

Overall, BCS < plus one < your system < playoffs in my opinion. If asked to choose between BCS and playoffs, most people agree that playoffs are preferable to both a plus one and BCS.

5) I don’t even think the Constitution of the United States of America is good enough for the United States of America (are any of us really Constitutionalists?) so why would I think it’s good enough for College Football? One difference between CFB and the Constitution as written is that black people can play. And we both know that the reason that black people couldn’t play in the original constitution had NOTHING to do with the worrisome "common passion or interest" of the people generally, and everything to do with the fact that black people aren’t white.

This really doesn’t need to be a discussion of the merits of Constitutionalism (there aren’t many, in my opinion). The issue is whether or not we should have a playoffs, and most people think we should. If they’re wrong, it isn’t because they all agree with one another.


Billyzane: Fair enough.

no need to debate this any further. our points are pretty clear. we have a fundamental disagreement about the nature of government and public opinion which colors our opinions on this matter in an interesting way. i’m glad we could talk about it on such a high level. and when everyone taking that ESPN poll can and does the same, then I might agree with you.

As a side note, I am an unabashed and unapologetic constitutionalist. Not an originalist, mind you. But I believe in the document, flaws and all. To quote John Adams, we are a nation of laws, not of men. Once we lose sight of that, we become a tyranny of the majority.


Skin Patrol: If you aren’t an originalist, I hardly see how you can be a constitutionalist. If the Constitution means something other than what it was intended to mean, then really what you’re saying is that it means whatever you say it means.

I don’t disbelieve in the Constitution, I just think it’s a silly way to run government.

Further, John Adams was predictably wrong. Nations of laws exist without Constitutions (like the United Kingdom, for instance). In any event, the Constitution (interpreted by some judges) invalidates laws not men.

Addendum: If the above sounds too contrarian it wasn’t meant to. I just wanted to get my final wack in on the Constitution while we’re on the subject. It wasn’t meant to take a stab at you.

To everyone around the internet who shamed Bob Costas for stoking the fire with his one-sided presentation of the discourse on blogs - Amen. Costas is a douchetwad.

(See? Internet discourse comes in all flavors - good and bad - just like journalism.)