(Note to Editors and Readers: This is not a column about Strat-O-Matic baseball. Thank you.)
About six years ago some coworkers and I began playing Strat-O-Matic baseball tournaments. Jerry Sullivan, who played countless hours of the game as a child (as in "countless journalism awards"), was a catalyst. I became an addict.
I bought every card set Strat-O-Matic ever published, so that we could play mega-tournaments with teams from every baseball era. At first, we pitted the all-time best teams against each other -- determining (I guess) the best team of all-time. Then we'd play off the best teams from the 1980s, or the 1960s. Then, maybe, we'd play teams that were under .500. Or only Mets teams. We went crazy with it.
For all the different tournaments we created and played out, there was always one key that I was a stickler about: There needed to be a goal, something we were going to prove by the results. Maybe the goal was to determine -- for at least this one particular series of games -- what the best 100-loss team from the 1970s was. Fine. But there was a goal. Sometimes we talked about picking teams at random. I couldn't do that. Because then, what were we proving? My friends probably thought I was way too stringent for just playing a board game. But that's how I am.
This difficulty I had with tournaments that didn't fit within a certain framework? This is the problem I have these days with college football.
So Auburn is in line to play for a "national championship". Have they played good teams? Were their non-conference games merely paydays against teams their third-stringers could beat? Did they run up the score to help their margin of victory quotient in the computer rankings? These are questions, at least, the public cares about.
But there are many more questions, and more important ones. Do their players graduate? Do their players go to class? Do they pass their classes? Do they cheat on their tests? Are their teachers fans who give them passing grades because they're football players? Are they really student-athletes, or just wannabe pro athletes in the making? Did their coach once sign a long-term contract somewhere and pledge never to leave, only to bolt to Michigan -- I mean Alabama -- I mean Arkansas -- I mean it happens all the time?
Was their player recruitment legal? Did their quarterback's father demand $180,000 paid in three installments to all teams that recruited his son, or just Mississippi State, as is alleged? Does their coach consider honest and necessary media coverage of stories like this "garbage", as Auburn's called it? I could go on and on. Throw in the slow death of college sports like tennis and wrestling whose 12-member squads continue to be swallowed whole by football's absurdly excessive scholarship allotment, and the quandaries continue for me.
The NFL isn't perfect for me. But at least each season's Super Bowl champion earned its accomplishment by any reasonable standard. You can't duck good teams, and you can't sneak players in through the back door. Same with the other pro sports. Same with Strat-O-Matic. At least at my house.