Opinion

College Football Playoff selection resembles Electoral College

The elation felt across Pennsylvania and amongst the diaspora of Penn State faithful after Saturday night’s come-from-behind victory was quickly erased mid-day on Sunday when it was announced that the Nittany Lions would not be a part of the College Football Playoff. Championships won? Head-to-head competition? Check and check. Out of the 14 Big Ten teams, certainly the champion would get top billing and most certainly wouldn’t be deposed by a team that Penn State had beaten. But there was Ohio State. Strength of schedule? Check. Certainly the committee wouldn’t favor an out of conference schedule ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams? But sure enough, there stood Washington ahead of Penn State — evidently the committee found the Huskies’ win over FCS Portland State more compelling than Penn State’s three-point loss to in-state rival and top-25 ranked Pitt (who incidentally also knocked off committee favorite Clemson). But with all of these facts and reasons, Penn State was pushed aside and fans were left to be content with living in a post-truth world — as it comes down to it, the members picked the four best teams that they thought should be playing.

What is this nonsense? How un-American? Not that there wasn’t controversy under the despised BCS formula where part of the decision was made by computers and so, it was “desirable, that the immediate election should be made by those most capable of analyzing the qualities” of the teams. “A small number of persons will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.” And further, “peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder.” Really? Less tumult? OK, maybe. Supposing that Penn State had been picked instead of Washington, there would be equally irate fans on the West Coast with equally valid points about a two-loss team getting in ahead of them. Maybe this isn’t so bad of a system after all — certainly it is hard for die-hard fans to get beyond their own shades of blue to see what is best for college football. But it still feels un-American.

At least until you realize that the above quotations were not originally said in favor of the College Football Playoff, but were penned by Alexander Hamilton in 1788 in favor of the Electoral College — the current method of electing the president of the United States. Most Americans believe that the election has already happened, but in actuality, the events of Nov. 8 were merely a data point. Sure, Donald Trump won more states. Sure, Secretary Hillary Clinton had more votes, and certainly both of these will be some of the criteria used by the electors when they meet on Dec. 19. These electors are not bound by any federal law to vote in any particular way and although there are 29 states which have laws giving minimal consequences ($1,000 fine for example) to rogue electors, this leaves 21 states, Pennsylvania among them, where there is no law or any legal repercussions for electors who vote against their state’s election results. Although there have been 157 electors to have gone against their pledge, only Virginia’s delegation’s refusal to vote for pledged vice-presidential candidate Richard Johnson for his interracial relationships in 1836 caused an election to be decided in the Senate. But it seems that the possibility of electors having more individual say is rising in 2016.

Citing Hamilton’s words from Federalist 68, Texas Republican elector Christopher Suprun has written in the New York Times that he will not cast his vote for Trump. Hamilton’s push for “moral certainty” among electors to ensure that “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications” having the “talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity” evidently hit a chord with Suprun as Trump continues to tweet. And so it begins. As the popularity of the CFP committee and the hype surrounding their decision making process as they worked toward meeting the “eye test” shows, this nation is ripe for an increased interest in the Electoral College — the committee of all committees. In the words of the CFP, picking a president is “an art, not a science” — no matter what the vote says. So now the country waits for the live ESPN show on Dec. 19 or will this one be on C-SPAN? The College Football Playoff — as American as the Constitution itself.

Jonathan Dick lives in Milton.

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