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Obama Boosting Gators and Nittany Lions?

By Joel Achenbach
Last night on Monday Night Football, Chris "Boomer" Berman asked both presidential candidates what they'd like to change in the world of sports. McCain's answer was pretty straightforward: Get rid of performance-enhancing drugs. But Obama's response was clearly -- obviously, blatantly -- geared with an eye toward the Electoral College map. This will take some explaining. Also some tortured logic. Bear with me.

Obama said, "I think it is about time that we had playoffs in college football. You know, I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other. Get eight teams, top eight teams at the very end, you got a playoff, decide on a national champion."

For those of you who don't follow college football -- and God help you -- there has been for many decades a controversy over the lack of a playoff system to determine an incontrovertible champion. Instead, for decades, there were just a smattering of bowl games, at the conclusion of which the champion would be whichever team finished at the top of the polls conducted by organizations such as the Associated Press. But the polls sometimes contradicted one another. So a few years back, the mandarins who run the game created a Bowl Championship Series, in which one game would be designated the national championship game. That, however, meant that only two teams at the end of the season could be eligible for the decisive contest. Often there were three, four, five, six teams or more that could plausibly claim to be the best in the land. Who has so often been left out in the cold despite an immaculate record?

Penn State.

With 21 electoral votes!

Joe Paterno's squad has routinely been edged aside despite perfect seasons. The pollsters have questioned whether Penn State's schedule is sufficiently challenging. But why not let the Nittany Lions have a shot in a real playoff? [Also we need to find out, at some point, what a Nittany Lion is.]

Now look at what just happened in the last 48 hours or so: Texas Tech beat No. 1 Texas on a last-second miracle play, and vaulted to No. 2 in the BCS standings, past unbeaten Penn State, which unwisely had taken the week off.

The top two teams in the standings right now are both from extremely red states: Alabama and Texas. Obama doesn't need to pander to the Crimson Tide or the Longhorns. But Pennsylvania is crucial to his plans for an Electoral College majority. And Florida would be a nice bonus, too, especially after the 2000 debacle. The Florida Gators, who just chewed up the Georgia Bulldogs and spit them into the St. John's River down in Jacksonville, are now No. 5 in the BCS. At No. 4 is - oh no! -- Texas. As it currently stands, the Gators might get frozen out of the title game even though they look like the best team in the country.

A college football playoff, therefore, would help teams like Penn State and Florida. With 48 electoral votes between them.

VERY savvy answer, Senator Obama.

By Washington Post editors  |  November 4, 2008; 11:59 AM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Barack Obama  
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Next: Rainy Morning in Battleground of North Carolina


Well I don't know if it was that calculated. I just thought it was a refreshing, regular-guy, non-politician kind of thing to say. Something that shows he appreciates football. I thought it was great. By contrast the statement by McCain about performance enhancing drugs, though it's a good idea, has been said over and over again by politicians so it seems stale and unimaginative to me.

Posted by: catherine3 | November 4, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

For the record, a Nittany Lion is a plain ol' mountain lion which is named after Mount Nittany, a mountain overlooking state college. This mountain, in turn, is named for a local indian princess of legend.

So anyway, I hadn't considered the savviness of this response, but given that most penn state football fans are irate over our snubbing by the BCS, and then realizing how many students are voting in state college today, I think this was a very intelligent play on Obama's part.

I'm also a former election judge for the on campus precincts. I miss the fun, but I am also not sure that I'd want THIS much fun.

Posted by: psutoad | November 4, 2008 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Was some early election results leaked accidently by diebold?

Did Huckabee vote for Obama?

Posted by: pastor123 | November 4, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

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