Football’s championship trophy debate continues. Photo: Gerald Herbert, AP
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By Randy York
Let the record show that Harvey Perlman isn’t the only one who opposes a four-team playoff format to determine a national college football champion. Please meet Dr. Keene Hueftle, a Eustis, Neb., native and longtime Husker fan who has lived the past 45 years in Pocatello, Idaho, where he headed up the largest federal grant for the Laboratory for Children with Learning Disabilities. Hueftle earned his bachelor’s degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University and received his master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Nebraska about the same time that Tom Osborne, a friend, was returning from his brief stint as a player in the National Football League.
Hueftle is eager to hear how the 12-member presidential oversight committee views the four-team playoff proposal Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Perlman will represent the Big Ten Conference at that pivotal meeting, and Nebraska’s chancellor has expressed disappointment with the consensus reached by commissioners from every major BCS conference, as well as Notre Dame. Perlman personally favors keeping the current BCS formula, but he’s also on record in support of his second choice as a compromise – a plus-one format that would match the top two teams in a national championship game following the conclusion of the bowl season.
“Competition can be a positive to a point, but I am so very pleased that Perlman is maintaining his thoughtful stance on behalf of the essence of colleges’ and universities’ highest purposes,” Hueftle said. “We Americans have become so narrowly focused and obsessed on declaring imaginary ‘winners’ that it has become a crazy obsession. It is no longer about the values for promoting physically healthy bodies and minds and achieving high academic and personal development standards (including high-character qualities). It is not about the pure fun of sports. It is primarily about all the commercialism (big money) and silly bragging rights.”
Whatever system is selected to change the course of college football history will be “imaginary, shallow and momentary”, according to Hueftle, who envisions the same old shouts of We’re No. 1! “Listen or watch any bunch of old jocks who are now so-called ‘experts’ on any televised sports show,” Hueftle said. “All are virtually yelling and interrupting and out-doing each other, trying to argue about ‘Who’s THE best’?” A realist, Hueftle knows that “maintaining TV ratings and all the over-the-top money coming from advertisements and commercials are the primary driving forces happening in our culture”. He also believes that “we’ve literally lost sight of all the many very great athletes in America, let alone in the world of 7 billion people.”
Licensed in sports psychology, Dr. Hueftle has no serious concern in any way, shape or form about keeping and ranking records, especially when comparing such performances as track and field. “If one simply bothers to stop and think about all the athletes in American higher education, it’s impossible to know or determine if any one team is really superior to all the other teams on any given day,” he said. “These are college athletes who face all the issues related to academic learning and the inevitable issues of injuries every season. In the entire American college systems, it is practically impossible to know who is best on any given day.”
That’s why Hueftle, as a Nebraskan, says he continues to place his trust in what’s “cut in stone” on the Southwest corner of Memorial Stadium. “Not the victory but the action: Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory,” Hueftle said. “That means more to me than any playoff.”
Two years ago, Perlman chaired the same presidential committee he will be a part of on Tuesday in our Nation’s Capital. He has acknowledged the consensus of conference commissioners and has stated that the presidents would be reluctant to overrule the joint recommendation that will be considered. Every national writer I’ve read expects the four-team playoff to be the inevitable outcome, and I envision a similar result, even though it’s never a done deal until the last vote is counted.
I am certain that Nebraska’s chancellor will represent the Big Ten well in this decisive meeting focused on a potentially seismic shift in college football after six months of healthy debate. By next week, we will get a much clearer picture of how everything will play out. We will have a better idea of college football’s thoughts about reclaiming New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. And we will learn if anyone anywhere thinks like Harvey Perlman or Keene Hueftle, who always have – and always will – put academics ahead of athletics on their respective priority charts.
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