What's the Buzz?

As a writer – albeit an amateur one – there are certain ways the English language is abused that instantly elevate me to a high state of agitation. Message boards, even fairly erudite ones like this, are replete with the kind of errors that drive me nuts when I'm reading.

There are the classics of course: homophonically challenged posters who couldn't, if their very lives depended on it, discern the difference between "their," "they're" and "there," "your" and "you're" or "lose" and "loose" (or even "Weis" and "Weiss," for that matter). But my impatience is not confined to the printed word. Broadcasters who don't know the difference between "less" and "fewer" or that "momentarily" means "for a moment" not "in a moment" are also pet peeves (apparently, however, I have no problem with clichés).

I understand that language evolves and that usage is basically a society casting votes for alternative meanings. Noah Webster himself said, "language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground." But I don't have to like it.

I lump into this category all kinds of buzzwords and jargon. The shorthand of business introduced words like "proactive," "synergy" and "actionable" into the everyday lexicon. And btw, imo the alphabet soup language of new media is good 4 nothing and I'd lmao if it wasn't so depressing.

There is one phenomenon that I think applies more to sports media than others formats and can be directly blamed on Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann: the rise of the catchphrase. I don't necessarily have any problem with "en fuego" and "put the biscuit in the basket." But the Big Show blazed a trail that every sportscaster since has tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to emulate. It's no longer enough to be informative. Now, sports anchors (and radio hosts, who seem to be taking this to another level) need to be entertaining. This manifests itself mostly in initially amusing phrases entering the sports vernacular and being beaten to death. The worst of these has turned out to be a phrase that I thought was extraordinarily clever when I first heard it: "drinking the kool-aid." Dark comedy appeals to me. But overuse has stripped away its originality and my guess is that 90 percent of those who have used that phrase have never even HEARD of Jim Jones.

Currently, there is such a phrase appearing specifically in college football highlights, pregame shows and articles. It is a phrase that anchors, analysts, reporters and columnists who cover college football have jumped on and commoditized. The phrase is "style points." And, of course, Notre Dame gets none.

"Style points" is more insidious to me than the usual vocab butchery, though, because it has done more than annoy me. It has actually pushed me to a position of advocacy. I had always theoretically preferred some sort of a playoff to determine the national champion in college football, but didn't REALLY have too many problems with the BCS.

Now, though, the blind acceptance of not only the phrase, but the entire concept of winning games impressively as a prerequisite for elevation in the polls has me actively campaigning for a playoff, preferably with 16 teams chosen by a selection committee that puts a premium on strength of schedule. Bowls be damned. Logistics be damned. Disingenuous concern about players' academic welfare be damned. There will always be controversy associated with trying to get teams slotted for college football's post season. Let's just push that controversy from figuring out who gets left out of the top two to figuring out who gets left out of the top 16.

The last valid argument for retaining the status quo is that a playoff will ruin the integrity of the most meaningful regular season in sports. "Style points" has nullified that argument. How a team has won its games has always been taken into consideration by voters in the various polls. But naming the concept and the ease with which it has been adopted by various members of the college football media (and subsequently some coaches) will result in a continuation of a trend that has landed teams like West Virginia in the top five.

Teams are being rewarded handsomely for scheduling as if they were gunning for the I-AA playoffs, not the BCS. The Big East did not, all of a sudden, make a quantum leap forward in competitiveness. Most of its teams made a conscious decision to fatten up their records on teams like Eastern Washington and East Carolina so they could enter the last half of the season with undefeated records. Then after pumping up their national rankings by playing, essentially, no one, their games against each other have been artificially turned into top five match-ups.

The need to win impressively to enhance a BCS resume will make a schedule like Notre Dame's obsolete. Why play a slew of solid, middle-of-the-road BCS conference teams who will at least play you tough and could potentially beat you when athletic directors can substitute I-AA teams or teams from traditionally weak conferences who, presumably, have no chance?

That is where college football is at right now. The integrity of the regular season is already eroding. "Style points" is here to stay, along with the stunning notion that it's OK to play I-AA teams. And it's not just an affront to those of us who care about the written word. It's yet another piece of evidence in the overwhelming case to adopt a system that would create the most exciting month in sports.

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