October 9, 2013 10:33:26 AM
What was once conjecture is quickly become accepted fact: This year's East Mississippi Community College football team is the best in school history, surpassing even the 2011 team that captured the national championship.
Although there are still three regular-season games remaining before the state playoffs, consider the Lions' resume' to this point:
In its six games, all wins, EMCC has given up just 13 total points while scoring 392 points, more than 65 points per game. There are basketball teams whose scoring average isn't that high.
As you might suspect, none of the Lions's games have been what you would call "competitive." EMCC has outscored its opponents by an aggregate score of 253-0 in the first half alone.
Its closest game came in the season-opener -- a 49-6 win over Pearl River, not exactly a nail-biter.
Then, two weeks ago, the Lions tied a national juco scoring record in a 90-7 win over Coahoma.
That verdict is impressive, but also troubling. Beating an opponent by such a margin suggests no regard for good sportsmanship. It goes beyond defeating an opponent: It is an act of humiliation. Who can defend that sort of blood lust?
It is, in a word, inexcusable.
Or is it?
Despite its utter dominance, EMCC would not play for the national championship if that game were held today.
Despite defeating Holmes 55-0 in its last game, the Lions slipped from No. 2 in the national rankings to No. 3. That is very important to note because at the juco level, there is no playoff. It's a one-game championship between the nation's two top-ranked teams.
To determine the top two teams, the National Junior College Athletics Association uses a combination of a voters' poll and computer rankings. It is the computer ranking element that EMCC uses to explain the "necessity" for running up enormous winning margins.
The computer not only calculates its part of the rankings through wins and losses, but also adds a qualifier -- strength of schedule. It is this component that EMCC uses to justify its conduct.
EMCC does not play games outside of the state's juco league. Historically, the Mississippi Junior College Athletic Association has been the preeminent juco football conference in the nation, with 14 community colleges playing football. Currently, five of those teams are ranked, including Jones Community College, which is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. But there are also some teams -- Coahoma, for example -- that seem to have no business fielding a team. They are simply not competitive.
By a scheduling quirk, EMCC will play just one of those ranked teams in the regular season, No. 13 Itawamba. Simply put, the majority of the teams on the Lions' schedule do more harm to their strength of schedule than good.
So the theory is that running up huge margins is essential in getting the attention of the voters in the weekly poll, whose influence can mitigate the effect of the computer rankings.
As a voter, you tend to notice scores like 90-7 or 70-0 (vs. Mississippi Delta) or 69-0 (vs. Southwest Mississippi), the thinking goes.
Winning a national championship is a worthy goal. EMCC will argue that the ends justify the means and that if running up the score on hapless opponents is part of the equation, the fault lies not with the Lions but with the ranking system that makes such egregious displays of poor sportsmanship necessary.
The bottom line is that when EMCC finishes its season with a state championship, which seems very likely, it wants to be in a position to win the national title.
But at what cost?
Is a voter really more impressed with a 90-7 win than a 55-0 win, which was the halftime score?
The Lions aren't taking any chances.
We believe they should.
It is not whether you win or lose, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice once wrote. It's how you play the game. And there is never sufficient justification for humiliating an opponent.
The Lions are a great team, no doubt.
But are they great ambassadors?
We have our reservations.