Commentary

Auburn's BCS win: Faith or coaching?

Updated: January 11, 2011, 4:48 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

Gene Chizik distilled it all into a simple proclamation: God was with him. How nice of God, really, to look down upon the Auburn coach and his many noble athletes and bestow upon them the BCS championship. And how sad for Chip Kelly and Oregon, forced to walk off the field at the stadium sponsored by the University of Phoenix (for profit, no religious affiliation) knowing they were thwarted not only by their own reckless decisions but by God, as well.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt YorkChip Kelly's Oregon program is also under a watchful eye from above by a larger-than-life personality.

Perhaps we have a new definition of a rough night. Losing a heartbreaker on a field goal on the last play of the game is bad enough. (Especially when the drive's signature play is a classic hair-splitting football rule interpretation on a tackle that apparently wasn't.) But imagine how much worse it was to learn afterward that you were working against not only the formidable Auburn Tigers but also the Almighty. It could be too much to handle.

Although maybe it makes it easier for Chip and the Ducks to throw up their hands and say there was nothing they could do about it. It was literally out of their hands. If nothing else, it probably would have made the Ducks think twice about showing up if someone had had the courtesy to tell them the enormity of the opposition. But still, the thought that God was putting his considerable psychic weight behind a team that includes a player with the questionable ethics of Nick Fairley casts doubt on the whole God enterprise. Besides, wouldn't He, if He cared, have gone the extra mile and allowed the Tigers to cover?

Chizik's opening postgame statement -- in response to a question by Tom Rinaldi that still hasn't been answered -- raises so many questions, none more pressing than this: If the game contained an element of predestination, and if God was the ultimate factor in the outcome, will Chizik cash the $600,000 bonus check his contract deems he will receive for winning the title? Or will he donate it to a deserving Christian charity in Auburn or the Sisters of the Holy Faith? After all, how much did he have to do with it?

Dobbs First of all, I can't be more blessed to be part of a whole team like this. Man, God was with us.

-- Auburn coach Gene Chizik

This is nothing new, of course. In fact, Chizik has traveled this road at least once before, when he ended up clarifying comments ("That was a God thing") he made after his team beat Clemson in September. Winners tend to discern the face of God in the winning field goal or the other guy's wide throw to first in the bottom of the ninth. Most of the time, however, it's delivered in some general sense of gratitude for allowing the believer to participate in such a grand endeavor.

I'm guessing most of us prefer to keep our religion in our churches and communities, and most of us believe comments attributing wins to God's will belittles God. Still, we're fine with athletes such as Tim Tebow who show the attendant humility to back up the idea that there's something authentic behind the words. Obviously, there is a large percentage of the God-fearing, sports-loving public that believes any mention of God by a high-profile participant is cause for celebration, regardless of context.

There is a distinction, though. It's one thing to use the vast public forum to thank God for your success and give him the glory of the moment, but it's quite another to attribute the outcome of the game to some divine decision that dictated a last-second win. And perhaps, in an act of maliciousness that seems inconsistent with a benevolent deity, had a hand in Kelly's mind-numbing decision to go for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal that would have made the score 19-14 with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter.

[+] EnlargeAntoine Carter, Gene Chizik and Cam Newton
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireAntoine Carter, left, Gene Chizik and Cam Newton celebrate Auburn's win.

The difference between gratitude and attribution is not negligible; one displays humility, the other hubris. It seems like a basic tenet of Christianity to give glory to God, quite another to pronounce that God was giving glory to you. However, given the unnatural amount of credit doled out to college coaches, maybe Chizik can be forgiven if he occasionally mixes up his and God's respective positioning.

And maybe Chizik's God is like me. Maybe he's sick of Oregon's uniform porn and made his decision on that basis. I mean -- 80 different uniform possibilities? Is this college football or Bowl Game Barbie? And slightly more seriously, is there any sense to a system that won't allow me, when I'm on assignment as a magazine reporter, to buy a meal for an athlete who has given his time to grant me an interview but does allow Phil Knight to sink an estimated $300 million into the Oregon athletic program for the purpose of marketing his company and recruiting better athletes to his alma mater? And if he is going to spend all that money, can he at least get someone in the building who suggests -- politely, because Phil apparently doesn't abide contrariness -- that it go to a purpose other than making his team look as if it's wearing Day-Glo booties?

That's the kind of divine intervention college football needs.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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