The question of how we construct meaning has come to occupy a central place in the postmodern philosophical discourse. Such issues even have given rise to their own discipline, "hermeneutics," the study of theories and methods of interpretation of texts and systems of meaning. ("Texts" meaning any object or idea subject to interpretation, of course.)
German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, the true father of hermeneutics, posited in Truth and Method that the primary dilemma of interpretation is the so-called "hermeneutic circle." That is, when we construct a text's meaning, we do so through a never-ending string of signifiers referring to more signifiers. For example, when we look up a word in the dictionary, the definition refers us to more words. Consequently, we're thrown into a self-referential circle, negating our ability to establish objective meaning.
Enter The Wall Street Journal. Of all places, the financial journal of record recently offered up this stinging critique of the Big XII. In a nutshell: Big XII teams don't play defense and have made hay against weak nonconference schedules.
When we engage in these discussions as college football fans, have we unwittingly jumped into our own hermeneutic circle?
Put a different way: How do we know a team is good? By the other teams they've beat, of course. But, how do we know the teams they've beat are any good? Well, we can tell by the teams they've beat... You can see where this is going.
Unfortunately for numbers geeks, we can apply this same line of thinking to statistical rankings in college football: "Oklahoma ranks 54th in defense." That sounds bad, but what about the offenses they've faced? Well, they're all bad, too. I see, but are the offenses bad, or have they all faced good defenses... Same thing.
So before we go writing off the Big XII as a no-defense conference that has fattened up on cupcakes this, let's ask: Can we really say other conferences have played stronger nonconference competition with any kind of certainty? Likewise, how do we know if the Big XII defenses are so bad?
So, before all you conference homers read a story like this one from the WSJ and start spouting off about how dominant your league is and weak the Big XII, remember the hermeneutic circle.