Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Small Victory For The Mountian West Conference

Finally a win for the Davids of college football...well at least for one conference of Davids. With the Mountain West agreeing to sign an agreement allowing the conference champion to automatically qualify for a spot in one of the the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowls it might be the beginning of the end of one of the worst post season ideas in sports history. Never in any other sport has an undefeated team end up in second place. But in division one college football it has happened a handful of times this decade alone. Yes this agreement doesn't mean there will be a playoff in college football next year or the year after but this agreement just is stalling the inevitable.

Division One College Football Can Make A Playoff Work
I wrote this paper for my college english class and I thought I would share it with you
As the University of Utah football stepped off the Superdome field after a 31 to 17 win over South Eastern Conference (SEC) foe Alabama, the taste of victory was bittersweet. Sweet because they beat a historic SEC foe and finished their 2008 campaign with an undefeated record. Bitter because they wouldn’t be crowned the National Champion of Football. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system has recently screwed teams out of a chance for a national championship. Before the 2008 Utes team, Boise State went undefeated in 2006, ending the season undefeated and without a title. In 2004 three teams finished the season undefeated, but only the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans walked away with the crown as National Champion. How can you have a sport where a team which finishes their season without a blemish and not have them be the champion? There are so many flaws with the BCS the only real way to make things right is to have a playoff system in Division I college football. My question is why don’t they have one? Why after so many hiccups with the current system they don’t try and change it? And is there a chance it can be changed for the future? People who are against it say it would make the season too long, it would make college football too much like the pros, it would affect the students final’s schedule, or it would be financially worse for the sport. Excuses, excuses, excuses. The fact is Division 1 College Football can make a playoff system work, and if it moves to a playoff type format it would get rid of the disparity surrounding the BCS’s faulty ways of crowning a champion.

Before we get into how the Bowl Championship Series works we have to go back and see how it was created. The 1997 National Championship was supposed to slate the Michigan Wolverines and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Michigan, however, was already committed to play a Pac 10 team in the Rose Bowl. Both teams won their bowl games that year. The hard thing for voters was longtime Nebraska coach Tom Osborn had announced prior to the bowl games that he was retiring after the season. Like every coach Osborn wanted to go out on top. In the end the AP poll had voted Michigan as the National Champions, but the Coaches poll picked Nebraska as the National Champion. This led to a big mess in college football because there was no clear-cut winner in 1997. The result of this conundrum led to the creation of the Bowl Championship Series, which made it so the top two teams had to play each other for the National Championship. While I will say the BCS is better than ending the season with a split national champion, sometimes the BCS makes college football fans feel like there is still a split champion when they don’t let undefeated teams play in the title game. Ones in favor of the BCS say a little parody is good for the sport, but how is a split national champion bad for the sport while leaving an undefeated team out of a national championship is ok? It just does not make sense to me.

The 1997 split championship left College Footballs National Championship in the hands of a computer system. The Bowl Championship Series is based on four elements: the teams ranking in both AP and Coaches Poll, computer rating, the strength of a teams schedule, and their overall team record. The first number the BCS truly looks at is rankings in the polls. Then they move on to the seven computer rating systems, which includes Anderson & Hester, Billingsly, Colley, Massey, New York Times, Sagarin, and Wolfe. They take the averages of these computer ratings and use this as the second number in the BCS formula. Then, they look at strength of schedule, which used a measure that combines the records of each team’s opponents and the records of their opponents opponents. This number is divided by 25 and is used as the third number. Finally, each team receives a point for every loss they have. All this information is calculated and the BCS computers spit out a number. The lower the number, the higher the BCS ranking is, and the more likely a team is to play in the National Championship Game. I know math helps determine post season probabilities in almost every sport, but this system is so complicated and a little unfair if you ask me. Yes, teams who play a tougher schedule deserve to be recognized for it, but what if there is a mid major team who cannot help the conference they play in but they play tough teams in their out of conference schedule? They get screwed out of a chance at a national championship. Teams like Florida and Oklahoma are afraid to schedule teams like Utah because they are worried about hurting their BCS rating if they happen to lose that game. This is why a playoff needs to implemented. So the Goliaths have to play the Davids in order to be crowned National Champions.

Student athletes have been the main discussion on why the BCS should stay the way it is. Some college presidents think student athletes are spending too much time on the practice field and too little time in the classroom. A study has shown the average college football player spends an average of 44.8 hours a week on gridiron duties. It’s like having a full time job on top of going to school. Orin Starn, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University had this to say about the issue, “As college football has become a multibillion-dollar business with millionaire coaches and enormous TV contracts, the season has progressively stretched--from as few as five games back at the dawn of college football in the late 19th century to as many as 14 between league championships and bowl games. A playoff system would likely add yet more games, and that would mean more chunks of time, travel, and training for 19- and 20-year-old students who are already way overstretched--spending far more time on football than their studies and a genuine college experience." I have to agree with Professor Stram and I honestly believe this is the BCS’s best claim on why not to have a playoff. The word student comes before athlete for a reason, they are there to get an education because most college players won’t ever play at the next level and they need to be prepared for life after football. Plus, college is quoted by some as the best four years of your life because of the experiences you have. However, I still think a playoff would work. Why don’t they cut the regular season down by one game? Or why don’t they have the every team end like the Big Ten teams do right before Thanksgiving? The Ohio State Buckeyes ended their 2008 regular season on November 22nd this year. They didn’t end up playing their bowl game until January 3rd. Forty-two days passed between games for the Buckeyes. They can put a playoff during that time period. Division 2 and 3 football does. So does Division 1AA. If they play the playoff games within that period of time, they can get them done and then the players won’t be affected come finals time. There are ways to mold the college football schedule in order for it to fit within the academic calendar.

One of the cornerstones of college football is the regular season means something. In other sports, a team can drop a few games and still be in the running for a championship. In college football they say every game means something. "In Division I(-A) football, every game is a playoff. Once you lose one game, you're mostly out. If you lose two, you're definitely out. We got 12 playoff games. Teams take that approach. That's probably why there's so much interest. You stub your toe, you can never get back in,” said Michigan Wolverine Head Coach Rich Rodriguez . That’s all fine and dandy coach Rodriguez, but sometimes the regular season doesn’t fix things. What do you say to a team who has done their part and won all their games in regular season play and you won’t give them a chance to play for a national title? What do you say to the 2004 Auburn Tigers and Utah Utes? What do you say to a 2006 Boise State Broncos team? What do you say to a 2008 Utah Utes team? Just because there is a playoff doesn’t mean the regular season doesn’t mean anything. You won’t see teams with .500 records playing for a championship. Just the ones who deserve a chance will get to play.

One thing the BCS does for college football is keeping the season a one semester sport. Some of the people against a playoff think if there were some type of a playoff implemented it would make the season too long and could possibly spill over into the second semester. Mike Slive, Southeastern Conference Commissioner and BCS coordinator, said in an interview with Sports Business Radio’s Brian Berger, “I have been talked about football staying as a one semester sports because you don’t want to take the first two weeks of a new semester and have teams so a meshed and so visible and in such demand that they can’t get really a grip on their academics early in the year.Slive goes on to say, “I think the Presidents are concerned about that and I think all of us are concerned about that.” I understand Mr. Slive’s point of starting a new semester and not wanting the sports championship conflict with the start of a new semester. I get that. But serious people are really complaining about the length of the college football season and I don’t understand. I hear fans everywhere whine when the season is over. Making the season longer with a playoff would help hype the sport even more because a playoff would add suspense to the sport. Again going back to Ohio State, they had 42 days in between the end of their regular season and their bowl game. Use that down time to implement a playoff.

Injury is evident in any contact sport and as the season wears on, the wear and tear on the human body becomes more and more. This wear and tear leads to a heightened chance of injury. Doubters of a playoff system think a longer season would lead to a bigger risk of injury. Iowa Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “We ask so much of these guys it's just unbelievable. We ask an awful lot of them as far as the football part, yet we want them to be exemplary students, we want them to be exemplary citizens, and that's all right, but how much more blood do we want to take out? At some point you have to put the welfare of the players (first). That should be our guiding light on all of our thinking. If we go down the playoff road, then we're not thinking that way. We're appeasing someone else, not the players.” I do agree with Coach Ferentz that we ask a lot of college athletes and of course there is a bigger risk of injury, but it shouldn’t stop the NCAA from having at Division One college football playoff. Football, like most sports, is a team sport and one person shouldn’t make up a team. Injuries are a part of sports. It would be there regardless of how long a season is. Besides, I have heard teams with national champions that lose some of their best talent to injury and they were still able to win the crown. A real champion battles through injury and finds ways to win. Injuries just show a teams true color and willpower.

Sports, like other things, is a business, and college sports is no exception. The BCS has made hundreds of millions of dollars a year from companies wanting to advertise their product with bowl games. The last reason some people don’t want to change the BCS is because it would be financially worse for the sports. Back when the BCS first started, various estimates showed a full blown tournament could generate 250 to 400 million dollars. Who even knows how much it would be today. I think a playoff is a goldmine for college football. I will say the one thing about the BCS is one company can have most of the 3 hours of advertising time to themselves. It is great how companies can show their best products and promote themselves for the length of a football game. However, they could have a ton of sponsors for a playoff. Heck it seems like everything is sponsored now-a-days. They could have the halftime show sponsored by someone, and the pregame show sponsored by another person. Heck the first down and 10 marker I’ve see be sponsored by someone. People who think a playoff won’t make money are crazy.

Figuring out the right number of playoff teams is something many experts and I have been looking into. You could take a blueprint from other Divisions of College football. Division 1AA has a 16 team playoff, meaning no one gets a bye in the first round. Division II Football has 24 playoff teams which are selected by Regional Rankings with the top six teams from each region going to playoffs. The top two from each region get byes in the first round of the playoffs. Division III football has a 32 team bracket with no one getting byes in the first round either. The proposal I like is the one Mountain West Coordinator Craig Thompson just recently sent into the BCS for evaluation. Under his proposal it would rank the ten teams playing the BCS bowls 1-10. The 9th and 10th ranked teams would be done after their game was over, but the winners of the Orange, Fiesta, Rose, and Sugar Bowls would move on to keep playing. Those teams would move to the semifinals played one week after the BCS bowls were finished and then one week after the semifinals they would have the National Championship. Why I like this proposal so much is because there is a limited amount of teams who can play for a championship, preserving the importance of the regular season in College Football. I think the other playoff formats in College Football wouldn’t work for Division I. It needs to be simple.

As you can see there are many reasons or what I like to call excuses for why there is no playoff in Division One football. None of these, in my mind, are valid reasons for keeping college football in only bowl game format. Even President Obama agrees there should be a playoff. In an interview on 60 Minutes with Steve Kroft, the President said this about the BCS and his thoughts on a college football playoff, “This is important. I think any sensible person would say that if you got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season and many of them have one loss or two losses there is no clear decisive winner that we should be creating a playoff system.” Obama goes on to say, “I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this so I am going to throw my weight around a little bit I think it’s the right thing to do.” How can you tell an undefeated team they can’t play for a national championship? College football is the only sport which an undefeated team isn’t the national championship, which leaves a bittersweet taste in those teams’ mouths. If there is to be justice, there needs to be a change and a change soon.

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