Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bowl Confusion Series

My beloved Nittany Lions find themselves sitting at 9-1 and ranked fourth in the latest BCS rankings behind the University of Southern California Trojans, the University of Texas Longhorns, and the University of Miami Hurricanes who are ranked numbers one, two, and three respectively. If they win against the Michigan State University Spartans this weekend, they will win the Big Ten Conference and most likely a bid to the Federal Express Orange Bowl where they are projected to play Miami if they also win out.

Many will say this is a great year for a team that had losing records the past two years. While I am pleased with the progress the team made, I have the bitter taste of "what if" in my mouth. What if Penn State had not lost to Michigan in the last second of the game. What if we hadn't kicked to the kid who had burnt us earlier in the game on a kick return. What if Lloyd Carr hadn't lobbied the officials to get those two seconds back on the clock. Penn State could easily be undefeated right now and we would be in the running to play for the National Championship in the Rose Bowl. But because of that one fateful second in Ann Arbor, Michigan on a warm October afternoon Penn States hopes of a National Championship are dashed.

Few sports in America rival the popularity of college football. It is a glorious concoction of rivalries and tradition that few other sports can match. But for all of it's good points, college football falls miserably short in one area. It is the only major sport in America without a clearly defined playoff system. Sure, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is designed to stage a match between the best two teams in the country, and it will probably work this year in creating a matchup between the only two undefeated teams, but the system is flawed.

For some reason it isn't right that right now there are ten teams in Division I-A with one loss, and most likely none of them will have a chance to play for the title this year because USC and Texas will go undefeated. Who is to say that if Texas played Miami, Miami wouldn't win? Or that Virginia Tech couldn't beat USC? Why do we allow sports writers and computers to decide who the better team is? Why do we even play the games? Why not just compare 40 times and bench press numbers and vote on who we think would win? Why should Virginia Tech be denied a chance at the championship just because they lost to the now number three team in the country? It's just dumb that the championship isn't decided on a playoff tournament like every other sport including Div. I-AA and I-AAA football.

How could one of the most popular sports in America not have a playoff system you ask? The answer, like everything else, is money. The BCS was cooked up by the biggest conferences which make up about half of all the teams in the country, namely the Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Pacific 10, and Southeast Conference. It is a way for these schools to ensure that one of their teams will always be playing for the national title. The smaller schools can still get one of the "at large bids", but it is highly unlikely. The "at large" bid was just created to prevent the smaller schools from suing the BCS for conspiracy and unfair competition. This year Texas Christian Univeristy is 10-1 and most likely going to win the Mountain West Conference. They will probably go to the Pioneer Purevision Bowl in Las Vegas to play the number five team in the PAC-10, which will probably be California, Arizona State, or Oregon State. One of these teams will probably have five losses by then. Meanwhile, Florida State can win their conference with 3 or 4 losses and still go to a BCS bowl game.

Who cares about going to a stupid bowl game you say? Teams that go to bowl games get money for themselves and their conference. A team that qualifies for a BCS bowl game gets about $14 million last time I checked. Smaller bowl games also payout a few million, but not BCS type money. With college bowl money, the university gets to keep about half of the take and then splits the other half with the other teams in their conference. So even the team that finishes last in their conference and doesn't qualify for a bowl game can get a check for a couple million. Call it college welfare. Now $2 million goes a long way in a college athletic program. Imagine what $7 million can do. It can be used to support numerous non-revenue generating sports, like swimming, track and field, wrestling, volleyball, field hockey, ice hockey, etc. Several of these sports are womens sports which probably would not survive without this vital revenue. So the BCS not only creates an unfair advantage for the big conferences on the football field, it creates an unfair advantage over the entire spectrum of college athletics.

That's not fair. Why don't they change it you say? Call it short sightedness. The athletic directors of the BCS conferences like things just the way they are. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. But I think a college football playoff system would do wonders to create a level playing field as well as generate even more revenue. The answer is so simple I can't believe nobody has thought of it or is willing to try it.

Let's generate a playoff system with 16 teams to be played over a four week span. Right now there are 11 conferences in Division I-A. Take the winners of each conference and give them a playoff spot. This gives the smaller conferences their ticket to the dance. Now in my opinion, if you can't win your conference, you shouldn't be playing for the national title, but college basketball allows it so we will too. So for the five remaining spots, take five at large teams to be selected by a committee similar to the college basketball tournament. To qualify, a team must have at least 9 wins. This will give the independents their ticket. There is your 16 teams. The same committee that selected the at large teams will then seed the teams based on their own evaluation. Any team that gets into the tournament gets an equal check just for qualifying. In addition, each conference gets an equal portion of revenue from the sponsors and television rights to split as they see fit. From that point on it should be all about the game. No more pay for winning. This will ensure all of the conferences get a nice paycheck and the playing field is somewhat level.

But Mike, what about the pageantry and tradition of the bowl games you say? First of all, spare me the "pageantry and tradition" crap. You can't lecture me about the pageantry and tradition behind the Meineke Car Care Bowl or the EV1.net Houston Bowl. If you cared about tradition and preserving the purity of the game you wouldn't have renamed the Citrus Bowl the Outback Bowl. The bowl games just want to protect their sponsors and television contracts, i.e- their money. But fine, we're trying to work a win-win solution here, so we'll work them into the equation. Right now, college football supports 28 bowl games. It would take 15 games to have a 16 team tournament. Let's pick 15 bowls to include in our playoff and just rotate them with the traditional big payout bowls (Sugar, Rose, Fiesta, Orange) being the top tier bowls that would host the championship game as well as the semifinal games. The first and second round games would be given to other bowls. So you see we wouldn't have to give up the Autozone Liberty bowl afterall. And the other 13 bowls left out of the playoff picture could still host their games with the teams left over thus saving the "tradition and pageantry" of the MPC Computers Bowl.

A college football playoff system is needed in order to level the playing field for all college sports. It would benefit the student athletes, it would benefit the schools, and it would benefit the fans. It's debatable whether or not the sponsors would get hurt, but it's my gut feeling a playoff would generate more excitement which would translate into more money in the end. But most of all, my 9-1 Nittany Lions would have a better shot at make the championship game.