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Sunday, December 7, 2008

QWERTY, the NCAA, and My BCS Rant

QWERTY are the six letters found at the top left of any standard typewriter. By most accounts, the set up that puts QWERTY at the top left has no rhyme or reason for it and is in no way the best set up for a type writer. It is the standard because that's what everyone has gotten used to.

That's the only way to describe the current system for choosing the national champion in college football. There is no way that the BCS system is the best. In fact, everyone but those with the power to change it want desperately for there to be a playoff system. Some folks call 32 team, some 16, some, like me, for 8, and there are even those like Kirk Herbstreit that simply want a semifinal. Yet, the powers that be at the NCAA are perfectly happy with the system as it is.

The BCS system has only worked satisfactorily once, when USC and Texas met for the National Championship in January of 2006. There has only been one split national champion, in 2003, but each year but the year in which Texas played USC there was all sorts of controversy in determining who should have played in the National Championship. In one year, Oklahoma faced off against USC despite being drubbed by Kansas State in their conference championship game. Meanwhile, in the next year, both Auburn and Utah wound up undefeated and didn't play in the National Championship game. Boise State went undefeated and beat a powerful Oklahoma in their bowl game in the Fiesta Bowl in 2007 and of course they never had a chance to play for the National Championship.

College football continues to be the only sport in which the national champion is decided by some sort of a committee rather than on the field. This year it is possible for Texas and Oklahoma to end with the same record, Texas beating Oklahoma, and Oklahoma will be the national champion.

The powers that be say that this system is best because it creates a playoff each week of the regular season. Furthermore, they say a playoff would create far too many extra games. This is of course total nonsense. First, only when Texas beat USC did we have one legitimate undefeated team. As such, we have often had a one loss team play for the national championship despite being knocked out in the pseudo playoffs known as the regular season. Furthermore, does anyone really think that making a playoff of four or eight wouldn't create the same playoff every week atmosphere as it is now. Furthermore, teams routinely play thirteen or fourteen games total. Any and all of them would be glad to shave a game or two if it meant a college football playoff. Of course, we can excuse the NCAA some. After all, the BCS has "revolutionized" college football quite a lot. Decades ago, the national chamion was chosen prior to the bowl game. As such, Minnesota was named the national champion in 1960 even though they went ahead and lost their bowl game.

Nothing that the NCAA does regarding the BCS should surprise anyone that has followed the NCAA. This is the ultimate ivory tower organization. In 2004, the NCAA changed their rules and allowed sophomores to enter the draft. Mike Williams of USC applied and even hired an agent. Then, a couple days prior to the draft a judge set an injunction and disallowed the rule. Because he had hired an agent, Williams was not reinstated back in college football. He missed the next year entirely and has been a bust in the NFL. Now, some don't feel sorry for Williams because he knew the rules. Let's look at the case of Jeremy Bloom. Jeremy Bloom was a receiver and returner for Colorado. He was also a world class, Olympic quality, skiier. The NCAA also ruled him ineligible because he received endorsements was now no longer considered an amateur. The reason that Bloom received endorsements is because in his sport that's the only way to afford to train. The case becomes even hazier when it is compared to the case of Chris Weinke. He wound up winning the Heisman when he was nearly 30. Why did he wait so long to play college football? He was a budding minor league baseball player for nearly a decade. The difference between the two in the eyes of the NCAA was that Weinke received a salary whereas Bloom received endorsements. In other words, Bloom picked the wrong sport to be a champion in because that no longer allowed him to also play football.

What's most disturbing about all this is that the NCAA makes all of these rules to maintain some sort of amateur decorum. Mike Williams played in front of about 100,000 paying fans, and millions more on television. A bowl birth was worth millions to his school. His coach made millions coaching him, but it was only when he hired an agent that the NCAA considered him no longer an amateur. I don't believe that college athletes need to be paid, free schooling is enough, but let's stop pretending that a major college athlete is some sort of an amateur. He just simply makes a lot of money for everyone around him, and not himself.

This brings me back to the BCS. Determining the national champion in football takes on the same bizarre and illogical turn as the NCAA takes in determining "amateur status". A playoff is not some wild idea. It's the way every champion in every division in every sport, including football, is determined except at the highest level of college football. No one likes to argue intangibles in sports more than me, but arguing which is the best team in college football is silly. There is an easy way to determine such arguments. Let it be settled on the field. A college football playoff would do that.

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