Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Life lessons learned from NCAA football

It is not often that I venture away from politics and into the sports arena here on Deep Thought, but I am doing so today. The occasion is that Boise State beat Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime. But in the end, there is a social commentary here that applies way beyond the football field.

What it means is that Boise State, of the Western Athletic Conference, is now the second non-BCS team (the BCS consists of six 'major' conferences, plus Notre Dame) to force its way into a BCS game and it has won (for a mid-major team to force its way in there it pretty much has to be undefeated and even then it has to depend on the polls and the computer geeks to make the cut.) Two years ago, Utah (of the Moutain West conference) blew away Pittsburgh 35-7 in a game that was probably not even as close as the score.

The question then becomes, why Florida (12-1) is playing in the national title game against undefeated and unanimous number 1 Ohio State rather than Boise State, and whether a playoff would fix this apparent inequity.

Naysayers will suggest that tonight's Fiesta result only proved that Boise State was slightly better than Oklahoma (which entered the game 11-2). However, Oklahoma should be 12-1 (remember that the Sooners began the season gunning for a national title and then had a game against Oregon stolen by several unexcusable calls that even the PAC-10 had no choice but to suspend the officials for.) So in reality, in a universe in which a win is really a win, Oklahoma should have had the same record going into the bowl games as Florida, and would likely still be rated ahead of the Gators after playing a brutally tough schedule this year. So if Oklahoma is really about as good as Florida and Boise State is just slightly better than Oklahoma... well, draw your own conclusion.

For that matter, two years ago, while Oklahoma and Southern California were both undefeated during the regular season, Utah (ironically coached by Urban Meyer, the current Florida coach) was clearly playing at that same caliber just by the way they completely destroyed Pittsburgh (which was 8-4 during the year but was in a BCS bowl anyway, not because there weren't some better teams available-- there were at least a dozen which more deserved to go, but because they won one of the six BCS conference titles in a down year for the Big East.)

Tonight's win by Boise State does make the mid-majors 2-0 in the rare occasions when they get a chance to go to a BCS bowl-- proving decisively that they are good enough to play with the big boys and win.

What this means is that while the addition of one more bowl has made it a little easier for mid-major teams to get into a bowl, they are still effectively locked out of a national championship game, not because they don't deserve to, but because the powers that be in College Football don't want to let them take that final step to the top.

Why is this? Easy enough. Division 1 College Football is divided neatly into two groups. The 'haves' (teams which are members of the six BCS conferences) and the 'have-nots' (so-called, 'mid-majors'-- teams which are members of another conference). There are a few teams with no conference affiliation-- of which Notre Dame is 'in the club' (because they are Notre Dame and everything that entails) and the rest are part of the 'have-nots.' And with BCS bowls paying a lot of money ($17 million per participant this year) plus all the extra TV exposure, merchandising revenue, etc. that goes along with it, that's a big pot of cash that the BCS conferences (i.e. the 'haves') have control over and don't want to share a dime they don't have to.

And the truth is, that a 'have-not' can do everything possible (after all, you have the schedule you've got at the start of the year, including all but three or four of your games being against other members of your conference-- and most schedules are decided years in advance) by winning every game, 1) in theory could still be locked out of a BCS bowl subject to the whims of geeks and poll voters, and 2) even if they get in, they won't get a chance (as they would in Division II or Division III football) to play for a national championship.

If they were lucky enough to start the season in a BCS conference, then a team like Boise State would have a chance to play for the national championship (well, still maybe not-- just ask Auburn), but being in a non-BCS conference the die is pretty much cast before the opening game kickoff that there is a ceiling on how high they can rise.

Why is this relevant? Simple. Because it's like the situation in America today, and even more so like the situation that conservatives want for America. There are the very rich (the 'achievers') and the poor (the 'non-achievers'). Now, in theory, 'achievement' is such that those who achieve deserve to be rich. And I have no problem with this concept, except that the way the system is set up there are those who are born on top (and hence have the advantage of going to the best schools, having the money to pay for college wherever they can get into, and having the social connections via their family to get wherever they want. Not that they all get there, but even the failures have enough money so that they can fail in venture after venture after venture and still not have to be worried about what long term impact this can have.

On the other end, there are those who are born into poverty, again because of their family background. They can in fact work hard, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and achieve. But to suggest that this makes the system fair is to be intentionally ignorant.

How we choose to address this problem is up to us. College Football needs a playoff but the social divisions in society don't have such an obvious answer. But to ignore them is to be morally bankrupt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's always going to be inequities as long as polls play a role (Penn State fans still argue passionately about how they were ripped off for two national championships in the 1960's when their program wasn't yet considered a "major" program), and even if there's a playoff there will be inequities over who gets in and who doesn't. Unless you invite 16 teams or so you're always going to have someone who was overlooked arguing that they'd have had a legitimate shot. I'm in favor of a playoff all the same - settle it on the field.

However, the polls don't always ignore the mid-majors. Brigham Young won a national championship in the 1980's after they went undefeated, despite the fact that they played an utter patsy in the Holiday Bowl to finish their season. There were no other undefeated teams that year, which helped their cause. So, we'll see how many #1 votes Boise State gets in the AP poll should Ohio State lose this week.