The BCS, or bowl championship series, is upon us again. Every year, the big money schools in the big money conferences go through the exercise of mirror-worship and player exploitation, and every year their media apologists are ready to explain why it is good for sports.
Bull crap! Thirty years ago, when there were a handful of big bowls laced with tradition and meaning, a Division I playoff for college football was a difficult concept for many to swallow. Today that tradition is largely gone, but supporters of the old paradigm remain committed to the place of prestige that their favorite schools hold in the minds of sports fans. Today the BCS, Heisman Trophy, and TV networks in bed with college ball, are committed to ensuring the preeminence of schools from the elite conferences. The Heisman, supposedly given annually to the “best player in college football”, is actually awarded to the ‘most statistically sexy player on a winning BCS-eligible team whose school has effectively promoted him’. If that sounds like a mouthful, then the sentence does its job.
This is about money. The amount of TV money greasing the palms of those privileged few in this sport is amazing. What is shocking is how little of it gets to the people generating the profits; the players and student fans. Referring again to thirty years ago, a scholarship with a meal plan was a great deal for a commitment to play sports. Most programs then (and quites a few today) lost money, and broadcast fees were enough to help some conferences balance the books. Today, that paradigm is gone. TV rights, video games, and merchandise are making millionaires out of many, but the students who provide the atmosphere and the players who provide the action have missed out on the meal. In the perverse world of college sports, a university spending millions on a coach’s contract is business, but a coach taking a kid out to dinner or flying his parents out to a game is “special benefits”. Ridiculous!
All of the reasons for not doing a playoff are gone. The eleven game season is a memory and teams that go all the way (at least as far as the BCS “title” game) play in mid-January. Limit the season to 11 plus a conference championship (if they wish), and have an 8 team playoff. You could have six automatic bids (Big Ten, Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-10) and two at-large teams. While they are at it, college football’s movers and shakers could push the committee to reform Heisman voting. Create regional boards of fans, retired coaches, and retired broadcasters to nominate a handful of worthy players in October, and then let the voters do their thing.
Finally, the old NCAA rules just don’t work. There is too much money in the system, and many older values are gone. NCAA rules should be focused on one category, and one category only. Academics. I am not terribly interested in entrance standards; if a school wants to let a kid in, then they should be able to. While they compete for the school, however, they should be IN SCHOOL. Bring back the freshman ban on intercollegiate participation to give the kids a chance to get up to speed. Audit schools to make sure that players are receiving the academic support they need to do well in their classes, and verify that they are getting grades for their in-class work. I know it sounds strange, but why do we care if some car-dealer wants to give a kid a “job” so that he has money. It is that booster’s money, and if it helps that kid take advantage of a college education, so much the better for our country. If auditors spent less time chasing down tax statements, and more time focusing on education and good behavior, college athletics would be a better institution.
These kids deserve a share of the industry they are building. The players and fans deserve a legitimate playoff structure. Let’s get it figured out!
The rational middle is football-mad and ready for comments…