Sunday, December 30, 2007
Steamboat Springs As you may know from prior editorials, I am a firm believer that competitive sports tell us a lot about life.
If you have followed college football this year, you know that there have been a good many unexpected losses and wins. Hey, both Kansas and Missouri finished in the top 10 and are headed for New Year's Day bowls for the first time for each in about 40 years.
The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) system provides for a single "national championship" game in which No.1 faces No. 2, as well as four other BCS bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose). In prior years, there have been disputes about who those Nos. 1 and 2 teams should be, but this year, there are 10 or 11 teams that can make a reasonable case that they should be No. 1 or 2. Further, Missouri, despite beating Kansas and only losing to Oklahoma twice, is left out of the BCS, while Kansas goes to the Orange Bowl.
Confusion reigns, and this is not likely to get better in the coming years. More and more parity has come to college football. The days when a favored few dominated and ran off undefeated seasons are likely gone. Just look at the NFL, where undefeated seasons are an extreme rarity. That is where college football is headed.
The lack of a Division 1-A football playoff, where the best can be determined by competition, is an obvious structural problem. But also the use of polling, particularly a coaches' poll, to determine ranking is dysfunctional. The day following Oklahoma's 21-point victory against then-No.1 Missouri on a neutral field - OU's second defeat of Missouri this year - OU was rated several spots behind Missouri by four coaches, including Bobby and Tommy Bowden. This is beyond ridiculous. It does not help that the other poll used in the BCS formula is of sportswriters attempting to promote their own storylines. Can you imagine the NFL using this kind of system to determine playoff berths?
So, why is this?
First, understand that the payouts of BCS bowls - be sure you are sitting down - are $17 million per team. (These are shared on some basis by each team's conference.) The payouts for the other 23 bowls? The average is a little more than $1.5 million, with a low of $300,000.
The nonsensical coaches' voting can be explained, in part, by various personal grievances, but we have to understand the substantial financial motives. If you are at the bottom of the SEC or the Big 10, would you rather be splitting up $17 million or the $34 million that will be received if your conference can get two teams in BCS Bowls? Cast your ratings vote accordingly.
The resistance to playoffs is also fueled by the self-interest of a few. The current system protects and rewards the six "BCS conferences" (who are guaranteed at least one participant in BCS bowls) and Notre Dame. Actual competition could easily lead to tremendously diminished revenues for these favored few and, consequently, change will be made difficult. Even a small switch - agreed to by all teams, conferences and bowls involved - to allow No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 4 Oklahoma to play in the Orange Bowl this year, rather than playing much lower-rated teams, was vetoed by the Pac 10, Big 10, SEC and Notre Dame. Allowing that kind of competition could discredit the system, you see.
What does this teach us? Any time governing bodies favor some over others and avoid, negate or distort the competitive marketplace, no matter how well disguised, or even well-intentioned, the results are likely to be just as unsatisfactory.
This does not just apply to college football.
Rick Akin is an Attorney practicing in Steamboat Springs and Austin, Texas, a former member of the Pilot and Today Editorial Board, and a Director of the Conservative Leadership Council of Northwest Colorado. His great-grandparents moved to Steamboat in 1926. He holds a BA from Oklahoma and a doctor