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Fumble: How college football has destroyed itself

The people who run Division 1-A college football, primarily the folks behind the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), have come to believe something bizarre: A loss is better than a win. They even think, in certain cases, that two losses are better than two wins. Why is this? It allows them to forgo unbeaten but less glitzy teams in order to try to get a super-mega college football championship game for the TV network, bowl game organizers and sponsors who seem to have complete control of their sport.

Division 1-A college football is the only sport where this insane concept is accepted. None of the other football leagues — the NFL, CFL, and Division 1-AA, Division 2, and Division 3 college football — consider a loss better than a win, and, to no surprise, all of those leagues have a playoff system where the championship is determined on the field and not in some boardroom, TV studio or programmed computer hard drive. Division 1-A college football is scared to death of a playoff. Its leaders think that unless the two teams playing to determine the national champion are from 20 or so premiere teams, the sponsors and viewers would not show up. So to make sure the “right” teams are in the big game, a loss has to become better than a win.

Imagine: The Vikings win the NFC North, but the NFL informs them that since they played a winless Detroit Lions twice, their strength of schedule has been deflated so the Dallas Cowboys, who coincidently have a larger fan base, will go to the playoffs instead. Crazy.

Not popular enough
And forget the fringe colleges that make a run at it (Boise State, Utah, Ball State); if the Minnesota Gophers went 12-0, there is no way they would play in the national championship game either. Their crime would be that they are not a popular enough college football school, as opposed to Ohio State, Texas, or Florida. The funniest part would be the college football “expert” screaming how “Minnesota is not worthy of the BCS Championship Game because they play in a Big Ten Conference having a down year,” only to follow it up 30 seconds later by saying “an 11-1 Ohio State team does deserve the chance to play in the game because they play in the tough Big Ten.”

What has this led to? A handful of colleges have seen their fan base rise dramatically. Just head over to the Mall of America and look into the numerous hat and jersey shops. Alongside all the pro sports teams are the same 20 or so college teams in every store. But the NCAA’s cost for this popularity is the apathy for college football with the fans of other 90-plus teams. Sure they might get good crowds for the rivalry game, but that’s it. It’s reminiscent of the NFL when the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49’s were the only two teams with a real chance every year. The NFL realized having only two teams in your sport that matter was killing the league. With the changes it made, the NFL now is unpredictable and the most popular league in the country. Since we should never go back to the old bowl system, I propose two solutions.

The first is what I think the people behind this mess really want. Take the 20 or so teams currently in the running for the title each year and put them into a “Super Division.” This allows the BCS people to get weekly must-see games, ending in a monster championship game. You can then give the bowl games back to the regular Division 1-A and forget the whole loss/win fiasco. There are two downsides to this. You’d have to realign the conferences, probably eliminating two, and in the regular 1-A, the bowl games would revert back to their imperfect solution, but this would be over looked by the Super Division’s lineup.

Eliminate Conference championships
The second solution begins by making every team play 12 regular season games, eliminating any conference championships. At the end of the season, take the top 16 teams, including any undefeated teams, and slot them into a playoff bracket by record, where 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15 and so on, with the higher-ranked team hosting. The weekend leading up to Christmas you play the eight first-round games, the weekend leading up to New Year’s you play the four second-round games, and the first weekend of January you play the semifinals. Then the weekend between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl you have a must-see, true national championship with an undisputed winner. And for those who need the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls, those games would go to teams not in the playoff bracket, and they would be played on New Year’s Day.

Until they solve this debacle, let me salute the Boise State.-Utah Championship game that will not happen. I hope they both win their bowl games and force these idiots into pretending 1) two undefeated teams are not as good as the one-loss winner of their BCS game, and 2) their system, as broken and flawed as ever, doesn’t need to be fixed. Let this be a lesson to all sports leagues: When you put people who are more interested in money rather than the betterment of your sport in charge of it, don’t be surprised when you hear asinine arguments to justify your soulless product.

Matthew McNeil is the host of a radio show on KSTP AM 1500.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 12/15/2008 - 12:45 pm.

    Its leaders think that unless the two teams playing to determine the national champion are from 20 or so premiere teams, the sponsors and viewers would not show up.

    That pretty much defines the problem. Major college football is a modern sweatshop.

    Kids are promised a “college education” in exchange for playing football. But, in reality, they don’t really have time to get an education. Instead they produce millions of dollars that go into the pockets of coaches, sponsors and college presidents. And if they get hurt, no workers comp, no unemployment, no OSHA to ensure their working conditions are safe.

    Its time to spin-off the NFL’s minor leagues and let them pay their players in cash instead of false promises.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/15/2008 - 01:01 pm.

    The BCS is by far the smallest part of college sports’ problems. In many ways the whole system is polluted.

    I am old enough (75) to recall the halcyon days of Minnesota teams of the 30’s — when championships were won by raw-boned Minnesota lads who brought glory to our state.

    College football today has no regional pride — the players are hired guns who have no loyalty and (with rare exceptions) any connection to the locale where they play. And the absurd salaries paid to coaches along with money invested in sports programs, seems sick in these days when college fees are beyond average folks.

    In short, we are no longer dealing with”sport”; the whole thing has morphed into a “business”
    that has only modest redeeming value to the institution or the public. Pretty sad!

  3. Submitted by John Olson on 12/16/2008 - 07:26 am.

    An additional absurdity is the number of athletes who have made the leap from high school athlete to professional athlete without even stopping to look at college. Yes, some of them have been successful–Kevin Garnett and LeBron James–for example. And yes, there are more (Moses Malone in 1974 comes to mind). But these are the exceptions.

    I’m not one to normally support collusion, but if the major sports took a united stand and told all young athletes to get their education first then enter the pros, it would be a step in the right direction.

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