Wednesday, December 10, 2008

College Hoops x Football x BCS Rant

Another day, another bad college football-college basketball, playoff/BCS comparison. Look, the two sports aren’t comparable. Stop it.

By the middle of the year, there are at most six teams that can win a college football champion. Usually, by the end of the year there are two teams standing tall. The last two years have been the exception, not the rule.

Just look at the records of the top 10 teams in the BCS. A combined record of 114-9. Out of those nine losses, six of the losses were to teams in the top six (two by Ohio State to Top 3 teams). Only three upsets. And who knows what would have happened if Utah or Boise State played in one of these conferences?

Imagine the NCAA tournament with only six upsets? It would definitely be a disappointment. The point is, in Division I-A college football, upsets just don’t happen as much. With rosters nearing 100, big-time college football programs might have twice as many five and four-star recruits on their roster than an entire college basketball team. Meanwhile, for a school like TCU, getting a handful of four-star recruits is a big deal.

Or you can just watch a team like Davidson in college hoops. Having one Stephen Curry changes them from a Southern Conference also-ran, to a Top-25 team. And while the media pays attention to the BCS conferences, teams like Davidson, VCU and St. Mary’s keep chugging along. Add that to the fact that a good mid-major team is usually full of seniors and juniors, while the fates of many major college basketball teams hinges on the play of an 18-year-old.

Therefore, come tourney time you might see a good, underrated #12 seed stocked with upperclassmen and maybe even a fringe NBA prospect knock off an overrated, under experienced #5 seed team from the Big East.

In college football, most kids have to stay until they’re at least a junior and a lot of the games best players are seniors.

In short, the games aren’t comparable. The regular season in college basketball is important because teams are jockeying for those 64 slots and a chance to make a run. RPI, strength of schedule, common opponents, etc. can make the difference between the NCAA and NIT for a lot of teams. And in reality, while the Davidson’s and George Mason’s of the world are fun to root for, the UNC’s and Kansas’ of the college basketball world always come out on top.

In college football, the regular season is exciting because it’s essentially a playoff for the BCS schools. Strength of schedule doesn’t matter as much as outlasting everyone else. It’s not the computers; they do get a chance to determine what happens on the field. And in a case like Texas, it’s their conference’s fault for not having Texas and Oklahoma play again for the Big 12 title, the clear solution for this quagmire that no one really talks about. (Conferences with “divisions” should have a provision that places the two best teams in the conference tourney regardless of their division, which should be in place for scheduling purposes only)

True, the Ohio State/Michigan game to close the regular season would’ve meant more if Ohio State was vying for a spot in an 8-team playoff, just like the Auburn/Alabama game would’ve been rendered meaningless as Alabama would’ve been in regardless. The more teams you have make the playoffs in college football, the more meaningless the regular season becomes.

This is different than college basketball because in hoops, unlike college football where there’s usually at least one undefeated team, losses are inevitable. Running the table rarely happens, and it’s an understood part of the game. The biggest losses in college hoops happen when a mid-major #1 seed losses in their conference tournament, or a 19-10 ACC team loses in the first round of their conference tournament.

Regular season games, like last night’s Texas/Villanova game, are good for the same reason the Rose Bowl between Texas/Michigan was good a few years ago, or the Boise State/Oklahoma game. They’re good because they’re good games, not necessarily because what’s on the line.

However, the BCS and the Bowl System in general, will ultimately fail without major changes. With more competition at the top, we are starting to see three to four teams with legit title shots. Adding a plus-one would definitely help, but the NCAA seems allergic to this.

One of the biggest problems with the bowl system, and what may ultimately be its downfall are the bowl tie-ins. Instead of the best matchups, bowls pick the matchups they think will be most profitable. Instead of Alabama or USC versus Texas, we get Alabama vs. Utah and USC vs. Penn State.

And so on and so forth. The bowl tie-ins were good in the past, because they gave a chance for fans to watch teams from different conferences play each other. With most teams playing 12 regular season games, out of conference matchups aren’t that uncommon. And with the explosion in the number of bowl games, each year there are at least one or two rematches in the lower rungs of college, which aren’t good for anyone.

College football should either get rid of the bowl tie-ins or make the criteria for selection stricter and reduce the number of bowls. Instead, big money college football will keep shoving bad bowls down our throats, we’ll get more matchups like January 1’s Gator Bowl featuring underachieving Clemson (7-5) versus Nebraska (8-4) until the public demand for a playoff (which grows every year) becomes too great and the system crumbles.

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