Monday, January 2, 2012

Thoughts on NCAA BCS football - part 2

Continuing where I left off ...

So I'm a fan of NCAA BCS football, for whatever reason, with the Oklahoma Sooners at the top of my short list of favorite teams.  With all the brouhaha about the post-season and the mythical national champion of BCS football being chosen primarily by polls that rank the teams subjectively and/or objectively via various arbitrary formulae, I've been forced to consider the possibility of an eventual playoff format.  I have mixed feelings about that, now.

All the other divisions of NCAA football already run playoffs to determine a national champion on the field of play, rather than being based primarily on polls.  There's no plausible logical reason why the former Division 1A couldn't or shouldn't have a playoff, other than the greed of the universities because of the money generated by post-season bowl games.  Presumably the bowl games have an inherent need to survive in any future post-season scenario involving playoffs.  This is, of course, all about the money.

And the same goes for the frantic re-alignment of the BCS conferences, with some teams now leaving one conference to join another.  Yet another case of it all being about the money.  The money drives the programs and the programs generate the money, in a nice case of the snake swallowing its own tail ...

At some point in the past, I had the naive notion that athletic competition in colleges was about sports and, for lower-level sports (referred to as "non revenue-generating" sports) like wrestling or gymnastics, or even college baseball, that's mostly what it's still about.  The student-athlete is not a myth in collegiate sports, but it is truly a vanishing species in NCAA BCS football.  The football players on NCAA BCS teams are recruited first and foremost as football athletes, not as students.  We don't care about your SAT scores, so long as they meet the minimum requirement.

In thinking about things going on with BCS football of late, I was forced to recollect my past experiences.  Thinking back, what I truly enjoyed were the traditional rivalries between teams that had long histories, going back in some cases a loooooooong ways:  OU-Texas, Michigan-Ohio State, Notre Dame-Southern California, Auburn-Alabama, and so on.  There were also lesser rivalries among teams that historically have had few aspirations to be national champions:  Minnesota-Wisconsin for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, Purdue-Indiana for the Old Oaken Bucket, Oregon-Oregon State in the "Civil War", and so on. With the ongoing demolition of conference team lineups, some old rivalries have been ended with no apparent concern for the loss of tradition.  College football with its regional rivalries had an aura of fun and friendly competition, that only marginally were related to pulling in tubs of cash.  This is being destroyed in the NCAA BCS.

In college, individual teams of the past didn't copy relentlessly the strategies used by winning teams.  College teams had personalities of various sorts and part of the fun was when teams with vastly different strategies clashed on the field.  College football had diversity in the style of play.  This is changing as the need to train NFL rookies seems to be a primary goal.  And it seems everyone must copy the style of football played in the SEC to have a chance to win a national championship.

The bowl games used to be mostly a reward for a successful season and a chance for some teams to play each other that ordinarily would not meet very often during the regular season because they were in different regions.  When the bowl games became a process increasingly focused on deciding the mythical national championship and the final rankings for the year, this fun-focused perspective on bowl games changed into something dark and filled with emotional meanings:  vindication and joy for the winners, but also humiliation and sorrow for the losers.  And the BCS formula has given us a rematch this year of a game between teams that have already met.

If NCAA BCS football eventually goes to playoff with 4 or more teams, which seems inevitable, then a champion of sorts will be determined on the field, but something else will have died.  College football will have become nearly indistinguishable from NFL football, except for the salaries paid to the players and the overall average talent level.  Most collegiate football players don't go on to play in the NFL - some play for "minor league" professional teams like arena league football, or american-style football in Europe or Canada.  But for most collegiate athletes, even at the BCS level, the end of their college playing days is the end of competitive football for them.  Interestingly, the NFL continues to draw many players from schools in the "lesser" divisions;  NFL-quality athletes are not found exclusively in the BCS.

For those not destined to become professional football players, these athletes remain mostly students and are football players only secondarily.  If their football careers are terminated prematurely by an injury, no big payoff is lost - they just get to focus their attention on academic issues, not athletic performance.

In some ways, I'd like to see a playoff for the NCAA Division 1A national championship - to see the issue settled on the playing field rather than some arbitrary process other than athletic competition.  But in other ways, I'll probably lose interest in the process.  The NCAA football game will be entirely about the money, and  the rich will likely get richer at the expense of the poor.  Another microcosm of our society, I suppose.

1 comment:

Bob Maddox said...

Hi Chuck,

You know that back in the dark ages some coaches used to teach ACADEMIC classes. For example, Woody Hayes taught English for about half of the year. Imagine that class!

Read an interesting article this weekend about how the coaches and universities are taking huge financial advantage of the BB and football players, who can only get "scholarship" money. The article suggested that the universities just quit faking it and PAY their players. The author however continued to pretend that the players were also "students."

So it goes.

Bob Maddox