Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The sanctimony ... err, sanctity of the bowls

Time for my annual rant about how NCAA Division I football needs a playoff. I can't leave it alone because I heard it again last night; a college FB talking head - in this case former Ohio State and Minnesota Viking running back, and apparent med-school dropout, Robert Smith - talk about how college football's regular season is so much more exciting than in any other sport.
Um, what?
For whom?
Certainly not for the fans of teams that begin the season outside the top 10 rankings. Yes, preseason rankings have as much to do with who plays for the national championship as anything. So your school's legacy works in your favor - or against it - before any team has taken its first snap.
Certainly Smith hasn't forgotten his NFL career, which peaked when his Vikings went 15-1 in 1998. They lost in the second week of the season that year but went on a run that didn't end until the NFC Championship game. If the NFL had adopted the BCS model, his Vikings would've been out of contention long before October. THAT, my friends, is what renders the regular season obsolete.
Not to mention the fact that the regular season is what prepares team for the postseason in the first place. Ask the New York Giants, who in 2007 got hot late in the season and went on to foil the unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Or ask the Pittsburgh Steelers, who in 2005 sneaked into the playoffs as the bottom seed, only to march to a Super Bowl win in Detroit.

Gamblers aside, I'd like someone to tell me why anyone would watch a bowl game in which neither participant has the slightest hope of playing for a national championship.
Is it for the prestige? Well, if you're vying to become the champion of the vaunted Beef 'O Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl, or the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, or perhaps my favorite for its illustration of systemic absurdity, the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

How can anyone make this anti-playoff argument with a straight face? My other favorite arguments ...

* It would stretch the season into the next semester
Really? So men's and women's basketball, wrestling, etc., will need to choose a semester at some point, it sounds like.

* Our bowl system is unique and needs to be preserved
Hah. See above.
Then see the bowl committees voluntarily shut down every bowl founded after 1950. Hold your breath for that one.

* It makes the season too long
This is the only argument that has any degree of plausibility, in that college bodies arguably aren't built for a potentially 18-game schedule.
Presumably, that's why coaches are allowed more than 80 scholarships to field 11 guys at a time.
Coaches have the depth; they should use it.

The solution is simpler than the BCS honks would have us believe: The NCAA can turn its back on all of the bowls, as it did against the National Invitational Tournament in basketball, it can set up its own brackets and invite teams all on its own.

My suggestion would be for 16 teams. You win your conference? Congratulations, you've earned a chance - however remote, it's still a chance - to play for the national championship.
That leaves us with five at-large bids. One will almost always go to Notre Dame - just being a realist - which truthfully leaves us with four. Those would be distributed among conference runners-up, or the Flavor of the Month that's having a great season and could be that Cinder-fella story that we hear so much about during the basketball tournament.
By all means, keep your precious BCS rankings; just use them as an excuse for seeding.
Here's what this year's brackets would look like:

Just one example of a way to do it; here would be the matchups if you didn't even take the conference winners and just went with the straight BCS rankings:

16 Alabama
1 Auburn
(can't imagine anyone wanting to tune in for this yawner)

9 Arkansas
8 Michigan State
(two evenly matched defenses; Ark is 31st in NCAA, MSU is 34th)

12 Missouri
5 Wisconsin

13 Virginia Tech
4 Stanford

11 LSU
6 Ohio State
(No. 7 defense at No. 2 D)

14 Oklahoma State
(No. 1 offense in the country at No. 9 O)

10 Boise State (honestly, who could bear watching this rematch!?)
7 Oklahoma

15 Nevada
2 Oregon (No. 2 offense vs. No. 3)

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