Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rematch

  On Sunday the powers that be of college football confirmed that the Louisiana State University Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide will play for the college football championship on January 9th. It seems like a reasonable decision since LSU was the only undefeated team in College Football this season and Alabama was the only team to give the Tigers a close game, losing at home in overtime by a 9-6 score. The teams were determined by the arcane Bowl Championship Series Formula that combines a coaches poll, a poll of media and former coaches and players, and an aggregate of 6 computer polls to assign numerical value to a team’s season with the top 2 teams battling in the championship game. Alabama was given a score of .942, ranking it barely ahead of the Oklahoma State Cowboys at .933.

  The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) also determines the teams that will play in the Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls in addition to the championship game that rotates between the 4 bowl sites. The 5 bowl games bring in $125 annually in television rights alone from ESPN before any tickets are bought,cars parked, or hot dogs are eaten, not to mention corporate sponsorships. There are 6 college conferences that run the BCS (Big 10, Big 12, Southeastern Conference, Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Pacific 12) and each conference is assured of a spot in one of the 5 BCS bowl games and the lucrative $22 million payout. If a conference gets a second team in a BCS game, they pocket an extra 6 million (You can follow the money here.)

  Since the 6 BCS conferences have a considerable monetary interest in making sure as many of their teams play in the BCS bowls as possible, lawmakers representing states with colleges outside the BCS conferences threaten from time to time to regulate the college football industry unless the process is opened up to non-BCS schools. This has led to the BCS allowing for non-BCS schools to crash the party by jumping through a rat’s nest of hoops to get in a BCS bowl. If Notre Dame is in the top 8 of the BCS rankings, they are guaranteed a BCS bowl bid. A team from a non BCS-conference is guaranteed a BCS bowl if they are in the top 12 of the BCS rankings or are in the top 16 and have a higher ranking than a BCS conference champion.

  This is the first year since 2005 that a team from a non BCS conference hasn’t received a BCS bowl bid. The non BCS schools have had reasonable success in their bowl contests against the ‘elite’ schools. Boise State beat mighty Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, TCU defeated Big Ten champ Wisconsin in January’s Rose Bowl, and Utah defeated then #4 Alabama 31-17 in the 2009 Sugar Bowl to go along with Hawaii’s 41-10 loss to Georgia in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. 2 years ago, both TCU and Boise State received BCS bowl invitations, but had to play each other and were denied to chance to prove their worth against BCS conference winners.

  This year’s most ‘controversial’ BCS bowl selections were the Sugar Bowl choosing #13 Michigan and #11 Virgina Tech over higher ranked teams like Boise St (7) and Kansas State (8). Last week Michigan wasn’t eligible to be selected for a BCS bowl since they didn’t win their conference championship and weren’t ranked in the top 14, but they conveniently jumped 3 spots despite not even playing last week. TCU beat a poor UNLV team 56-9 but remained 2 spots short of BCS bowl at # 18. Virginia Tech lost 38-10 to # 20 Clemson, but only slid 6 spots from #5 to 11 and even managed to stay ahead of Clemson who moved to #17.

  Accusations of rigged voting by the pollsters are rampant, but who could blame a university or a loyal reporter for moving a few selected teams up or down a few spots with millions of dollars riding on the decision? Alabama coach Nick Saban has come under some criticism for placing the Oklahoma State team 4th on his ballot, but I’m really surprised he even included his closest rival for the championship game on his ballot. I would have expected all the BCS conference schools to do everything possible to keep TCU out of the top 16 and a $20+ million dollar payday going out of BCS conference pockets.

  I can understand the Sugar Bowl wanting Michigan, who has the largest living alumni group and haven’t been in a BCS bowl since 2007 or any bowl since 2008. There will no doubt be many Michigan fans watching the game on TV and many alumni celebrating their teams return to relevance by spending their cash in New Orleans to watch their Maize and Blue. The Virginia Tech fans are also expected to travel well. While the fans of Boise State and Kansas State are also rabid in their devotion, there just weren’t enough of them to entice the Sugar Bowl to choose their teams.

  I don’t mind the BCS protecting their revenue sources or the bowls picking teams based on how much money their fans will spend in the host cities. I just wish they’d admit it. Almost every team that manages to win half their games (70 in all) gets to go to a bowl anyway so it’s all just a matter of prestige of who goes to what bowl. College football may be the biggest money-making scam ever. The colleges rake in the dough from TV revenues, ticket sales, concessions, parking, wearing Nike or Reebok apparrel, and donations from their alumni among many other sources; they don't even pay the players, just provide room, board, books, and an empty seat in the classroom. If a player gets hurt or doesn't live up to their potential, the scholarship can be revoked (it's only year to year) and the college has no obligation to make sure the players graduate, only that their grades are good enough to be eligible to play.

  Many of the college football purists are offended at the prospect of a rematch, but it doesn’t bother me. The championship game is nothing more than a 2 team playoff and I think the chances are pretty good that these 2 teams would still be playing if there was an 8 or 16 game playoff. It is undeniable that of all the 12 1-loss teams in the country, Alabama’s loss was to the best team. If Oklahoma State wanted to be in the championship game, all they had to do was beat Iowa State just like the Oklahoma team they soundly defeated last weekend managed to do the week before last. I’ll reserve my sympathy for the years where there are 3 or more undefeated teams and teams are shut out of a chance at the championship despite winning all their games.