Friday, June 29, 2012

BCS playoffs: a big deal about nothing

Groucho: “Why this report is so simple, a 4-year-old child could understand it! (Turns to Chico) Quick, find me a 4-year-old; I can’t make heads or tails of it.”

From the Marx Brothers 1934’s “Duck Soup”

After all the hemming and hawing, the handwringing, the verbal diatribe and the lobbying of philosophical hand grenades, the best and brightest minds in collegiate athletics announced the following system to determine – once for all – an UNDISPUTED national football champion for Division 1/BCS schools.
A committee will pick four teams and three games will then determine who will be crowned top dog. So what was the big deal? Any child over 3 could have figured THAT out.
While the average college football fan thinks it’s better than what is in place today, I’m not sure it’s satisfactory as a fan meal. The college football nation wanted to see MORE teams involved (at least eight, as many as 16). Yes, the public wanted an NBA-style/Stanley Cup playoff series because … people LIKE that format to determine the best team.
This is where logic was conflicting with the real motivating force in college football – MONEY! A 16-team format would have meant the following alternations would be forced – smaller schedules ending earlier than current calendars, the elimination of conference championships in order to restore the relevance of regular season games and uniform start and finish dates for team schedules.
And to quote another Marx Brother, Chico Marx, “And that runs into money.”
Despite the platitudes tossed out by campus presidents, each one knows what makes the Merry-Go-Round – long green, dead presidents, moolah. And anything that interferes with a school’s cash register gets a big frown and thumbs down.
It’s why the post-season system of dozens of meaningless bowl games survives. The public is inflicted with the Meineke Muffler Bowl and Papa John’s Bowl and the other toilet bowls is how each contributes to the river of loot going to various conferences and schools. Truly, NO one really wants to see the scintillating matchup between the seventh-best team in the Big 10 and the sixth-best squad in the Pac-12 when chances are each school is hovering at .500.
But after years of putting cotton in their ears to snuff out the voices advocating for the same kind of limited playoff format employed on all other levels of NCAA competition for football, a summit was held last week and BINGO!, we’ve got a playoff (albeit limited) system.
Granted, the system will be stacked in favor of certain conferences (not the Big 10 by the way), and the criteria for choosing which four teams should be involved is more than a tad hazy. The venues will be selected by the most American of all processes – money and who is willing to gives the most to the BCS.
Here’s a safe prediction: the first championship game will be held in Arlington, Texas at Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium because … he wishes it to be so. He will NOT be outbid just like J.R. Ewing will not be double-crossed on an oil deal – not without consequences. And network participation will follow the same path – just follow the greenback brick road.
Sadly, the billions about to be made by the BCS won’t go to where it’s needed the most – the non-football athletic programs, facing forced elimination by athletic departments for … a lack of a small portion of those billions about to change hands. It would be too magnanimous of a gesture by the BCS ADs and college presidents to support other collegiate athletes who work just as hard, but don’t get the same financial support from ticketholders or television networks.
So the 4-year-old’s plan will have to suffice for now … actually for the next 14 years (an odd number of years to be sure). Because, as Chico said, that, too, “runs into money.”
It brings me to last week’s announcement concerning Michigan non-conference games from 2014-16 – which should have spoken to the seriousness of the school’s mission to be crowned as national champion!
The biggest news was not who Michigan would be playing in those schedules, it was who it would NOT be playing after that … at least for a couple of years. I wrote a year ago that a true rivalry could not be fostered one a hit-and-miss basis. That’s why Notre Dame is NOT a rival on the same level of Ohio and Michigan State; a school MUST be faced every season (home-and-home) to be a TRUE rival.
A two-year break between the schools was announced for 2018 and 2019, yet no reason was disclosed. If it’s a guaranteed sell-out and national event, why go to neutral corners for two years?
No opponents were named for those two seasons, simply who would not be on the schedule. Instead U-M fans will see more of the same – a few decent teams (Utah) and a few less-than-formidable opponents, in preparation for the Big 10 season (always Michigan’s number one priority).
On Aug. 30, 2014, the Ghost of Upsets Past returns to Ann Arbor – Appalachian State followed by a road trip to South Bend. Then there are home games with Miami (Ohio) and Utah. Michigan returns to favor to the Utes on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 to (literally) start that national football season.
Then there are three straight Big House affairs against Notre Dame, Oregon State and UNLV.
There remain two holes in the 2016 schedule on Sept. 3 and Sept. 24, sandwiching a road trip to Notre Dame and home game versus Colorado.
Then Notre Dame will disappear for two seasons (2018-19) but, according to the U-M press release, “Both schools intend to resume the rivalry in the years following.
Of course, it depends on whether Notre Dame is still an independent, not on the death penalty or hasn’t dropped to non-scholarship Division 3 level. You’re laughing? It could happen.
After all, the Supreme Court ruled Obamacare as constitutional so ANYTHING can happen.

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