The Division I college football playoffs will take place today. If you are a college football fan, you may be very excited about this prospect.
Alas, I can not share in your enthusiasm. When I look at the matchups of Alabama vs. Washington and Ohio State vs. Clemson, I don’t see a four team tournament featuring the best teams in the country (which, if there are objective measurements that can be made, these teams may very well be). I see a rigged system rewarding its owners…and punishing its patsies.
The MAC champion Western Michigan Broncos: a team with a legitimate gripe
Patsies? Indeed, patsies. Let’s talk about Western Michigan–and the entire so-called “Group of Five.”
First, let’s back up a second and cover a bit of technical ground. The DFR is on record with its stated policy that college sports should not exist. Thus, this space commenting on the nature of the Div. I football playoff is bit absurd. But college football, in any of its forms, is not going away–so a sports-driven blog is forced to deal with its reality.
And college football’s primary reality, at least as far as Division I, its structure, and its so-called national championship is concerned, is a farce.
“It strains logic and reason that a team that could not even accomplish winning its own conference’s championship should be given a shot at the national championship.”
So, consider Western Michigan. The Broncos made it through their season with a perfect 13-0 record, winning the MAC championship in the process. Theirs is one of only two spotless records in all of FBS; the other belongs to Alabama. They finished the season rated number 8 in Div. I (out of 128 teams) in scoring per game at 43.5 pts., and 14th on the defensive side at 19.5 opponents points per game. As reward for their successful labors, the Broncos will be battling the Crimson Tide for a shot at the national championship today.
Wait–of course that’s not true. I got a little carried away there. While it is true that the Broncos and the Crimson Tide are the only two Div. I teams to go undefeated this season, only one of them is allowed to compete for the championship.
Western Michigan did all it could to get into the playoff. It beat everyone on its schedule. I won the MAC title, the championship of a conference which is a member in good standing of the NCAA’s so-called Bowl Subdivision. They are not under any sort of sanction, as far as we know. Nobody has been able to beat them. So why not let the Broncos compete for the championship?
“Because they’re not good enough and will be easily beaten.” That’s the answer that most of those who support the status quo will give you. Unfortunately, it’s the same answer people would have given about Villanova basketball in ’85. Or the NC State Wolfpack the year before that. Spoiler alert: both teams won the championship, beating what were regarded as far superior teams (Georgetown and Houston, respectively).
Alas, that was in the basketball tournament, which did not–and, to a certain extent, still does not–have bulwarks built into it to keep the rabble out.
Not so with FBS. There, thanks to preseason rankings, and voting cliques, and secretive, self-important committees, and the heavy hands of TV executives, there are plenty of guards in place against anyone but Division I royalty being allowed to besmirch the game’s ultimate palaces.
“They’re not good enough” means more than just an objective measurement of a team’s strength relative to its opponents. It’s as much about maintaining a class system as anything else. So too are the various means by which college football’s upper crust keeps the rabble down: recruiting more top athletes to one school than can ever hope to get adequate playing time; cutting deals through their “Power 5” conferences for their own network exposure (in some cases, certain schools having their very own networks), while ghettoizing the “Group of 5” schools to the backwaters of the broadband channels; and plucking away the coaches who can make a small school into a power with boatloads of cash and promises of greater prominence.
Consider, with regards to that last point, Washington’s Chris Peterson. In his eight years at Boise State, Peterson’s teams twice finished the season undefeated; three times they ended the season with only one loss (much like Clemson, Washington, and Ohio State this year). How many times did BSU compete for the national championship? Zero. What was the difference between Boise State then, and Peterson’s one-loss Washington Huskies today? Pedigree. The Huskies play in a “Power 5” Conference–the Pacific 12–and that’s it. No other difference.
You care to dispute that? You want to argue that the Boise State Broncos–geez, maybe it has something to do with the nickname!–didn’t deserve a shot at a championship, because they played in the Mountain West against inferior opponents, and were thus themselves inferior? OK, try this on for size: there are currently 20 former Boise State Broncos on active rosters in the NFL. That’s only 3 less than the currently active NFL players who attended–wait for it–the University of Washington. Yeah, Chris Peterson’s current digs; the team that will play Alabama today for a shot at the championship.
Are you sure those Broncos–or indeed, Western Michigan’s Broncos–weren’t or aren’t that good?
What harm would come from Western Michigan–remember, an undefeated team–competing for a national title? Given how much sports fans like an underdog, given how much interest could be generated in such a David vs. Goliath match–especially considering how the previous New Year’s Eve playoffs were less than stellar in attracting attention and ratings–letting Western Michigan make a Rocky-like run at a championship might seem like exactly the sort of thing that college football would want. Can you imagine the ratings bonanza such a matchup would draw? Can you imagine the excitement around such a game?
Well, you’ll have to imagine it–because the cartel that runs Division I will never allow it to happen.
So my suggestion is a simple one: the so-called “Group of Five” conferences should end the farce and secede from Division I–or perhaps even the NCAA in its entirety–and go its own way. The “Group of Five”–the American Athletic, Conference USA, the Mid-American, the Mountain West, and the Sun Belt–should set up their own shop, their own organization, create their own championship, and tell the “Power 5” conferences (and, if necessary, the NCAA as a whole) to go to hell.
Why not? Currently, they are just patsies for the more powerful conferences. They are already ghettoized onto the upper reaches of the cable TV listings; they are already shut out from any meaningful chance at having a true shot at a national championship. Why should those schools continue to play along with this farce, continue to be satisfied with getting patted on the head by the bigger schools and told they’re doing a great job, so long as they don’t actually bother with upsetting the status quo?
They are never going to be anything other than props in the current set-up. The NCAA is not looking out for them; that benighted organization is, as always, looking out for itself. The Power conferences are also looking out for themselves; crumb-throwing is all they’ll ever do for the outsider conferences. Hence, the “Group of Five” should start looking looking out for themselves–and independence is the best way to do that.
They will still earn money as an independent entity. There are now so many media outlets starved for content that it should be no problem for the new G5 organization to negotiate its own television deals (or renew current ones, such as the contract the Mountain West seems to have with CBS Sports Network). They may even be able to get better deals from their television partners. And the kids who play for those schools will still be eligible for the NFL draft. Trust me: the NFL doesn’t give a damn about where a kid learns to play football, just so long as there’s talent that can be chewed up and spit out, as needed.
Ultimately, this is something that should go beyond economics–something that should be about pride. Why should Western Michigan be satisfied with playing Wisconsin in a slightly-off-stage New Year’s bowl? Wisconsin isn’t even Michigan; most of the griping and wailing about a team being left out of the playoffs was bellowed out over the Wolverines, who were not even in the Big Can’t Count Conference’s championship game. (They also lost to Florida State yesterday; I guess Harbaugh’s crew wasn’t “good enough” either, as it turned out.) Nor was Ohio State the BCCC’s champion, yet they will have a very good chance at being in the title game. It strains logic and reason that a team that could not even accomplish winning its own conference’s championship should be given a shot at the national championship.
Western Michigan, on the other hand, did win their conference–and, if they were part of an independent organization that set its own agenda, they could be playing for that organization’s national championship.
Bottom line: if the Broncos and the other MAC teams aren’t good enough to compete for the Division I championship…why are they in Division I? Or FBS? Or the “College Football Clown Show”? Whatever you want to call this rigged, unfair setup.
There’s really only one name for something as unfair as the current Div. I setup: “The Farce.” Let’s end it, as soon as possible, and stop treating those deserving of more respect from getting the recognition they deserve.