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Monday, March 21, 2011

You Gotta Love March Madness - So Why Can't the BCS Cut the High School Money Machine and Learn from its Basketball Brethren?!

The start of the NCAA’s men’s basketball tournament – the billion dollar television property known as “March Madness” – with its 68-team field that includes universities like Wofford and Belmont, is the perfect opportunity to once again bring up the organization’s hypocrisy when it comes to deciding a football champion.  While the egalitarian basketball tournaments – what the heck, we can throw the women’s side in here as well – are open to a variety of team’s, the big and the small, the public and the private, the well-funded and the shoestring budgets, the domain of college football is a study in elitism.

The so-called Bowl Championship Series conferences (SEC, Big 10, Pac 10, Big 12, Big East and ACC…along with a special exemption for Notre Dame) call all of the shots in college football and if someone doesn’t like it, they’re more than happy to take their ball and go home.  The conferences, all of whom make millions of dollars for their member schools with television contracts, like to be an exclusive club.  A college football country club if you will.  Working with the out-dated bowl system, which is fought for (justly in a lot of cases) by the local officials that are afraid of being shut out of the tourism money train, the NCAA has become a hostage to the big money football programs that make up those six conferences and Notre Dame.

In the football set-up, there are rules in place to minimize the number of teams from outside of the power conferences that have an opportunity to play in a big-money bowl game.  Never mind the actual championship game.  That is decided by a Byzantine formula that seems to factor in television ratings and bankrolls of boosters as much as it does anything involved in the playing of the sport.  At most, there are two teams from outside of the major conferences that take part in the bowls that are designated as the BCS. (We’ll save the complete waste of time that the series of lesser bowls have become over the years for a December post, while I’m watching the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.)

The argument that the NCAA trots out for doing things the way that they do, and not replacing it with the sort of playoff system that is used for college basketball is that it would be academically detrimental to the football players. The governing body, of course, has never explained why it’s not detrimental to the studies of football players at every other level of college football, which do participate in a playoff, or why it’s ok for the basketball teams to miss large chunks of classes during the month of March.  So, while you’re remembering back to last season, when a tiny school in Indianapolis named Butler almost upset ACC powerhouse Duke, take a moment to remember that you would never see that kind of story in college football.

Nor will you ever see something like this year’s upset of traditional basketball power Louisville by Morehead State during the early rounds of the men’s basketball tournament. The college football powers- that-be would have you believe that such a thing would be bad for business. Faced with the fact that such upsets actually enhance the public’s interest in their men’s basketball tournament, college football shrugs its shoulders and issues a collective, “Yeah, well that’s basketball.”  Yes, it is basketball and I’ll sit back and enjoy the bracket-busting little guys as they fight to play games for another two weeks.  In the end, the schools with the marquee names and the big money will still, if history is any indication, come out on top in the end.

But no one can ever say that everyone didn’t have a chance.  Meanwhile, most of college football’s 120 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams have already been eliminated from championship contention…and their season doesn’t start for another five months.  Time for the BCS to graduate from High School already!


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