Moving the goal posts

Here we go again – another article about how the postseason is structured to favor the power conferences over the little guy, how no school outside the power conferences has won the title game in years, how the money and the recruiting prowess of the big schools perpetuate the system, etc.

Except this one’s about men’s basketball.

… Despite late runs by mid-major schools like George Mason in 2006 and tiny Davidson last year, the fact is that, in the past 20 years, only one of every 8 teams have come from outside the power conferences like the SEC or Big East, and only UNLV has won the title, in 1990. This year, the top three seeds from all four regions made the Sweet 16 round last weekend.

Indeed, the growing prevalence of top-seeds and power conference powerhouses marching through March Madness reveals a college dynamic that runs directly counter to attempts by professional leagues in hockey and football to create parity. The idea, as in hockey, that the best team needs the worst team is less and less true in college ball.

That’s because revenue-sharing in college sports favors the winners.

Granted, talking about creating parity in college football and basketball is stupid.  The NFL, to take one example, is a unified business venture that directs how new talent is brought into the sport and negotiates its most important contracts as a single entity.  If the powers-that-be see parity as a goal worth obtaining, it’s relatively easy through revenue sharing and player drafts to encourage that.

College sports are different, very different, which the article notes.  There’s no draft, just programs duking it out over recruits.  There’s no regular season monolithic TV contract; every conference (or school, in Notre Dame’s case) is left to fend for itself.

And yet, there’s old March Madness, with its huge entry field, its “settle it on the court” aspect, its revenue distributed by the NCAA instead of by the conferences.  And it still doesn’t do the trick of leveling the playing field.

So what’s the relevance of this to college football, you may ask?  For most fans, it probably isn’t that relevant.  They just want to see a more inclusive postseason format that provides a means for clearly deserving teams to have a shot at a title game.  But there are others who favor a much broader restructuring, who think that the ec0nomics of the sport need realignment.

Realistically, that’s not going to happen with the regular season.  Georgia will always outdraw every school in the Mountain West by a wide margin.  What’s left to play with is D-1′s postseason.  That’s what the current dance with the MWC, the politicians and the programs currently getting most of the swag is all about.   And remember as you watch the process unfold over the next few years, wherever it winds up, that it was always more about the bucks than about “settling it on the field”.

… Just remember as the discussion heats up: No matter how many times you hear the words “national championship” spoken, this is not about who plays for No. 1.

This is, and always has been, about money.

The richest conferences don’t want to share their loot; the poorest ones are more desperate for it than ever. That means two agendas that cannot coexist as current economic trends go.

A showdown is coming, as I told you about this time last year. The only questions are how far both sides are willing to push and what they are willing to risk.

I believe it’s more and more likely that the BCS as we know it won’t exist by the time the next TV contracts are signed.  What it will be replaced with is harder to guess.  That college football’s non-power conferences won’t like the result isn’t.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Moving the goal posts

  1. kckd

    I agree on this. The non BCS schools have a far greater chance of winning it all now by playing a soft schedule and hoping something like 2007 happened (UTAH from last year might’ve squeaked in) than playing a big football tournament. They’d never make it through that having to win multiple games. Best chance is for the one game shocker. Of course, that does tend to say that college football could indeed give you a champion not deserving also.

  2. Wolfman

    All the college basketball example proves is that the mid-major programs are not on same level athletically as the big conference teams. If they were, they would be winning championships. Revenue sharing has nothing to do with North Carolina beating Gonzaga, and with WAC and Horizon league teams consistently bowing out after winning a game or two. Because Davidson made a run to the elite eight and George Mason made the Final Four does not mean other teams should be granted a pass because of lower-level play, as the article suggests. I love to watch these teams, but they won’t win championships, and in the end, all we’re talking about is championships. Utah got into the big show, but didn’t get a spot at the championship. Same for all other mid-major teams in the NCAA tournament.

    A mid-major team should be considered only on its own merit, and not of its conference. This is often difficult to judge, I know, but it is plausible. The most obvious omission from this argument is always Memphis. (Conference USA, to me, is undoubtedly a mid-major conference, especially after it was raided by the Big East.) Memphis plays in a poor conference, yet was good enough to almost win a championship last year. How? By beating the teams they played. Other mid-majors have not done that. There’s a big difference between going 14-2 in a mid-major conference, and winning 60+ games in a row in your conference. That consistent level of play deserves national recognition, and it receives.

    However, Memphis consistently competes on the level of the big boys because of talent — not because of revenue sharing, forced parity, or anything else. Do people the NCAA can force parity like they do in the NFL? It’s impossible, unless you significantly reduce scholarship allowances, which will never happen, because, as the Senator notes, it is all about money.

    People don’t play basketball at North Carolina because of money anyway — they play there because of the name on the jersey, and the tradition in the rafters. They will always be in higher demand than a mid-major, not just by fans (i.e. people who pay money), but also by recruits. Trying to equalize revenue sharing in the NCAA won’t fix parity problems. Talent is still going to go where talent has always gone.

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