Believe it or not, I was hoping that I could lay off the BCS/March Madness arguments for a while (which probably means until the dog days of July, when I need something to blog about), but I should have realized that with the basketball tourney coming to a climax, there would be one last rhetorical flourish of “ZOMG college football needs to be more like college basketball!” coming down the turnpike.
And so there was. And here I am.
Here’s the main point Tim Stephens raises in support of his argument:
… If this were football, Memphis’ greatest team in its history most likely would’ve already finished up in the Liberty Bowl against an SEC also-ran. Qualifying for a BCS bowl would be a longshot even under the best of circumstances. And it would have been excluded from the conversation of national championship before it put on the first pad in August. It never would have been allowed the opportunity to reach the level of its basketball counterpart, and it never could’ve recruited elite players the way the basketball program has done. Memphis basketball can recruit on par with Kansas or North Carolina because it has access to the championship. [Emphasis added.] Memphis football (or any other non-BCS team) gets beaten over the head with that BCS label for players in its own backyard.
Now that’s an interesting point he makes – although he offers no factual support for it. Note that it’s carefully phrased. What does he mean by “access to the championship”? Is he simply stating that a sixty four team tourney by its nature is going to be more inclusive of mid-majors than the current BCS setup? Or is he asserting that a coach like Calipari can realistically sell recruits on the likelihood that he can take a program to the same heights in the tournament that a Roy Williams or Bill Self can?
In either event, how easily does that argument translate over to college football? To me, that’s the $64,000 question here. I would argue that it doesn’t carry over well at all, for several reasons.
First of all, the bigger a single elimination tournament gets, the less likely it is that a mid-major survives and wins it all. Don’t believe me? Take a look. Historically, college basketball is littered with smaller schools that won NCAA championships (remember Texas Western?), but that’s pretty much in the deep past. See who the winners have been since 1985, when the tournament expanded to a field of 64. They aren’t the mid-majors, folks.
Second, if you recall this study, you may remember that playing for a national championship isn’t that high up on the list of priorities for high school football recruits. Specifically, the authors noted that
… There were a number of factors that we thought would significantly impact the decision of the high school athlete that didn’t. For example, factors like the school’s graduation rate, the number of Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl appearances, the current roster depth at the recruited player’s position, the number of players from a specific college drafted by the NFL, and even the number of national championships won by a particular program don’t systematically influence the decisions of high school athletes. [Empahsis added.]
Third, and most significant, is the question of resources. There are five starters on a college basketball team, who play both offense and defense. The college football equivalent is twenty two. (And it’s really more if you take into account special teams.) A good recruiter in college basketball can turn a program around with three special players. Three special high school football players are nothing more than a good start.
That’s reflected in the scholarship numbers in both sports. A college basketball team only has 13 players on scholarship. That’s less than one-sixth of the number for D-1 football teams. And when you think about the expense involved in recruiting, in paying coaching staffs that can recruit (again, much larger staffs for football than basketball) and in maintaining the facilities needed to attract the top talent, it’s hard to see how a mid-major football program can keep up in the way that a mid-major basketball program may be able to. It costs less to recruit and maintain talent and depth in college basketball than it does in college football. Much less.
And you need depth to win in college football – in my opinion, more than any other sport. That’s the biggest reason I can see why his argument flops. If giving mid-major programs a real opportunity to be competitive on a year-in, year-out basis is a laudable goal (and as a Georgia and SEC football fan, I obviously don’t think it’s that big a deal), it would seem to me that substantially reducing the number of scholarships a D-1 school could offer would do far more to level the playing field than an extended playoff ever could.
So I don’t see much to the benefit that he argues comes from an extended tourney. But I do see the price. In the words of Georgia offensive lineman Chris Davis,
“We don’t have the luxury of having a tournament at the end of the season,” sophomore center Chris Davis said. “We need to approach every game like it’s a tournament. You lose and you’re out. Focus on Georgia Southern. If we don’t win that, being No. 1 or No. 2 in the preseason means nothing.”
I like that.
UPDATE: Speaking of rhetorical flourishes, this one’s hard to top.
If there is a red-blooded American, and we mean the type of American that would storm the beaches of Normandy, that would proudly raise a flag over Iwo Jima, or would stand up for what is and wrong in American society, that can still defend the BCS (unless of course your pocket is being lined by the existence of the BCS), then they need to re-read the Declaration of Independence.
As I’ve said before, if we don’t get a college football playoff, the terrorists win.