I know just how he feels.

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.

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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.

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4 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

4 responses to “I know just how he feels.

  1. Kit

    It’s so funny that this argument keeps coming up as I would think that the reason the BCS is flawed is because of mid-majors entering into the system and underperforming. Color me biased, but what really pissed me off about the Sugar Bowl this year is that it was the “Hawai’i Experiment” more than it was anything else.

    And who do we have to thank for us? Why Urban Meyer of course.

    I say keep the BCS as it is currently, let eight teams play four games, rerank said teams at the end and then let the top two play for the MNC. I don’t see where that’s such a bad idea and it doesn’t give either team the “dreaded long layoff” that everyone’s griping about.

    And this will ruffle some feathers, but so be it. Just because Boise State upset Oklahoma doesn’t mean that 1) they deserved to be there in the first place 2) that everyone else deserves a seat at the table because of it.

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  2. Senator,
    I’ll fully own up to having given this far less thought than you, so I’m posing this more as a question than a retort. The implication of your post seems to be that Memphis can be more competitive in basketball than football, because it takes fewer resources to do so in basketball. Of course, I accept that premise, but I wonder if Memphis could be as competitive in basketball if basketball had a BCS structure.

    In relative dollars, there’s still a large disparity between the men’s basketball operating budgets between Kansas and Memphis. According the NCAA records data base, Kansas brings in $11.7M and runs in the black by $7.4M. That profit, or unallocated revenue, is $2M more than Memphis’ total basketball revenue. Yes, the BCS has featured contests between similarly financially disparate programs, i.e., Georgia-Hawai’i. But that seems to be an outlier and not something anyone cares to revisit. Plus, Hawai’i didn’t play near the OOC schedule in football that Memphis played in basketball, so that’s probably an apples-oranges comparison.

    To your point about the survivability of mid-majors in the field of 64, fair point, but teams like Davidson and Memphis acquitted themselves very well, as have Gonzaga, George Mason et al in prior years. Based on the trendline, I don’t think we’ll go another 22 years before we see another Villanova.

    I’ll close this with two questions: If the BCS is a superior system, why does no other sport clamor for it? And, how much longer can we keep non-BCS schools as the Puerto Rico of college football — at some point, should we just let them be their own division?

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  3. Lots of good questions there, man.

    Let me start with this one: If the BCS is a superior system, why does no other sport clamor for it?

    First, I’ve never argued that the BCS is a superior system, or that other sports should adapt it. My fight has been over the rationales presented as to why D-1 football should move to a standard playoff format, as almost every other sport enjoys these days.

    So, getting to your question, I would say there are several reasons. A sport like baseball, where certain key players don’t appear every day, would find a single elimination format a blatantly unfair way to determine a champion. Unlike football, some sports have an easier time of playing games on back to back dates, which lends itself better to playing an extended tourney.

    The biggest reason is historical. Any professional league, by its nature, is a more homogeneous enterprise than D-1 football is, broken into conferences and independents all pursuing their own followings and means of generating revenue. And D-1 football differs from its college brethren in that (1) it attracts a much greater fan following; and (2) the bowls stepped in at an early date to define the postseason, primarily as a result of trying to find a way to cater to that following.

    For me, the right question here isn’t why don’t other sports adapt a BCS format if it’s so great, but, rather, why should D-1 football, with its unique passion, energy and fan interest, take steps to dilute what makes it so terrific?

    Mind you, that’s not to say in an absolute sense that it shouldn’t. But I’ve heard very few reasons from people who support a playoff that I find convincing. And I worry that once we go down the playoff road, expansion of the postseason will be an issue for all the wrong reasons.

    … I wonder if Memphis could be as competitive in basketball if basketball had a BCS structure.

    Financially, there’s no question that March Madness is a better deal for mid-majors than is the BCS, although the new five game set up certainly narrows the gap, at least for the conference that sees a team participate in the BCS.

    But if college basketball went back to a setup much like it had before I was in college, something like the NIT would again become enormously popular.

    Competitively (in the non-monetary sense), I would still argue that it’s far easier to succeed in college basketball than in college football. The numbers are far more favorable.

    And, how much longer can we keep non-BCS schools as the Puerto Rico of college football — at some point, should we just let them be their own division?

    At the risk of sounding flippant, why should we care?

    I will say that in my ideal world, D-1 football would consist of a universe of eight 10-school conferences.

    But I don’t lose any sleep over a Sun Belt team not playing in a BCS game, honestly.

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  4. SavannahDawg

    As a very casual basketball fan I found that, by far, the most interesting time of the basketball tournament is the first weekend. I was trying to figure out why I got so into that first weekend but only watched a couple highlights the next two. I realized that the reason why is because the first weekend has this format:(Days 1 and 2) 12:00 4 games, 2:00 4 games, 7:00 4 games, 9:00 4 games. All games are meaningful and the majority of the matchups were interesting. Reminded me of a college football Saturday. Not one of those 6 Sundays that the Giants lost or any day/weekend of the college basketball season.

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