… There is no room for Cinderella in the tyrannical realm of the BCS big boys. In fact, if they had been around when the famous fairy tale was written, one of the big-footed wicked stepsisters would have won the heart of the Prince while Cinderella, dressed in rags, would have been hired to sweep up the royal luxury suite and VIP hospitality tent after the ball was over.
Butler, even though it came up two points and a few seconds short of winning a national championship, represents the beauty of what sports is supposed to be about. Correction: Butler represents the beauty of what America is supposed to be about. … Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, your Horizon League champs.
— Mike Bianchi, April 6, 2010
In the end, for me at least, that’s really what this week’s college football postseason debate is about. How much do we want to dilute the quality pool of playoff participants to indulge the popular sentiment for underdogs?
And there’s a helluva lot of that sentiment out there. The TV ratings for this year’s tournament as a whole were the fourth lowest ever, but the final game itself enjoyed a robust number of television viewers. I don’t think there’s any doubt that big, bad Duke versus Cindy Butler resonated with the public in a significant way.
To which I say: big effing deal, man.
Look at Matt’s numbers. This year’s BCS title game, warts and all, still wound up being more attractive from a viewing standpoint than Butler-Duke. College basketball viewership is all about the walk-up fan; there’s not much of a regular season following these days. Again, criticize college football all you want, but that’s not a shortcoming it shares.
And I think what it boils to for me is that I resent the suggestion that I should share the sport I’m so passionate about with the kind of people who are going to tune into a game like Butler-Duke simply because of the atmospherics – people who before the game couldn’t have named three of the starting players on the floor that night if their lives depended on it – because there’s something more “American” about that. Something more “American Idol” is more like it.
This desire to inject a place in the postseason for the decided underdog comes across like fake juice to my admittedly jaded taste buds. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for a playoff for D-1 football. (There is, Auburn fans.) But it’s not this:
… Playoff opponents will no doubt point out that college football is already in another ballpark when it comes to regular season ratings, and for the university presidents and conference commissioners who call all of these shots, maintaining the existing pipelines — billion-dollar network contracts, or the network itself — still trumps adding any new revenue stream that might possibly (emphasis on these qualifiers) come at the current cash flow’s expense. This is why they say ludicrous things like “every game is a playoff,” a tacit admission in itself that fans obviously want to watch playoffs. If/when we finally get them, the numbers for the college football version of Butler-Duke (Boise State-Notre Dame?) at the end of a month-long slugfest will put all the ’06 Rose Bowl and every other offering from the current, awkward transition period to shame, and the power brokers will be too busy counting the proceeds to wonder why they ever changed it.
Matt’s trying to have it both ways here a little bit. I don’t think the “every game is a playoff” gambit is about conceding the popular desire for a playoff as much as it is an awareness of the fan enthusiasm that the regular season enjoys and the reluctance on the part of the big boys to embark on a path that might screw that up. So to accept on its face that a playoff would generate obscene amounts of new revenue while at the same time refusing to concede any more than that it “might” affect the regular season cash cow does little more than beg the question.
Back to Bianchi for a second. The truly ironic part of his piece is this observation:
… Butler is no fluke, no one-hit wonder. The Bulldogs have been to 10 NCAA Tournaments and advanced to the Sweet 16 three times in the last eight years. By gaining access to the tournament and reaping the revenue and exposure that comes with it, Butler has systematically built itself into a basketball power.
In other words, Butler really wasn’t a Cinderella this year. It was just sold as one – makes for good TV, right?
… It’s a circle of synergy; an evolutionary cycle of success: As Butler’s success level has increased so, too, has the revenue generated. And the more money you make, the more money you can invest. And the more money you can invest, the more success you can have. This is how Butler was built. This is how America was built.
… But the Bulldogs are living, breathing, hustling, hardworking proof that if you offer an incentive and a fair chance to attain that incentive, there is always some diligent, dedicated overachiever who will strive to become the best of the best.
How is that any different that what Bobby Bowden did at Florida State thirty years ago? Or what coaches like Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen are doing today?
Here’s your final word, from a guy who thinks he knows what’s best.
“That’s why I think our tournament has captured America, because everybody can get in it,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says. “Football is a completely different animal. They don’t have a system that would allow a smaller school to get into the spotlight with the BCS…” [Emphasis added.]
Therein lies the rub. (By the way, it sounds like Coach K forgot about private, small-enrollment Wake Forest University’s recent trip to the Orange Bowl.) It sure ain’t a future I relish for college football.