Wednesday, May 6, 2009

it's that time again

And by that I mean it's obviously time to talk BCS and playoffs again! Yay! I love this stuff. I love the disenfranchisement that comes with being one of those folks who doesn't want a playoff. I love being talked to like a playoff is what I want. I love how every Congressman is a fucking comedian. I love how the media slappies line up to give those good ol' Congressmen a pat on the back. The whole affair sickens me.

Let me just get a couple of links out of the way real quick before I get on a roll:

- The baseball team hits more home runs now. Best line: "As usual, U.Va.'s pitching has been superb." Uh, that's "starting" pitching.

- Danny Glading is one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Trophy. Unsurprising; as the #1 seed and having four nominees, having at least one finalist was a lock.

- The ACC baseball tournament isn't coming to Fenway next year either. Damn it. I was all excited to go this year until they canceled, but the consolation was I only had to wait a year. Now I'm out of luck.

OK. Advance warning: I'm cranky. I was up til 1:30 last night watching hockey (it's a Red Wings thing - you wouldn't understand), or more specifically, I was up til 1:30 watching so-called professional referees make a mockery of a hockey game. So: no sleep, Wings lose thanks to the world's dumbest rule, and I've had to put up with Congress all week, grandstanding and whoring for votes as usual instead of doing things that the Constitution actually allows them to do.

Let's start by clearing up some fallacies that pervade the discussion. We'll play Mythbusters, if you will.

- Myth: The BCS excludes certain teams from playing for the championship.

Here's Mark Shurtleff:

"We've established that from the very first day, from the very first kickoff in the college season, more than half of the schools are put on an unlevel playing field," Shurtleff said Tuesday. "They will never be allowed to play for a national championship."
You'd think he'd be a smart guy - he managed to get elected Utah's attorney general. But this is totally, patently false. Either he doesn't know what he's talking about, or he is lying. Here's the fact: As the bylaws are written, every team has precisely the same chance on paper to play for the title. All you have to do is be #1 or #2 in the BCS standings. Nobody is excluded. Whether a system of voters or a competition committee would do a better job is a different debate, and I'm inclined to lean toward the committee myself.

- Myth: The BCS is a monopoly.

The BCS is actually the most capitalistic system in any sport the NCAA sponsors. Jon Stewart tackles the subject nicely. Every bowl is free to negotiate their own title sponsor, TV rights, conference tie-ins, invitations, and advertising dollars. Likewise teams are free to accept or decline invitations, and independent teams can negotiate their own tie-ins as well.

Compare to the March Madness tournament, for which the NCAA actually has been sued in antitrust court. Key line:

The main issue in the case is the current rule requiring teams in all sports to compete in the NCAA tournament if they are invited — or in no other event.
Emphasis mine. The article is from 2005 - the lawsuit has since been settled - but the rule, I believe, remains. If invited, you must go. You can't choose to participate elsewhere. I mean, you wouldn't, of course - that's where all the money is, which kind of emphasizes the point.

But, as I said, the lawsuit was settled. Oh, it was settled all right - by the NCAA buying the NIT. Oh, that should alleviate all worries about a monopoly. Can you imagine any other industry where that would be allowed? Can you imagine, say, Costco suing Wal-Mart for monopolistic practices - and the antitrust judge allows the case to go away by letting Wal-Mart gobble up Costco?

Fortunately, there are rational voices out there. Even ones on the playoff side. Congress doesn't know it because rational thinking isn't their strong suit, nor is recognizing it when they see it, but they're there. And there are those who realize something I've believed for a long time: when the playoff comes, it's not going to be the one you want.

Now, I'm not unrealistic and I'm not irrational. Sooner or later, a playoff is coming. It might not be soon enough for some, but somewhere down the line we will have one. I do have my own idea for it, but that's a post for another day. I'll spring that on you probably around the annual late-October-to-November whinefest about a playoff.

But until that day comes (the playoff, not my post) the BCSers could do something very simple to take a lot of wind out of the sails of the hysterical playoff types: Just stop calling it the BCS.

I'll explaine, but first, a little history lesson: The BCS movement has been around since 1992, when it was called the Bowl Coalition, and later, the Bowl Alliance. It was rather informal, though, and the last straw for the old system was the 1997 season, in which the obvious title game was Michigan vs. Nebraska - two undefeated powerhouses. That game never happened, because the Big Ten, Pac-10, and Rose Bowl weren't signed on, and thus Michigan and Nebraska each played different opponents, beat them, and split the title.

After that, the BCS monster was created. It was a formal attempt to fit a national title game into the bowl structure. It felt like the natural thing to do: get four of the most prestigious bowls together in an agreement to rotate a national title game among them, and in order to keep a level playing field for the four, set up a structure to determine who would play in the others. For a while this worked OK, or appeared to, because it was better than what we had.

But then two things happened. The "little guys" starting pushing for a bigger slice of the pie, and the TV people got greedy. As always, if you can kill two birds with one stone, you do it, and so the BCS Championship Game was initiated. Since then the BCS games have always included one non-BCS interloper.

But the TV greed has also included a lot of things that don't help the BCS' cause. Selection shows. "Autobids" to the BCS. A convoluted system of standings, complete with hurdles to jump if you want to be eligible. But when you get down to it, what is the difference between the Orange Bowl and the Liberty Bowl? Nothing! The ACC has an autobid to the BCS because, like every conference in the land, it has a bowl that's agreed to invite its champion to play, only that bowl is a "BCS bowl". The Liberty Bowl takes the C-USA champ, and the difference between the two is a label named "BCS" and a lot of money. Strip away the label and what do you have? An antitrust suit against a nonprofit organization that's made a perfectly legal private contract with another entity?

The Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls have no bearing on the national title. None. They did once. They no longer do. The problem this leaves is that Utah and the MWC, feeling butthurt about the fact that voters think Florida and Oklahoma are better than they are, are launching willy-nilly attacks on the BCS as a whole entity, and they have Congress involved, and the BCS commissioners are now forced to defend the whole thing.

The solution is simple: Disassociate the "BCS Championship Game" from the rest of the BCS. The facts are that no conference has an advantage over any other (on paper) in getting to the title game, but the perception is now poisoned by the idea of "autobids", when in reality the autobid to the BCS is no different than the autobid to any other bowl game that's contractually obligated to invite a conference champion. If you want, invite the Liberty Bowl and the other bowls with conference champion tie-ins to the "Bowl Championship Series" and then not only does the money pie get bigger, but so does everyone's slice - and the worst-case scenario as far as competition goes is that we all find out that Troy and Ball State don't actually belong in the national championship picture. And then we can have a proper debate about the nature of the title game - should it operate like a bowl? should it be a plus-one after the bowls are done? should it be a four-team playoff? - without all this garbage about antitrust suits and false whining about "being excluded."


Bird said...

I'm a pretty big I-AA football fan and they've got it right: 16 team playoff. They really do settle it on the field. 12 team conferences and conference championship games make this impossible but I still feel the I-AA's format is by far the most fair.

Brendan said...

I've changed my mind about waiting til October. Today's post is going to be the playoff I would propose. Regardless, I don't see how Florida and Oklahoma didn't settle it on the field, nor do I see the value of settling it on the field when one of the main controversies this season was based exactly off of "what happened on the field," i.e., Texas/OU/TT. They did try to settle it on the field and it made a bigger mess than before.