Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Sports: BCS Musings

My media patron, Steve Czaban, said last night on his national radio show that the BCS serves three purposes: to make a lot of money for the BCS conference schools, to prevent the creation of a playoff tournament, and to exclude non-BCS schools from sharing in the wealth. Czaban's view echoes that of most media commentators, whose reactions to this past weekend's Oklahoma-USC-LSU fiasco range from morally indignant to apoplectic. Like these folks, I agree the BCS is a dumb system that should be scrapped for the sake of all parties involved. However, I disagree with Czaban that the BCS schools are trying to sabotage the creation of a playoff tournament.

The major stumbling block to a playoff is not the BCS, but the NCAA. Keep in mind the NCAA is actually three different organizations: Division I, Division II, and Division III. Each division has its own board of directors and essentially maintains its own rules. Under current Division I rules, a school in Division I-A can only play in one "postseason" game. That's why the BCS hasn't created even a mini-playoff among just the major schools. Sure, the NCAA rule can be amended, but that's a complicated process that involves input from many interest groups. And if the rule is changed and a playoff allowed, NCAA leaders are going to want control over that tournament. Right now, the bowls are run by local host committees in association with the conferences. Neither of these groups are eager to hand the NCAA office in Indianapolis greater control.

BCS critics point to the success of the NCAA basketball tournament as evidence a playoff would improve college football. While the tournament is great viewing, it also comes with a terrible price. The NCAA controls the pot of money from the tournament, and so long as that's the case, the players will never see a dime, because the NCAA leadership remains steadfastly committee to "amateurism," an anti-capitalist, anti-individual rights philosophy. An NCAA-run football playoff would produce exactly the same problem. And what concerns me more about football is that subjecting top players to three or four more weeks of games (on top of the 12 or 13 regular season games most all schools play) substantially increases the risk of injuries that threaten a player's NFL draft status. In effect, the NCAA would be exploiting the players for short-term gain while risking destruction of their long-term financial health. This is hardly the message colleges and universities should be sending.

So my position is this: No playoff until we dismantle the NCAA and replace it with an organization that will pay the players. Until then, I'd be content to revert to the pre-BCS bowl system, where the games maintained strong regional and conference affiliations.

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