If you put me in charge of the NCAA for one week and gave me carte blanche to make whatever changes are necessary to save college sports from the nerds that masquerade as folks that actually give a damn about college sports, I would not have time to do all the things that should be done. One week is not enough nor is one month. One year wouldn’t even do it. Still, give me a week and I would change college sports forever.
The plan is simple and it starts with reason and accountability, two words you never hear when the topic is the NCAA.
First, I would fire Myles Brand and find a way to exile him to Bora Bora where he could teach pottery or some useful skill at the local technical college. You will never convince me that this man has any useful purpose having a say in college athletics. Here he is, president of the NCAA, an organization that needs to address inequities such as why college baseball gets only 11.7 scholarships and instead of doing something that will save the college game, he’s busy trying to force the University of North Dakota to change its name from the Fighting Sioux to something more politically correct. He says it’s okay for Florida State to be called the Seminoles but North Dakota can’t be called the Fighting Sioux. Lotsa logic there. Anyway, he’s a menace to college sports and needs to be 86’d as soon as possible.
Secondly, I would find make it a rule that any school that averages less than 25,000 a game in attendance has no vote in football matters. College football’s have nots have no business having a say in what the successful programs can do. Why should Temple have an equal say in football matters as Oklahoma or Southern Cal? Why should Ivy League schools vote to end text messaging by coaches at schools like Texas or Florida? Why should it be that the playing field should be leveled so the perpetual have nots of the college football world have the same advantages that the schools that have made whatever sacrifices are necessary to be successful? If the bottom feeders want to have a say, then let them build big stadiums and let them fill them up. If they don’t want to and don’t like it, then do something smart: Join Division I-AA where your teams are competitive and where you can compete for a national championship.
Oh, there I said it. National championship.
No, I’m not talking about a MYTHICAL national championship. I’m talking about a real one and that of course means a playoff system and the elimination of the bowls as we now know them, which would be my third and greatest contribution to the sports world, a lasting testament to my week in office at the NCAA. Boz had it right when he wore the shirt on the sidelines that said “National Communists Against Athletes.”
Before I go further, please don’t tell me how good the bowls have been to college football (They haven’t). Please don’t tell me about all the tradition of the bowls (how many of you actually went to the Orange Bowl parade the last time the Gators played down there?). Please don’t tell me that if we have a playoff, the regular season becomes meaningless (uh, don’t you have to have a good regular season to get in the playoffs?). Please don’t tell me that it’s a good thing when a zillion Kentucky fans can drive two hours to Nashville so the Wildcats can play another team that barely made it to mediocrity in something called the Music City Bowl (what? The Mildcats couldn’t schedule Austin Peay or Periwinkle State in basketball that night?). Please don’t tell me that the BCS will work if we only tweak it again, even though it gets tweaked every single year and nobody can still get it right (don’t tell me that the system worked because Florida got to the championship game; the system almost kept the Gators out!).
Those are excuses. Here is some biting reality for you:
A. The bowls exist so fat guys with thinning hair in pastel colored blazers can take trips to see college football games all year long and get treated like they’re actually important. These guys are part of the selection committees. Their job, if you really want to know the truth, is to get hotel rooms sold so their local economies can get a big boost. Do you really believe that Shreveport has anything that 40,000 people from parts of the civilized world would want to see? Maybe it’s the cultural capital of Caddo Parish but that doesn’t mean anyone from a place that has a shopping mall would actually want to go there. So, football becomes the lure to bring in people who wouldn’t otherwise visit.
The payout to the teams that play in bowl games is pittance compared to the millions that get poured into the local economies of bowl cities. Take the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game for example. The Gators got 12,000 seats and so did Ohio State. All but about 500 of those tickets went to fat cat boosters who write the checks that pay for the athletic programs at their respective schools. About 90 percent of the remaining seats were sold to Arizona Cardinals season ticket holders and they in turn sold their tickets to scalpers and brokers, who re-sold them for thousands and thousands of dollars. Then there were the hotel rooms in metro Phoenix which were jacked up double and triple what they would normally cost. You fly in from Florida, rent a car, pay for a hotel room and food, and then pay a scalper $1200 or so for each ticket. Revolutions in third world countries have been started and won for less money than Florida fans and Ohio State fans paid to see that one football game. And someone has the audacity to tell me that this is good for college football? Please, spare me.
B. The bowls exist so that athletic directors and college presidents don’t have to look like bad guys by firing coaches. Most of the time if a coach gets his team to a bowl, the athletic director and school prez give the coach a mulligan and let him hang around one more year. I know — Remember the Zooker! — but I did qualify that by saying MOST of the time. It doesn’t always happen like that, but most of the time it does. You go 7-5 you get to stick around. You go 6-6 you can stick around if you win the bowl game. That way the athletic director or the prez can say, “We’re making progress. We want to win more games but we’re satisfied that we’re making progress.” That is coach and athletic director-speak for “Thank God I didn’t have to look that guy in the face and fire him.” I understand why folks don’t want to fire people, but please, someone tell me why there is this necessity to reward mediocrity?
C. The bowls exist so that approximately 55 percent of the Division I teams can get in an extra month of practice. It’s like having an extra spring practice. Sure, it’s nice to win the football game that got you these extra practice days in the first place but what’s really important is the time you get to spend with all the young guys who are going to have to play next year when they replace your seniors, a good many of whom are spending their bowl experience trying to figure out ways to stay out past curfew and sneak back in without getting caught. Ask any coach that’s been around the block more than once and he’ll tell you the redshirt freshmen and the young guys that didn’t get on the field are the ones that benefit the most from the bowl experience. You see, it really isn’t about a wonderful experience that the student athlete will always remember. That’s just a smokescreen. Reality is the bowls give the coach 15 more days of practice.
D. The bowls exist so that college presidents who can’t seem to grasp that Marx’s theories didn’t work can spread the wealth around in a most communistic fashion. Someone please tell me why is it a good thing that Vanderbilt, which can’t sell out its own stadium, gets an equal piece of the Southeastern Conference bowl pie? All the money made in bowls by SEC teams goes into one big pot and then it’s divvied up into 12 equal shares. Moby Dick was a guppy (thanks for that line, Zooker) the last time Vandy went to a bowl game or did anything that seriously enhances the financial status of the Southeastern Conference. Take away the free lunch. Let the Vandys of the world earn their own keep.
Instead of this mess, I’ve got a simple, logical solution. Give me 16 teams and let them play it off until there is a last team standing. Trust me when I tell you that 16-game playoff would make more money than the bowls and would be the hottest television programming going. Do not give me this lunacy that it’s good that we have all these teams that feel good about themselves because they played in a bowl and went out winners. That I’m OK, you’re OK philosophy may work for Dr. Phil but it’s what’s wrong about college football. Let the folks that are really OK have a chance to be real champions. Take away the incentive for teams to mire themselves in mediocrity and make them put a competitive product on the field instead of rewarding them with bowl games to Detroit that will be played in a half empty stadium.
If you insist that we throw a bone out there to the mediocre, then let the teams that couldn’t make the playoffs risk frostbite in garden spots like scenic downtown Boise in another meaningless bowl game. It works for basketball. We do have such a thing called the NIT which is what we use to reward mediocrity in basketball (see South Carolina, back-to-back NIT champs, 2005-06). You want happy happy I’m OK, you’re OK, so more people can feel good then let the teams that aren’t good enough to get into the playoffs go to places like Shreveport and play in the Weedwacker.
This is not rocket science folks. It could be done. It should be done. I would do it if I could run the NCAA for a week but that’s a huge problem. If you put me or someone like me in charge of the NCAA and we applied reason and accountability, then folks like Myles Brand would actually have to go teach in Bora Bora. We couldn’t have that, now could we?