Pigheaded Purveyors Of The Pigskin

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, tis the season…to once again be ticked off at possibly the biggest injustice in American sports. No, not the use of the designated hitter. I’m talking about the worst scam in modern history not affiliated with Bernie Madoff: College Football Bowl Season.

There once was a time when college football was a game of tradition and pageantry. It was about school pride and rituals, and customs ruled the day. Where teams would face off annually for individual trophies like the “little brown jug”, or “sweet Sioux tomahawk” and a hundred-year grudge match was a prime-time television event, even if those teams had losing seasons.

No more. Team rivalry, conference identity, and even the dignity of true sportsmanship seem like casualties of war in a fight for the almighty dollar. And the poster child for this travesty of athletic transgression is the BCS Championship. The NCAA awards a championship to hundreds of student athletes in dozens of sporting events, yet they can’t seem to find an appropriate way for the top football schools to earn their title on the field of play.

You may not agree with me on any other issue, but of this I am certain: there aren’t even a handful of people anywhere in this country who think the current system is fair, logical, or possibly even ethical. Let me put it this way: There are over 100 teams in the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), but by the end of week one, most of them have absolutely no shot at competing for a national title. That’s because, for a lot of schools, you have to go undefeated to even be considered. And for many schools, even a perfect record won’t be enough.

But it gets worse. As conferences realign to gain more prestige, the allure of the Bowl system itself has become meaningless. The Rose Bowl used to be the crème-de-la-crème of the football year, but now, it’s lost in the translation. Instead of watching teams vie for conference bragging rights, now we’re supposed to be intrigued as two four-loss teams duke it out in some corporately sponsored snooze fest.

So why can’t the NCAA fix the problem? The only explanation I can come up with is that they’re being held hostage by the major conferences. The big conferences pull in the big money, and the big money decides who gets anointed, while the smaller schools settle for the scraps. With millions of dollars on the line, the Big Ten, Pac-Ten, SEC, and others don’t want to risk losing their own private cash cow. After all, if a playoff system were adopted, their teams might not win their way into the big games. And they don’t want to miss out on all that television revenue.

What I can’t figure out is why the NCAA lets this farce go on. I understand the reason behind gridlock in Congress, I recognize how bureaucracy creeps in and stifles corporations, but I cannot comprehend how an organization founded “…to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner…” continues to be led around by the nose by its member schools. If it’s not about the money, then why do all the other football divisions utilize the playoff system?

We’re talking about an organization so powerful that it can single-handedly make schools change their names, their mascots and their business practices. They are the judge and jury on all the rules, but on this one issue they declare themselves completely impotent. The system isn’t working, the process is broken and yet, they do nothing to fix it.

This is just one more case where the people have spoken, and those in the position of authority completely disregard reality for their own personal agenda. But unlike the political arena, there’s no ability to vote out the problem and little prospect of real change. What we’re left with is only the hope that those chartered to foster the “highest levels of integrity and sportsmanship” will realize they have to find it within themselves before they’ll ever be able to cultivate it in others.

Read More on Perspective
Volume 6, Issue 24, Posted 9:02 AM, 12.01.2010