It’s not fair that Boise State can go all season without losing a game and not play for national title. Nobody proved they weren’t the best team in the country. Until somebody does, there’s no reason to think they’re not.
It’s not fair that Alabama can win all but one game against, say, a highly-ranked LSU team (hypothetically) and be passed over for a spot in the national title game in favor of a team like Boise State. Boise State’s path to the undefeated record was much easier than that of Alabama. Why should they get to play for the title after taking an easier road?
Who gets the green light? Which hypothetical situation garners more sympathy?
Boise State’s Schedule and an Angry Emailer
Boise State had expressed a desire to play anybody who would agree to play them, but they took some heat when a series with Nebraska failed to materialize.
Reports indicated that Nebraska had offered a two-for-one series, home-and-home series, as well as a one-gamer in Lincoln. Boise requested a payout of $1,000,000 according to a report in September 2010 that cited Nebraska Assistant AD Jeff Jamrong, and the series never got off the ground.
When reached by email on September 22, Boise State Assistant Athletic Director Max Corbet said he was “not aware of what discussions took place, if any, and the person who handles scheduling at Boise State no longer works here.” An email to Nebraska was not returned.
A few days earlier, one Broncos fan sent me an email chastising me for an article I wrote regarding this year’s familiar struggle in choosing between an undefeated non-AQ team and a one-loss AQ team. In the article I note that Boise State’s schedule as weaker than Alabama’s. The emailer argued that (for reasons I didn’t understand) I must buy into the notion that Boise State intentionally avoids playing a tougher schedule and has no desire to join an AQ conference—even though I’ve never written or said such things. Ignoring that the article to which he was referring made no mention of a supposed refusal to play a tougher schedule, he eventually got to some interesting points.
Somewhere in his rant the emailer pointed out payouts made from larger programs to smaller ones who travel to play them. He notes that Ohio State paid Colorado $1.4 million this year, and Alabama paid San Jose State $1.2 million last year. He’s right on the former, but got some numbers, teams and dates mixed up on the latter. Alabama paid San Jose State $900,000 or $1 million depending on conflicting reports, and paid Kent State $1.2 million this year. Not that it really make a difference.
(It is worth noting that Alabama pays much less, too. They paid North Texas $600,000 for the September 17 game this year, and will pay Georgia Southern $400,000 for the November 19 matchup.)1
So why not pay the Broncos more money? They’re from a non-AQ conference, aren’t they? He, like others, argues that some teams may not be willing to pay the Broncos similar money because the Broncos may actually beat them, and that’s the last thing they want when they schedule non-conference opponents. But can you blame them?
Alabama received $200,000 for the trip to Penn State this year and $200,000 for the trip to Duke last year; not quite the $1,000,000 that Boise is reported to have requested from Nebraska for the one-time trip to Lincoln. Duke received $200,000 to travel to Alabama in 2006 as part of the contract.1
If the Broncos want to be thought of as one of the ‘big boys’, shouldn’t they expect and accept lower paydays to play the best teams in the country? On the surface it sounds pretty cut and dry, right?
Inequity in BCS Payouts
An article last year by Chadd Crippe of the Idaho Statesman indicates that the Broncos received $1.25 million from the Washington Redskins to play Virginia Tech in the 2010 opener at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland (Virginia Tech received $2.3 million), and will receive $900,000 for its game against Ole Miss in 2012. The Rebels and Broncos will meet again in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in 2014 with the Rebels receiving $2 million and the Broncos receiving $1.1 million. Ole Miss gets more for giving up a home game on its schedule. “Those payments are part of the business of college football. BCS-conference teams buy opponents for home games.”
Cripe also points out, “Boise State — and all WAC teams — count on that money to help offset the huge funding gap that exists between BCS-conference schools and non-BCS schools. The Broncos, in particular, are chasing big-money games to pay the rising costs of funding a Top 25 program while playing in a 33,500-seat stadium.”
The five non-AQ conferences split $24.72 million in 2010 compared to the $21.2 million received by the ACC, Big East and Big 12 each, and the $27.2 million received by the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-10 each (the latter three sent two teams apiece to BCS bowl games). The BCS is quick to note that the five non-AQ conferences agreed to split BCS revenue, which is why the Mountain West did not receive the whole of the $24.72 million for TCU’s Rose Bowl appearance. However, non-AQ conferences received roughly the same amount in 2009, split between them, when both Boise State and TCU played in the Fiesta Bowl.
Teams work towards fielding an elite team and Boise State has done that over the last ten years. They’re the winningest program of the last decade, but they’re stuck in a non-AQ conference. When they succeed they aren’t compensated like a team from one of the BCS conferences in terms of on-field or financial rewards.
College football makes a mockery of itself when it refused to reward on-field success. The BCS convinces us that Auburn and Oregon were better teams than TCU last year because they said so, and therefore the two played in the championship game. They weren’t better because they beat TCU on the field. Nobody did that. Auburn and Oregon were better simply because they said so.
It Will Keep Happening
As long as the BCS is determining who plays for the national championship, we’re going to continue to have this discussion. As I wrote in the September article that set off one particular Boise State fan:
We could have had this same conversation at exactly this time last year after Alabama beat Penn State the previous Saturday and Boise State was more than a week removed from the win against Virginia Tech and coming off a bye in the second week. Both teams were in the top five and facing a similar remaining schedule as they face now (Boise State’s may be a little tougher with the move the Mountain West).
History will keep repeating itself, and we’ll keep having the same conversation, which at this point is rather tired and cumbersome.
I’d hate to speculate how many people have used the quote that insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ I’ve seen it attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and others, and plenty have quoted it over the years. It seems apt here.
Fix Scheduling of College Football Games
Mike Cardano, Executive Director of RotoExperts and The XLog, wrote in November of last year that perhaps the NCAA should schedule non-conference games.
It’s not that I’m not for a playoff system, I am, but the reality is that it will never happen. It’s like debating the merits of a Major League Baseball salary cap. It’s a popular debate, but the reality is that the MLBPA would never let it happen. Given that the NCAA isn’t going to institute a playoff system, the NCAA should do the next best thing and schedule the non-conference games for teams based on the previous year’s finish.
Boise State could be given three or four very tough non-conference games and then go about their weaker conference schedule, while Alabama could play a weaker non-conference schedule and then go about its tough conference schedule. Would there be as much griping then if an undefeated Broncos team goes to the title game ahead of a one-loss Alabama team? The issue has always been that Boise State doesn’t play anybody. If they play several somebodies, shouldn’t that fix the problem?
The obvious problem here is that teams from stronger conferences could possibly lose revenue if they’re not allowed to schedule marquee non-conference games. With the strength of schedule the way that it is in the SEC, to match their strength of schedule with teams like Boise State they’d have to play weaker non-conference opponents, while the Broncos would play more marquee non-conference games to catch up to the SEC’s strength of schedule. Would the game be better off if Alabama played four San Jose States?
You might get around this by allowing teams to schedule one non-conference game a year. A lot of top programs only play one worthwhile non-conference game anyway. Alabama played Kent State, Penn State, North Texas and will play Georgia Southern later this season. With the Broncos playing three or four marquee non-conference opponents, their strength of schedule would be up closer to that of the Tide. It probably won’t quite get there, but it’ll be closer.
In his article last November, Mike added, “What’s the downside risk here? A school wouldn’t know who it’s playing in its third game three years from now? Big deal, it’s not like the games would be scheduled just a few weeks ahead of time. Scheduling games a year in advance is more than enough time for the logistics of stadium availability, travel for teams and fans, TV etc. all to be worked out.”
The NFL does it. College football can figure out the logistics, too.
A Playoff is Easier
I don’t exactly agree with Mike that a playoff is something that we’ll never see in college football, but I do believe that it isn’t something we should expect in the next five years. More and more people are seeing the inherent problems with the BCS, and as more and more people take notice and voice their displeasure, the BCS will eventually be torn down. At least that’s what I think. But change moves slow.
I’ve written of the benefits of a playoff system before and so has just about everybody else, so I won’t drag this out. The Yahoo! writers who wrote Death to the BCS (Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan) suggest that a 16-team playoff with five at-large spots chosen by a selection committee would encourage teams to try their best to impress the committee with a tougher schedule. Two losses to Alabama and Oregon don’t look as bad as two losses to San Jose State and Central Florida, and could help a team get selected to an at-large spot. The Yahoo! writers suggest that the regular season could actually see more marquee games if a playoff is introduced.
They also point out that if playoff games are held on college stadiums, it would result in more revenue to the teams instead of going to supposedly charitable bowl games. In 2009 the CEOs of the four BCS bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta) took home a combined $1,873,455.00 in total assets, according to data included in a report from Playoff PAC. Meanwhile, as I pointed out in a previous article, if all 10,200 student-athletes (120 FBS teams, assuming 85 scholarship players per team) received only $140, which Jacory Harris was suspended one game for having allegedly received in impermissible benefits, it would come out to $1,428,000.00.
With revenue generated from college playoff games going to the conferences to which participating teams belong, teams and their conferences would be rewarded more fairly for their success on the field. Who knows, some of that money could even go to ensuring player scholarships cover the cost of living.
Ok, I dragged it out.
Teams like last year’s Auburn Tigers or the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide should have an opportunity to prove that nobody’s better, and team’s like last year’s TCU Horned Frogs or the 2009 Boise State Broncos should have the opportunity to do the same. When there is more than one undefeated team, we’re left with doubt. That’s not fair to anybody.
 Kausler, D. (2011, September 1). It pays to play the Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Retrieved from AL.com
 BCS. (2011). Revenue distribution data released. Retrieved from BCSfootball.org
 BCS. (2011). 2009-10 revenue distribution data. Retrieved from BCSfootball.org
 John Junker, Fiesta Bowl/Insight Bowl CEO: $592,418 in fiscal 2009; Paul Hoolahan, Sugar Bowl CEO: $645,386 in fiscal 2009; Mitch Dorger, Rose Bowl CEO: $277,929; Eric Poms, Orange Bowl CEO: $357,722.
 Playoff PAC. (2010). Public Dollars Serving Private Interests: Tax Irregularities of Bowl Championship Series Organizations. Retrieved from Playoff PAC