Friday, April 2, 2010

Do College Sports Need the Little Guy?

During the NCAA basketball tournament, the nation's attention is usually captured by the "upset" teams. Honestly, as a casual fan myself, I could probably tell you more about these first- and second- round upsets than I could about the last five years' championship games. That's probably due to the state of media coverage.

Paul Daughtery (whose most recent piece laments the introduction of sushi to the menu at Great American Ballpark) is a good old Cincinnati homebody; I do not mean that as any type of insult. He's not afraid to call 'em as he sees 'em - though, at times, he sees 'em a little superficially.

About four months ago, he wrote about Cincinnati's slim chance at a BCS title game berth. In it, he intimated that the BCS was elitist and unfair to deny a team that wasn't a traditional powerhouse a chanced to play for the title:

Maybe. But how many years? How many seasons of 10-win cred does it take a Cincinnati, or a program like it, to break the BCS glass ceiling? What if the Bearcats play, say, Alabama, in the Sugar Bowl, and roll the Tide the way Utah did? Then do they get a seat at the big boy table?

Last week, he penned an article called "Why too many upsets make a bad Final Four". It's not so much a poorly written article as it is an article that directly contradicts his previous article.

The NCAA tournament encourages the myth of equality. You, too, can be George Mason. We relish that; it's in our national DNA. Rags-to-riches. Butler-to-Indy. In America, anyone can grow up to be president.

Kind of.

But, not anyone does. Thank goodness. By the time March Madness reaches the middle of its second weekend, we'd prefer sanity. It beats Butler in a national semifinal.

So? Unlike Cincinnati's football team, Butler actually stuck it to some good teams on the court.

The Madness is great. Stop the Madness.

Oh what a paradox!

It's like prescribed medicine. Just because five upsets are good doesn't mean 10 are better. There is a limit to their effectiveness. It was reached when Northern Iowa KO'd Kansas in Round 2. It was exceeded when Butler beat Syracuse five days later.

And here's where he starts to go off the deep end. He spent most of the fall complaining that good football teams weren't given the same access as good football teams with traditional pedigrees. Now, he's setting up an argument to suggest that this year's NCAA tournament is a dud because good basketball teams without traditional pedigrees have beaten teams with them.

Give me a tournament where, after the first weekend, pedigrees take over and pumpkins take off. The meritocracy is assured -- yes, Ohio, you really did beat Georgetown! -- but the aristocracy is preserved.


Elliot said...


Dylan Murphy said...

I think everyone has already established there's a problem with the BCS. And I agree with your last paragraph. What's the point of having mid major teams at all if there not even given a shot at the title (however small it is)?

Biggus Rickus said...

You can go round and round on playoffs vs. the BCS. Is it really fair that Georgetown has to play a 9th place finisher from the MAC? On a given night anything can happen, and the team who put together a very good (great, maybe) season can lose to someone who shoots lights out or gets a few key calls or something. Basketball is worse than anything that might develop in college football. Logistically, anything beyond a 16-team college football playoff isn't really workable, so at worst you'll end up with a 3-loss team playing an undefeated team on aveerage. Still, I don't think it's fair to make teams who had great regular seasons have to play teams who were pretty good in a playoff. At the least it is no more fair than screwing over a few teams who actually deserve a shot.

I like the idea of a +1 in college football, but I have no faith in it remaining just that. Playoffs always expand to their maximum potential (hence the talk of 96 teams in basketball). Inevitably, any college football playoff will lead to a 16-team tournament, and I think that's simply too many teams. Fortunately, the power conferences will keep it from happening, so their greed suits me.

dan-bob said...

The 96-team tournament in basketball completely mystifies me. I mean, why?

Angelo said...

The first argument I heard for it was (65/340) is not equal to (68/120) or whatever the ratio of football teams that go bowling actually is. Really? You want to compare the number of teams that make the postseason to the bowl system??

In response to Biggus Rickus, your argument against playoffs confuses me. Regular season or postseason, anything can happen on any given day. You could be the best team in the country but lose in the regular season for whatever reason, and miss out on the BCS championship game as a result. You could also be the best team and lose in the playoffs. If you don't have a playoff, the regular season turns into a modified playoff (qualification for nc) where the advantage lies with the easiest schedule.

Playoffs are fair precisely because every team has an equal opportunity to win the tournament, whether you are seen as the favorite or not.

Biggus Rickus said...

The fact that the regular season serves as a de facto playoff is partially my point. If a team goes 12-0, I do not think it is fair that that team has to play a game in the first round against, say, an 8-4 Sun Belt Champion. Or a 9-3 third place finisher from a power conference.

The rewarding of soft schedules is highly debatable, too. The last four national champions, coming out of the SEC, played among the top 20 tougest schedules in the country heading into the bowl game. I think LSU's was generally ranked toughest in the country in their two-loss championship season. Florida's two championship schedules were in the top 10 if memory serves. Alabama's was the weakest of the bunch, clocking in only at 20 per Sagarin. Texas' was more questionable. Depending on which computer was crunching the numbers it was either slightly better or slightly worse than Cincy's, TCU's or Boise's. I never really delved into the two Ohio State Championship Game appearances, as they seemed pretty obviously deserving both years. Same with Oklahoma in '08.

As to your last statement, that is why I view expanded tournaments as inherently unfair. To use a couple of pro examples, I don't want an 83-win Cardinals team to even get a chance to get hot at the right moment and win a World Series, or an 11-5 Giants team to get a shot to make a miraculous play to beat an undefeated New England team. While these outcomes are definitely exciting, I cannot understand why anyone thinks they are in any way fair to teams who achieve excellence over the course of a full regular season.

Adam said...

Typical. It's nice being one of the big boys, until you are the one on the outside. Interestingly enough, Cincinnati has a much better basketball reputation than football. I've never seen anybody argue before that big program influence should be MORE of a determining factor in the NCAA tournament other than which teams get in on the bubble.

I guess next year we will have to consult the Paul Daughtery upset effectiveness-o-meter to make sure things don't get out of hand.