Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Bobby Knight Should Have Decked You When He Had the Chance

Let's all feel sorry for John Feinstein. He went to Duke and writes for a major newspaper in Peter King's beloved I-95 corridor, so he doesn't know or care about college football. That's fine with me. I prefer to remember Feinstein for Season on the Brink, which is one of my all-time favorite sports books. I have four of his books on the wall, although none more recent than March into Madness, after which Feinstein ceased being relevant or interesting. Combine a guy who understands college football about as well as I understand Uzbek folklore and a writer whose skills have eroded and you get this gem. The Senator linked it and Orson inspired me, so let's dust off the ol' fisking gloves and get busy:

BCS: Where Money Talks and Hypocrisy Walks

By John Feinstein
Monday, June 29, 2009 1:19 PM

The latest example of the hypocrisy of the Bowl Championship Series came last week, when the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee met to consider a proposal made by the Mountain West Conference for an eight-team playoff, the kind of championship tournament the NCAA stages for every other sport (including football, at every level except division I-A).

Let's keep in mind that the theme of this article is "name-calling." Count the number of times that Feinstein doesn't make an argument, but instead shouts like the worst sort of purple-faced sports radio caller. Let's also keep in mind that I-A football is unlike all other NCAA sports in two important respects: it doesn't have a massive playoff and it is worth more economically than all the other NCAA sports put together.

After summarily rejecting the proposal, the oversight committee sent forth Oregon President David Frohnmayer to dispense with the usual lies.

So we have hypocrites who tell lies...

First, Frohnmayer claimed the proposal had been given serious consideration. And surely the Yankees have given serious consideration to cutting their payroll in half in the interest of bringing parity to baseball.

Let's see, the idea of the Yankees agreeing not to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars that they generate from being the most popular baseball team in the Milky Way is ludicrous because we would not expect a major entity to act in a manner totally at odds with its own self-interest. So what is it that you are asking the 66 teams the compose the major BCS schools to do? Oh yeah, give away a massive economic advantage that they created so they can share their wealth with teams whose fan bases are comparatively tiny.

Then he went into the BCS presidents' spiel about there being nothing wrong with the BCS -- sort of like when your stockbroker tells you your portfolio is doing just fine even if it's down 70 percent -- and then becoming self-righteous about their position.

You know, a quote would be good here. I smell a whiff of overstatement. And if you're keeping track, we have self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies.

Guys such as Frohnmayer -- who is really no different than the rest of his BCS cronies -- really believe they can throw out any statement they want and they will go unchallenged because they have a bunch of degrees on their office walls. That's why, even though complaints about the BCS are getting nearly as weary as the entity itself, the topic must continually be revisited.

Please do. I need the material in the summer.

After a pompous, arrogant and obnoxious pummeling of the "pundits and broadcasters" who have had the nerve to criticize the BCS -- does President Obama fall under the category of pundit or broadcaster? -- Frohnmayer claimed there were two "fatal" flaws in the arguments for a playoff. In doing so, he referred to those proposing an "NFL-style" playoff system in a blatant attempt to link a playoff with professionalizing college football. Excuse me, but what would be wrong with the "style" of the division I-AA, II or III playoff systems? They all work just fine.

We are now up to self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings.

Uh, Frohmayer probably referred to an "NFL-style" playoff because that's what a college football playoff would look like if people like Feinstein had their way. John, you know that 12-team playoff that you're pining for with the top four seeds getting byes? Where else can we see such a playoff? I wonder?

The first of Frohnmayer's "fatal" flaws was the claim that the pundits and broadcasters (and presidents of the United States) were completely ignoring the academic calendar. Seriously? Let's walk through this one more time: A college football tournament, whether it was the proposed eight teams or 12 or even 16 would require far less missed class time than the NCAA basketball tournament does in March. Most, if not all, of the games could be played in January, virtually all of them between semesters. Teams would miss less class time during the tournament than they miss during the regular season. Final words to Frohnmayer and the other 66 BCS presidents on this issue: Shut up.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings need to shut up.

A I-A college football team has 85 players on scholarship. A Division I college basketball team has 13 players on scholarship. I wonder why college presidents would be more concerned about extending the college football season? Also, John, this may surprise you, but some schools start their semesters very early in January, so those teams would not be playing their games in between semesters.

To bring up academics as a reason for not having a tournament is patently dishonest on every level. Let's forget the fact that the significant percentage of football players at national championship contenders will never graduate. Let's pretend that it matters -- and, to be fair, it does matter to some players. Having a playoff will not for one second affect their chances of graduating if that is one of their goals.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies, administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings, and are also patently dishonest need to shut up.

Really, there is no possible academic implication for a marginal student playing football throughout the month of January after having already practices and played from August through December? For the record, I'm not a huge fan of the academic concerns professed by college presidents as a reason not to have a playoff, but Feinstein is acting as if these presidents are arguing that Dred Scott and Plessy had overlooked merit. Frohmayer is not making a particularly outlandish claim here.

The second of Frohnmayer's fatal flaws was the "complete lack of a business plan." Please. A business plan would take about 15 minutes to concoct, and it could be put together by my daughter's fifth-grade class. The TV networks would fall all over themselves to get the contract, or contracts. The potential burden of fans having to travel for three weeks -- if you went with 12 or 16 teams, it would make sense to play first-round games at home sites -- doesn't seem to be a problem for fans whose teams make the Final Four. If a real national championship game was played next year in the Rose Bowl, does anyone think there would be an unsold ticket?

Again, Feinstein fails to grasp that there are differences between college basketball and football. The early rounds of the NCAA Tournament are played in smaller venues, which means that huge traveling hordes don't need to follow their teams. For a three-round playoff, Feinstein wants to make 40,000 Ohio State fans travel to Orlando one week, then New Orleans the next, then Pasadena the week after that. Now Ohio State fans will do it because they're batshit crazy, but there are differences in the number of people who are having to traipse all over the country. Has Feinstein perhaps missed the gaping maws of empty seats NCAA Tournament regional semis and finals that are played in domes?

One more nugget from Frohnmayer: In an attempt to be funny, he commented that, as successful as the BCS has been, he hadn't heard from fans at Auburn and his own school about being left out of past national championship games.

OK, even I'm calling bullshit on this one, Frohmayer. You really think that Auburn fans aren't a little sore about 2004?

How about Utah, David?

Remember Utah, the team that went undefeated last season and thoroughly thrashed BCS power Alabama in the Sugar Bowl? How about Boise State going undefeated this past season and not even playing in a BCS bowl? How about Boise State's 2006 team, which won one of the great games in history against Oklahoma (they're in the BCS, right?) in the Fiesta Bowl, that also wasn't allowed to compete for a national championship?

Right, the Utah team whose own coach voted fifth going into a Sugar Bowl in which they played Alabama without their best player. The Boise State team that lost that lost the Poinsettia Bowl. Another Boise State team that won an overtime classic against a good, but hardly overwhelming Oklahoma team after playing an absurdly easy schedule during the regular season. All of these teams were eligible to play for the national title, but no one - not the computers, not the media, not the coaches, and not the Harris Poll voters - saw them as being serious contenders to be one of the top two teams in the country before the bowls. And bonus points to Feinstein for not using the best example of a non-BCS conference power that could have legitimately played for a national title: 2004 Utah.

Finally, there's the now well-worn claim that college football has the "most meaningful" regular season in sports. Again, this is complete hyperbolic trash. First, how can you call a regular season meaningful when the decisions on who will play where in the postseason are made by computers and frequently biased voters.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings need to shut up before they spew more hyperbolic trash.

What exactly does the voting method for the post-season have to do with whether the regular season is meaningful? And what's wrong with computers. Last I checked, you like college basketball and the Tournament selection committee tends to rely on the RPI pretty heavily.

The American Football Coaches Association's recent decision to keep secret coaches' ballots in the final poll screams deceit. All polls in all sports -- including Hall of Fame ballots -- should be made public.

I can't disagree here, but again, the NCAA Tournament is populated and seeded based on the workings of a committee that convenes in private and does not even publish the methodologies that it used to create brackets. I'll look forward to your column calling the NCAA Tournament fraudulent because of the lack of transparency in putting teams in various spots.

Are the BCS apologists trying to say that the college basketball regular season has no meaning? Every game played the last three weeks of the season is analyzed, re-analyzed and broken down to determine how it will affect seeding, the bubble and who is in and who is out.

Earth to John: the college basketball regular season goes on for over four months. If only the last three weeks are relevant, then you have made my point for me. You're supposed to be arguing against the BCS, remember?

You want meaning in a regular season? Give the first four teams in a 12-team playoff a bye. Give the next four a first-round home game. Let the last four scramble to avoid playing in the New Mexico Bowl.

And now you've hit on the problem with college basketball. Duke and North Carolina wage their epic battles every spring so the victor can play in Greensboro while the loser has to travel all the way to Philadelphia. Oh, the mighty stakes when the regular season is about seeding!

Of course, Frohnmayer and his partners don't care about or want to hear any of these arguments. That's because they don't believe any of what they're saying either. They just know they have a system they're comfortable with, one that ensures that Utah or Boise State won't ever compete for a national championship. They care about power, and they care about money.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings need to shut up before they spew more hyperbolic trash that they don't believe as they're saying it.

John, do you remember when you were in college? Do you recall following Duke basketball way back when? You may recall that the ACC was eight teams at that time. If you care to take a gander, it now has 12 members. When you were in college, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, and Virginia Tech were blips on the college football map. Through good coaching and management, those programs built themselves into powerhouses (well, at least three of them did and the fourth tagged along because it is in a big TV market) that were attractive to the ACC. What is stopping Utah from turning itself into a shiny apple that the Pac Ten will want to pluck?

They don't care about the truth. They certainly don't care about their student-athletes. And they certainly don't care about any opinions other than their own.

Uh, right. They're rational actors seeking to create good results for their own schools. What a f***ing disgrace! Hurry, comb through your thesaurus to find more names that you can hurl! That's surely the way to show that you have the best arguments!


swolf1981 said...

Are you a supporter of the BCS or just complaining about the Feinstein article?

If you support the BCS, then, please, present an argument that tells us that this is the greatest way to determine a National Champion. Oh, and having something to talk about during the summer isn't enough of a reason.

If you are complaining about the Feinstein article, saying he doesn't defend his assertions and is, in general, just yelling buzzwords and doling out blame like he's on sports talk radio, then write a better article. (Or if you have written a similar article, point it out to me, I'm a sporadic reader.)

Saying, "That guy is an idiot," is a lot easier than saying, "That guy makes an extremely poor argument and here is a better one." Don't just fisk, make a better argument. We are all dying to hear it.

Michael said...

I suppose you're going to make me write a manifesto on the best college post-season. Here are my basic tenets:

1. I like college football and European soccer the most for two reasons: (a) they inspire the most passion and therefore the best atmospheres; and (b) they both determine their champions through the regular season. If we move to a giant playoff, such as the monstrosity that has turned college basketball into a three-week season, then we lose the season-long tournament dynamic in college football.

2. I do like the idea of a plus-one because of Auburn '04. Six teams would be OK and eight would be my absolute outer limit. Anything bigger and you make the regular season about seeding instead of determining a champion.

3. I don't shed a tear for mid-majors like Utah and Boise State because they get to their shiny records by playing far inferior slates. The one mid-major that I've thought was a legitimate national title contender was '04 Utah because they ran up the sort of scores that one would expect USC or Florida to generate against a pond full of minnows.

4. I hate the voting system that the BCS has developed. The Harris Poll is a joke and they have ruined their computer rankings by eliminating margin of victory as an overreaction to the end of the 2001 season. Ironically, Feinstein claims that the BCS doesn't care what anyone else thinks, but their knee-jerk modifications of the voting procedures in response to public criticism has been one of the weaknesses of the system.

Overall, I'd say that Feinstein is badly mistaken because he is a college basketball fan who wants to turn college football into college hoops. In so doing, he would destroy what makes college football unique and better. We could probably reach some middle ground on a small playoff, but I would much prefer no playoff to a large playoff.

swolf1981 said...

"I suppose you're going to make me write a manifesto on the best college post-season."

This wouldn't be a bad idea, but maybe a bit long for a comment post...

Regarding your idea that College Bball is a 3 week season...I see your point. But the problem is that the top teams are compartmentalized into different conferences, and at the end of the season, there are rarely only two teams that stand alone. I submit that a sufficiently selective playoff does not weaken the regular season (So not 32 teams...) Imagine the Basketball tournament with only 16 teams. Now Duke vs. UNC part 2 matters more (and with the conf tourney, they probably meet 3 times) because the loser might not get in.

A plus-one is essentially a 4 team playoff. I'd like a few more. (16 is too many. 12 is probably too many.) In the end, I look at a season like last year or the previous year when you have 6-8 teams that can make an argument to be in the NC discussion. (Mediocre ACC or BEast champs need not apply). The idea is again, let's make it selective. Auburn 04, Utah 04, Michigan 06 (until they got beaten by USC in the Rose) (among other teams) all make good arguments for a bigger "playoff". The question is not, "How many teams to we need?" but, "How can we legitimately make a playoff happen?"

What is the BS argument that proponents of the BCS say is that "The regular season _is_ a playoff." No it's not. If it were, our NC game would have been Utah vs. Boise State last season because they didn't lose in the regular season. The only other route to go is to say that some teams (not in the B10, SEC, B12, BEast, ACC, and Pac10) will never win the NC--which is the current reality.

I'm a 28 year old male, firmly in the NCAA's target demographic. I'm beginning to tire of this whole debate, to the point that I (gasp) don't watch the national championship game, mostly because I don't think it is legit. (Unless the Wolverines--my favorite team--are in the game, in which case, GAME ON!!!!!)

Anonymous said...

A sportswriter (it was probably Tony Barnhart) said that the best way of determining college football's national champion is an 8 team playoff, with the 6 current BCS conferences getting automatic bids. He argued that this preserved the integrity of the regular season while still settling it "on the field".

After laying out this argument, the sportswriter said that even though he felt that this was the best method, he was not in favor of its adoption, because an 8 team playoff would lead to a 16 team playoff, then to a 32 team playoff, &c, and then the regular season ceases to be meaningful.

I agree with both aspects of this argument. I think that an 8 team playoff would be wildly entertaining and it would not cheapen the regular season. I just can't help but think that no one would be able to leave well enough alone.

I think that many defenders of the status quo are not so much BCS proponents as they are people who are terrified of what the University presidents would replace it with.

swolf1981 said...

Well, maybe you have a point with the growing playoff theory. I mean, look at what they did with the Bowls.

One of the arguments people make is that a playoff will "kill the bowl system." Now this is half-baked at best.

First off, how long has the bowl or the humanitarian bowl been around? For some of these bowls, you'd be killing some 10-year tradition (if that long). But really, what does it mean to be the winner of the GMAC bowl? Bueller? Anyone?...My point is that we aren't killing off some long tradition that is American as baseball and apple pie...unless you are talking about marketing and consumerism.

Ignoring my last paragraph, you can say: Let's limit the playoff to 8 teams, so that the other 80 (or whatever) teams who go bowling can still have a bowl game to play. We already take 10 for the current BCS setup before the other bowls send out invitations to the other candidates. Then make the current BCS bowls the semis and finals (with 3rd place game) of the playoff. And if anyone cries how the teams in the bowl games are playing in "meaningless" games; I say BS--see previous paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Best solution to me is a plus one - seed the top 4 teams in revolving BCS Bowl games then play one more with the two winners. The system hardly needs to change.

The only time its a travesty is an Auburn '04 scenario when you have more than two legitimate undefeated's that play BCS schedules. I can't remember there ever being more than 4 in one season in modern CF.

If someone loses and gets left out then you can always say "well, they shouldn't have lost". It will still sting if you are in 5th place, but that sting and the arguments that last for months are what makes college football great (regardless of what the windbag Feinstein writes - I will add he writes a mean PGA book though).

Ty Schalter said...

The problem is the myth of the college football regular season. It's supposed to be so "valuable", but in reality, colleges, conferences, and the NCAA have spent the past couple of decades DEvaluing the regular season, so that the marquee teams continue to pull big ratings in January.

Think about it: the "regular" season in college football contains a variable number of games, spread out over a variable number of weeks, is divided into conferences with varied numbers of teams that do and don't play each other to varying degrees, and then those conferences select winners based on varying methods, sometimes--but not always--including a postseason playoff game that adds another week and game to the schedule. And then, of course, there's the nonconference schedule, which teams make up completely on their own, and could be going on the road to play a preseason top 5 team, or paying an FCS school $500K to come to your house and get whooped.

What college football has is not a REGULAR season, but an IRREGULAR season. Nonconference games don't count for anything, unless you lose one. Conference standings mean nothing, because each team plays a different subset of their "conference". Conference championship games often don't pit the two best teams in the conference against each other, let alone crown a champ that coincedes with the best record.

The BCS is supposed to select the two best teams, based on this? "The Most Valuable Regular Season In The World"? If every major conference had 12 teams, and played a true round robin, and had two non-conferece games (against only BCS division schools), and conference champions were decided based on conference standings only, THEN you could say that the regular season really meant something--and the BCS, as is, would get the two best teams a hell of lot more often than not.

Ty @ The Lions in Winter

HudiBlitz said...

I’m vehemently anti-playoff but essentially agree that CFB has spent the past two decades devaluing the regular season.

Some thoughts:

- Two exceptions to this devaluing would be the implementation of scholarship limits and more widespread TV coverage. USC notwithstanding, these changes have made it more difficult for one or two teams to dominate a given conference consistently (see Michigan and Ohio State in the 1970s).

- With 120 teams and only twelve games, you can never implement truly fair schedules (as, for example, baseball’s National League had prior to 1993). And if “[n]onconference games don't count for anything, unless you lose one,” then they count for something. I think we’re largely in agreement, though, that cupcake wins are little fun for anyone.

- I think the NCAA should not allow wins over 1-AA teams to count toward bowl eligibility. I also think the NCAA should disallow a team to play more than half its games at home (yes, I know the inner-circle programs would have a sh_t fit about this).

- A playoff determines a playoff winner, not necessarily the best team (see, for example, the 1989 and 1997 NCAA basketball tournaments). The American public has been sold a bill of goods that tournaments are the end-all-be-all and that contrived, unambiguous outcomes are better than uncontrived if ambiguous outcomes. This mentality is what has brought us such blights as soccer shoot-outs, sudden death overtime, and college football overtime.

- Despite changes for the worse such as watered-down nonconference schedules, two-division conferences, etc., CFB has by far the most meaningful season in U.S. sports. Must we ruin it in the name of conformity? I find the NFL and NBA utterly unwatchable. And while I enjoy baseball within the context of the game itself, I recognize its current postseason format for what it is: a crapshoot.

- A playoff system will favor a dozen or so inner-circle programs that are in the mix every year. It would be a horrible development for the other 100 or so teams. I’m for a system that favors the hard-core fans of a Purdue or an Oregon State over the casual fans who followed Miami in the ‘80s, Florida State or Nebraska in the ‘90s, and USC today.

- Being anti-playoff is not being pro-BCS. The New Year's Day bowls were a lot more fun before the Bowl Alliance (the BCS's predecessor, if you don't remember it). I honestly think most fans are too young to remember what the system was like before the current, and rather recent, obsession with the national championship.