Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Time to Secede! South Carolina, Lead the Way! This Is Your Specialty!

In an off-season that has been marked by intense focus on the differences between the BCS conferences and the rest of the Bowl Subdivision, Andy Staples' piece on the growing financial gap fits right in. Staples does a good job of summarizing the findings of Dan Fulks, a Transylvania University accounting professor:

Fulks, who just completed a study of 2008 financial data to update his 2006 study, said 25 of the 120 FBS athletic departments generated more money than they spent. That's up from 19 in 2006, and the median surplus for the departments turning a profit jumped more than $1 million to $3.9 million. Now for the bad news. The other 95 departments ran a median deficit of $9.87 million. For public schools, taxpayer dollars usually cover that deficit. Fulks expects the gulf between the profitable and unprofitable departments to grow more next year because of the recession.

It's a useful divergence from the David vs. Goliath narrative to point out that the major conference powers direct millions of dollars back to their universities, while the non-BCS conference members suckle at the public teat to pay for their pads. Senator Hatch, you're supposed to be opposed to the latter behavior, are you not?

In a way, the BCS conferences find themselves in the position of the top league of English football in the early 90s. The solution for the top clubs was to essentially secede from the English FA to form the Premier League. As a result, the top league would now negotiate its own TV contracts and distribute revenue to its members, rather than having the FA do so for the top league as well as the number of leagues below. If the political pressure continues from low-revenue programs gets too great, then the high-revenue programs will react the same way that Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool did: we're going to form our own league so we can control the bushels of cash that we generate.

The irony of such a move is that it would make a playoff more likely, only it wouldn't be the playoff that Senator Hatch wants (unless Utah and BYU end up going with the high revenue group, in which case Hatch's new-found affection for the little guy will almost certainly evaporate). The primary obstacle to a playoff right now is control of revenue. Under the current system, the six major conferences and Notre Dame get to divvy up the pie as they see fit. (This is the major difference between college football right now and the English top division before the advent of the EPL.) They are opposed to a large playoff (certainly a large playoff) because of the possibility that they will lose control of the purse strings to the NCAA. If the 66 major programs form their own league, then they can make a playoff and distribute the money as they see fit.

[It probably bears mentioning that the BCS Conference schools are affiliated with the NCAA for reasons other than football. A full break from the organization seems radical and unlikely. Rather, what I'm imagining is that these schools assert control over their football division and shrink it.]

Hell, while we're imagining a better future, let's add in better out-of-conference match-ups as a second benefit to a smaller top division. Assuming that there are limits on playing teams from the lower divisions, the quality of non-conference games would shoot up if the BCS conference teams have to play each other more than once or twice a season. You think that the networks wouldn't be enthusiastic about this idea? In addition to a more lucrative playoff structure, major college football would have bigger TV contracts. Then again, with the BCS Conference teams playing each other in non-conference games, they will end up playing fewer home games, so there is a revenue downside to a smaller Bowl Subdivision.

In conclusion, Senator Hatch, please keep pushing. Free market conservatives are big on the law of unintended consequences; you have a great chance to illustrate the maxim.


Jesse said...

This is exactly the same point (although in a different direction) that I have been trying to make for the last five years regarding the BCS and the number of teams in DIV-IA, which was essentially that there are just too many teams for there to ever be a solid solution that everyone will agree to. I have contended that a number of teams currently in DIV-IA should simply be relagated to DIV-IAA and that the conferences should be re-aligned. The relegation also would not be limited to non-BCS conferences either. I would contend that teams such as Duke, Miss St, Syracuse, Iowa St, Washington, etc don't belong with the top group. Teams like these provide nothing, yet get to receive all of the benefits just by association. How is that better than letting the Boise St's and Utah's play with the big boys?

Creating an entirely new league, or DIV, would essentially be the same thing except it would be more controlled and outside of the existing framework currently in place. If schools can move up to DIV-IA, then they should be just as easily relegated to DIV-IAA, or in some cases DIV-II. Seriously, how many years had Army, Temple, Duke, or SMU gone without winning a single game?

I don't think relegation would ever happen, but the idea of the strongest teams breaking away and creating their own division seems like it has more of a chance, mainly because the NCAA lost all leverage when they allowed the BCS to form in the first place. They are no longer running the show, so I don't see how they could stop it now.

Anonymous said...

Huh? If there's enough political pressure on the (mostly) public schools in BCS conferences to force them to form a fair playoff (16 teams, 11 conference winners + 5 at large), then there's enough political pressure to punish the public schools who try to break away. People remember what happened in Texas when the SWC dissolved, and they won't let that happen again. There are dozens of other levers of power extraneous to athletics that would be used to inflict intense pain on the public universities who tried to do this.

That's the positive; as for the normative, why would anybody want that? David v. Goliath matchups are a major part of the fun of college football, and having those matchups in the playoffs would be incredibly fun. Anybody who thinks that the EPL (or frankly any Euro soccer league) is a model for good competition is ridiculous. The EPL has had the same top 4 for something like 10 years, and they'll be the same top 4 for the next 10.

Michael said...

Jesse, I think that the breakaway would be done on a conference level rather than a school level, so the major conferences are not going to ditch programs that have been members for decades. Also, your list includes the 1991 national champions, a team that won three straight conference titles in the 90s, another team that won the SEC West division a decade ago, and the 1989 ACC champs.

Anon, I disagree with you on a couple levels. First, your "fair" playoff would be an abomination because it would damage the college football regular season. Second, ask UT if they are happy that the SWC dissolved. They've done pretty well in the Big XII era. I don't know too many people who miss the SWC other than for nostalgia reasons. Third, the political pressure right now comes from a generalized resentment among fans (especially casual fans) that there is no playoff. If you suddenly have a playoff and all of the schools with significant fan bases are included, then the political impetus goes away. Do you really think that a groundswell of support from programs that can't draw 25,000 for their home games is going to move the meter? (I'm assuming that BYU and Utah would be part of the breakaway, which negates the senior senator from Utah.) Fourth, you could still have Davids in a BCS-only football subdivision: they're called Wake Forest, Baylor, and Northwestern.

Fifth, (and this is a wholly separate paragraph), the Euro soccer leagues are a good model on a number of levels. They are commercially successful. (Notice the huge crowds that the Euro teams are getting on their US tours?) They attract major investment from all over the world. (For instance, the Dubai money that has been poured into Manchester City has created a fifth superpower in England. It's quite possible that there is no longer a Big Four.) Moreover, even if the top teams in the various domestic leagues are the same every year, those top teams play one another in the Champions League, so there is still a significant amount of competition.

Anonymous said...

Damage the regular season? Come on, that argument can be made for any multi-round playoff regardless of its scope. That's crazy; ask Texas or Utah about the meaningfulness of the regular season.

In a 16 game playoff, the 11 auto-bids enhance the value of the conference season for everybody, especially the non-BCS conference teams. The 5 at-large bids preserve value in non-conference games.

And I disagree strongly about the nature of the political pressure; a significant amount comes from the unfair manner in which Utah was treated last year, not being given an opportunity for a national championship despite being the only undefeated team and beating the crap out of an SEC team in a road game (the Sugar Bowl is not a neutral site for most SEC teams). There's also a vague sense of "more of the same:" more rich entities gaming the system and trying to break away from everyone. Texas did better going to the Big 8, but its been an absolute disaster for SMU, Houston and Rice, and TCU has had a lot of trouble post split (financially, not on the field). You think the non-BCS conference schools are going to just watch as the SEC (who seems to be behind everything obnoxious in college football) destroys their football programs? You think that non-BCS conference schools lack leverage in basketball, state houses across the country, or possibly in the US House?

Aside from that, I think that the Indianas and Rutgers of the world would see the writing on the wall and block this; what do they think is going to help them more, a more egalitarian system or a southern-style, "screw you losers, I got mine" system that allows them to hang on for dear life at first, but which would eventually leave them on the floor?

We just disagree about Euro soccer leagues; I think most Americans agree with my distaste of their crystallized, turgid system, but that's just a preference.

Jesse said...

Yes, I assume the breakaway would be at the conference level, but I would just like to think that they would at least try to realign them before doing so. And I understand what those teams have done almost 20 years ago, and it still doesn't change the fact that they aren't competitive recently, or at least with few exceptions (namely MSU over UF and Bama). That's the beauty of relegation. It allows these teams to move down to lesser competition, start winning, and if they are good enough, they get to move back up.

Plus, looking at the long history of college football, teams have been switching conferences and going in and out of independent status constantly, so nothing is sacred here. GT was independent for many years, has been a part of teh SEC, and now is in the ACC. SC used to be part of the ACC. Penn St was independent for many years. Even more recently you have teams such as Miami, VPI, BC, Louisville. There is no such thing as conference loyalty, only loyalty to what makes the most business sense for each individual school.

I think that if this were to happen, there is no way that you bring the entire WAC and MWC over just to get three of four teams total from those two conferences. Instead, it would be simpler to drop some teams from the PAC10 and add Boise St, Utah, BYU, TCU, and maybe Fresno St and Hawai'i.

chg said...

South Carolina is ready! I can't believe it's fallen apart so quickly that even you have seen the light, but we're ready to... oh. You mean football. (Sighhh) That's ok too, I guess.

Multi-round playoffs do damage the regular season, especially one off systems like the NFL's, or in sports like baseball where the margin of error is so small. That's one reason I follow those sports only casually, if at all.

I'm a bit confused about the term "Southern style system." Lord knows, we are responsible for many of the great things in this world, but I don't think it's fair to Adam Smith to credit us with the invention of capitalism.

There would not be widespread pressure against a mass defection. Almost everyone for whom CFB is a top priority would be part of the breakaway group.

There may be one or two San Jose State football fans out there who view every other sport from the NFL on down as secondary to the Spartan's 12 game season, but there can't be many more than that.

Many of the "playoff" proponents (including our current President) aren't emotionally invested enough to care. They will see the teams they've heard of playing each other more often with a playoff at the end, and that's good enough to keep their attention between Red Sox games and NFL Sundays.

I (and every other SEC fan I know) could not care less about enhancing the value of the WAC or MWC regular season. If you told me something was good for South Carolina (and secondarily, the SEC), but would lead to WAC teams losing 10,000 per game in attendance, I would jump at it and wouldn't bat an eye. Conversely, I'm opposed to anything that is bad for South Carolina, regardless of it's impact on the other conferences.

It's not my AD's job to look out for the WAC. It's their job to build competitive programs that can take care of themselves. They can't because they are lightyears behind even South Carolina in:

tickets sold
fervency of fan support
recruiting talent base

Basically, anything you need to build a top program.

People around here get angry when Ohio State gets an "undeserved" top bowl bid. How do you think they will react to an 8-4 team out of the MAC getting a coveted playoff berth?

If the non-BCS schools try to take action via the scheduling of other sports, they will be signing their death warrant for more than football. Gonzaga has a great basketball program, but I imagine their revenue and recruiting will fall off the map if they are winning titles every year in an NCAA tournament denuded of every BCS school. The same goes for every other sport. No matter the niche a school has carved for any particular program in any sport, the recruits and TV contracts will flock to the new BCS basketball/baseball/women's golf programs.

Congress is highly unlikely to get involved, mainly due to the outsized power of interest groups. There are literally millions of potential lost votes for any politician perceived as "screwing" Big State U in many states, while the casual fan that thinks 'this seems vaguely unfair' will vote on things like the economy or creeping socialism. Any politician smart enough to get elected to the big leagues will recognize it's a losing proposition in the long run. They might grandstand like Hatch to appease a few disgruntled superboosters, but that's about it.

I don't think a split is inevitable, but it is a very likely outcome if the pretenders keep trying to take the TV contract money from the schools that have actually earned it.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear God, a South Carolina fan. Your school adds no value - -none-zero-nothing-zip -- to college football; Boise State and Toledo are more prestigious programs. You have a nothing program at a crap-school. As a Big Ten fan I will be *thrilled* by any system that takes resources from South Carolina and redistributes them to Mac schools.

People who argue that a 16-team playoff would hurt the regular season don't care much about college football; when was the last time South Carolina went undefeated in the regular season, where "every game counted?" God, South Carolina? You haven't had a meaningful season in *years.* I mean, what, South Carolina's season becomes "meaningless" roughly 4 games into the season now, right? Man, and you oppose a playoff. I apologise in advance that the 16-team playoff that will be created will ruin the magic of those special Gamecock seasons where you guys went for broke (!) and made it to the Outback Bowl.

(As an aside, how does it feel to root for a team that will never win a national championship? You can't use the excuse that Utah/Bowling Green have; you're in a BCS conference. Wait, you don't even win conference championships. That must suck.)

Here's why you're wrong about political pressure; there's a large subset of BCS conference fans (I'm a Michigan fan) who would oppose another southern secession, and would fight against it. There are *no* MAC/MWC fans who want their school's football teams to be deep sixed. There are plenty of large, non-BCS conference schools who would (accurately) be able to argue that they would be getting screwed by greedy southerners by a separation; more red-state transfers!

Seriously, how can any college football fan argue that a 16-team playoff "ruins" the current regular season? Every game that was meaningful last year (Texas-OK-TTU games, OSU-USC, Florida-Alabama, Florida-Mississippi) would have been just as meaningful. And the post-season would be about 45* more interesting, and the pace would be better; no more 45 day layoffs between games, no more "rubber chicken circuit" sleepyness, just thrilling playoff games between goon college football teams, with a handful of cindarellas mixed in to capture the public's imagination. Contrast that to last year's postseason, which was anticlimactic and turgid.

chg said...

Fun fact: South Carolina has more wins versus Ohio State than Michigan this decade.

No wonder you chose to remain Anon. You don't want the App State people to start talking trash again. (blah blah blah history blah blah blah Fielding Yost blah blah coming back) The only thing Toledo has in common with South Carolina is we both walked off the field winners the last time we played in Ann Arbor.

You concede in an earlier post that playoffs devalue the regular season. Only a fool would argue a game that eliminates the loser from the national title discussion is no more significant than a match-up that merely determines postseason seeding.

Playoffs also devalue the postseason for all but two teams. I imagine there are a few Michigan seasons that ended on a happy note for you despite the absence of a national title. With a playoff, those seasons all end in either disappointment at missing the 16 team derby, or disappointment at losing in the playoffs.

You are arguing for a system that gives a couple of 1-AA conferences masquerading as D-I (MAC and Sun Belt) shots at the title every year. That is insane. I don't want the system to produce One Shining Moment. I want the system to give the most deserving team the best shot at lifting the trophy at the end.

Finally, this would never happen without the Big Ten. They have too much political clout to let it work without them, so if the break ever takes place, send all your piss and vinegar to your local Congressman, 'cause I can promise you no one down here gives a damn.

Michael said...

Leaving aside the attacks on South Carolina (a school that we Michigan fans ought to appreciate because of the loyalty of their fans), I totally disagree on the 16-team playoff. Take Texas-Texas Tech last year. It was a phenomenal game and it meant so much because the winner would be in contention for the national title and the loser would be almost out of it. If you have a 16-team playoff, then that game is just for seeding.

There are a lot of things that I love about college football. One of the major ones is that it's the only American sport with a truly meaningful regular season. In college football, you don't get an 83-78 team becoming "World Champions" because they got hot in October. You don't get a 13-6 team beating an 18-0 team and then claiming to be the champion. If you had a 16-team playoff, then you would be much closer to that possibility. I like the idea of a Plus One and in a weak moment, I can be persuaded by an eight-team playoff, but anything bigger is a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

Texas-TTU would have been extremely meaningful in a world with a 16-game playoff, *if* the playoff included 11 auto-bids for conference winners and five at-large teams. Only one of those two teams could win the Big Twelve, and that game would have given TTU a shot while forcing Texas to win out and pray that they could be one of the five non-conference winning at-large teams. And its not like the games were any more meaningful last season; Texas' win over Oklahoma didn't seem to eliminate Oklahoma from national championship competition. Face it; we have a system that picked one of the teams for the MNC game based upon the fact that their loss was earlier in the season than Texas' loss. That's ridiculous, and it completely delegitimizes the hoary canard that "all the games count!"

As for South Carolina, they are the family who bought a $750,000 house in a distant exurb in 2007, with an ARM. They spend foolishly and drive up the price of everything, while getting very little value in return. They have no history, distant or recent. I don't respect foolish teams or programs.

chg said...

At least we bought in the right neighborhood. Michigan built a mansion amongst urban decay (literally and figuratively), and the house is starting to look a little shabby.

Clean up your mess and stop showing such arrogant disregard for a program that is currently better than your own.

Michael said...

Anon, using your formula, all three of the top Big XII South teams would have made the playoff, as one would have won the league and the other two would have been among the top five teams that didn't win their conferences. Your five at-large teams would have been Texas, Texas Tech, Alabama, Ohio State, and TCU. The SEC Title Game would have been mooted. More importantly, a team like TCU, which didn't win a minor conference, or Ohio State, a team that lost to both of the upper echelon teams it played, would have a chance to be national champion after the regular season showed both teams to have no claim for number one.

Anonymous said...

That could be true, depending on the forumla used to determine the top-five at large teams. However, none of those teams would know it at the time; you can't the true effect of a win or loss until the end of the season, so the games would have been just as important. Heck, some people would argue that without a national championship playoff, no games are truly important.

As for TCU, they certainly didn't "prove they weren't #1" during the regular season. They lost by 25 at Oklahoma, and they lost by 3 at Utah, a team that absolutely smashed the "vaunted" Alabama Crimson Tide in Alabama's back yard. As an at-large they would start on the road, and they'd probably have to beat Florida in Gainsville, then the winner of the 8-9 game on the road (let's say @ Penn State), then win one more road game against a top team (let's say @ Texas), finally beat another team that survived that type of gauntlet on a neutral field, in the championship game. Any team that could do that "has a claim" to be the best team in the country; you can't dispute that. Aside from that though, just typing those matchups makes me pumped up about the 16-team playoff that's eventually going to be implemented. Don't those games sound exciting?

Anonymous said...

CHG, you never answered; how does it feel to root for a school that will never win a national championship (at least without a playoff system)? Will Spurrier leave before he has one 10-win season at South Carolina? What a waste of coaching talent.

Also, why do I get the feeling that SEC fans oppose 16-team, auto-bid playoffs in part because some of their teams would have to play good Big Ten-Big XII teams in the cold?

chg said...

Your question is based on a false proposition, and therefore moot.

No at large team would ever be seeded lower than 14th. The MAC and Sunbelt have 15 and 16 on lockdown.

That fact alone would encourage powerhouse 1-AA's like Richmond and most of the Southern Conference to leap to D-1, where they would soon get an automatic bid. The Big Sky would probably look into doing the same, as would other 1-AA's with an eye on the playoff money.

When a team like Ohio State has to sit home and watch Youngstown State get pounded by 50* in Death Valley, there will be a hue and cry, as there should be.

The result will be either an even more bloated playoff, or a mass defection by the teams bringing in the money the freeloaders are trying to scam.

You have a different goal than Michael, me, and millions of other cfb fans. Your goal is it have another March Madness and something to talk about around the watercooler for a few weeks with casual fans. My goal is a system that rewards the team with the best season with the best opportunity to win the national title.

* I know this is what happens when they play Big Ten schools, but trust me, it would happen.

Anonymous said...

Ha, South Carolina has won one conference championship, an ACC championship in 1969, in its entire history. You've never been to a major (Big 4) bowl, you've never finished in the top-ten of the Final AP poll, and the last time you finished in the top-25 you had at least five major NCAA infractions. Last year one of the better South Carolina teams get its hat handed to it by a meh Big Ten team (31-10). You've overpaid for two of the best coaches in NCAA history and the best you could do was get to the Outback Bowl. Based on national perception, you are the second program in your state by a pretty significant amount (you're 2-10 against them in your last 12, despite Clemson being pretty mediocre during that run). Do you think things are going to be better after Spurrier leaves? If he can't coax a 10-win season out of the program, I doubt his replacement will.

You are the SEC's version of Michigan State; you will never win a national championship.

Your playoff assertion is based on a faulty premise. My goal is to prevent southerners from gaming the system more than they already have by destroying tons of football programs and consolidating control over college football. I will welcome the future 16 team, 11 auto bid system for many reasons, including the fact that it will give many additional schools a fair shot at a national championship (maybe even South Carolina!), because it wouldn't hurt the regular season, and because it would dramatically improve the post-season. Do you enjoy the 30-40+ day layoff college football has? Do you think that improves the pace and excitement of the postseason?

As for "the best season," without a pure national round robin there's no such thing as "the best season" in the current format, and with football's short season I doubt there could ever be. Florida's 2008 season was virtually indistinguishable from Texas', USC's, or Utah's, and LSU/OSU in 2007 could be replaced by Georgia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, maybe even Kansas.

As for your cracks about cbb, do you dislike March Madness? I know South Carolina's almost never in the dance, but still; really? I still enjoyed March madness in the long-winter between 1998-2009. The first four days (treated as one event) is the best sporting event of the year, hands down.

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