A Fan's Rebuttal: Official BCS Editorial in the Washington Times

Brian NelsonCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2009

Despite overwhelming unpopularity, the BCS is fighting back.

A sign of weakness and desperation or a token of confidence in asserting its position?

For the past the BCS brass have been fairly quiet and elusive. Confident in their position and comfortable with the system they’ve put in place.

However, this year has been different. Very different. The mysterious silence has been broken. Over the past few months the BCS has been increasingly vocal and proactive in defending their position and telling “their side of the story."

They even hired a high-profile PR firm directed by former press secretary Ari Fleischer. Mr. Fleischer has introduced them to twitter, the glories of Web site propaganda (proplayoff.com ) and the possible impact of raiding fan message boards and column comment boxes with their spin.

But these efforts have proven futile and in most cases, desperate. What Ari is beginning to learn is that this system is impossible to defend. It’s not fan friendly, it’s illegal and it goes against American ideals of equal opportunity.

Essentially, the BCS is bound to fall and fail. Without the general public support there is very little the BCS can do now to stave off its imminent demise. And the BCS brass know it, but that hasn’t stopped them from making an attempt to save it. As part of their recent campaign to get their side of the story told, Harvey Perlman, Nebraska Chancellor and President of the BCS Oversight Committee recently published a one-page editorial in the Washington Times.

Mr. Perlman’s tone is condescending; his points are well-articulated but overly presumptive and most significantly, his claims are not rooted in fact, reason or even business pragmatism.

For this reason, I have broken down Perlman’s editorial into bite-sized portions followed by a brief translation of what he is attempting to say in laymen’s terms and a rational-based rebuttal, disputing his marginal logic.

(portions from Perlman’s article are bolded)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SOLUTIONS: Deciding the NCAA football championship
Harvey S. Perlman

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is the best thing that has happened to postseason college football since the invention of the bowl games themselves.

Translation: Instead of focusing on how much better the system can be, let’s keep everyone’s attention on its improvement from the past.

Why create cable, TIVO, or the internet when television is so much better than radio?

Rebuttal: I agree the BCS is an improvement, but just imagine how great this thing can become. Why limit ourselves?

First, a system of play must recognize that the athletes who play football are also students…their success in the classroom will have far more to do with their success as adult citizens than their performance on the football field…

Translation: We need to distort the reality that the BCS is all about money, greed, and control by using the altruistic student-athlete as a distraction.

Rebuttal: Currently the BCS Bowl system asks the student to continue his season, which includes a regular practice schedule starting from the first week of December through the first week of January.

A playoff, starting in the second or third week of December and ending the second week of January, would actually reduce the season for most teams and if a team continued to the National Championship they would be playing in the same time frame as the current system.

The FCS has student-athletes and boasts a successful play-off system: how is the FBS student-athlete any different?

On a sidenote: In an interview last July, Harvey Perlman stated that the ONLY reason non-BCS teams Boise State and Utah had beaten traditional powerhouses Oklahoma and Alabama was because the players were apathetic to their competition and these games had no bearing for the National Championship. 

I understand this comment was an attempt to downplay the success of the non-BCS  but doesn’t it also support the need for a play-off?

If these student-athletes only get up for games that have a national championship implication, then why have a Bowl system at all?

Texas and USC were also extremely disappointed in their bowl assignments last year.

Why suffer the student-athletes to lengthen their season for match-ups they don’t care about while the conferences make billions of dollars?

Second…Each university has a particular set of strengths… created by conscious investments, hiring of great leaders, natural advantages, significant philanthropic donations, dumb luck, or a combination of these factors. Only in athletics is it argued that the benefits of these investments should be equitably shared with other institutions.

Translation: We are entitled to the money and don’t have to share it. We earned it. It’s ours. If this were any other venture we wouldn’t have to share it. Why is football any different? It’s our money.

Rebuttal: First, wasn’t this all about the student? Shouldn’t the student-athletes have some say in the system, since it really is their product and they are the ones making the sacrifices? Or maybe it should be about the fans; aren’t they really the ones who provide all this revenue? Why don’t you listen to what the fans want?

If it’s about entitlement, what entitles you to the money?

Last year’s 0-12 Washington team took in more money from the BCS system than 13-0 Utah? Is it really that unfair for Washington to share more of their pie with a more deserving team?

At the end of the day, if the non-BCS is such an inferior product, how come the Fiesta Bowl chose Boise State as the number one at-large team—before Iowa, Penn State, Cincinnati and TCU?

 …student athletes can make individual choices among the strengths of the various institutions in which they could enroll, and these choices may enhance or diminish their future opportunities. This is a reality that cannot be ignored nor is it one that can be easily changed.

Translation: BCS teams recruit better athletes. It’s an immutable fact. Therefore BCS teams are superior. There is nothing non-BCS teams can do to change this.

Rebuttal: This is a very long-winded indirect way of stating that BCS teams are automatically superior because they recruit better. This is an argument that many fans and pundits use to support BCS superiority.

Just like Barry Switzer learned from last year’s Sugar Bowl, where he essentially guaranteed an Alabama victory over Utah with reasoning based PURELY on recruiting.

In reality, recruiting raw talent isn’t always a science. Certainly not the science the BCS and other media make it out to be. It’s just a factor in determining team strength.

Football is a dynamic game. Some things like coaching, development, and chemistry have much more value to a team collectively than any one individual’s four forty time or vertical leap. If it were all based on recruiting, USC, Tennessee, and Oklahoma would be playing in January, Charlie Weis would still have a job and Ed Orgeron wouldn’t be reporting to a Head Coach.

Third, any system designed to determine a national champion in intercollegiate football can only come about through the agreement of those universities that consistently field highly ranked teams. A system that did not involve schools from the six automatic qualifying conferences and Notre Dame could not claim to be one that is likely to produce a national champion on a consistent basis. That is not true of the other conferences.

Translation: Only teams from BCS conferences are capable of fielding National Champion caliber teams. You cannot have a playoff without cooperation from the “essential conferences.”

Rebuttal: One, if they are consistently better then how come they can’t consistently beat the elite non-BCS teams? Two, if BCS teams are definitively better, shouldn’t a playoff be to their advantage?

Couldn’t we arrange a system where the winners of each playoff round (and their respective conferences) take home a big check? Hypothetically, doesn’t that play to the advantage of the superior programs and conferences?

Both TCU and Boise State, two top six teams, finished in the top 11 last year and return the vast majority of their starters for next season.

Even Utah in a rebuilding year has finished its second season in a row ranked ahead of the likes of USC, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee and Notre Dame. Hard to argue that these teams are consistently inferior.

Some individuals have argued that the BCS is in restraint of trade and violates antitrust laws. If the current agreement is unlawful, then any agreement runs a risk of being unlawful. The only safe option would be to return to the traditional bowl system.

Translation: This is the system that offers the “elite conferences” the most money while preserving our prestige by keeping the competition down and enriching our business partners. But trust me, it’s not a restraint in trade. The other conferences have access to it; we just restrict that access.

Since the elite conferences make all the money now, we wouldn’t adopt a playoff, or any alternative, unless it promised us a more lucrative payout. Therefore a playoff would also violate the same anti-trust. Because we are threatened by losing revenue, we resort to threatening to go back to the old system that people hated even more.

Rebuttal: How is a playoff a violation of anti-trust? All it does is increase access for everyone to the National Championship. The playoff isn’t the problem with the anti-trust, Harvey knows this. The anti-trust problems come from the revenue split. Currently BCS teams get 88 percent of the revenue.

The whole reason why the BCS is so anti-playoff is it will inevitably cut into their profits. Admit it already.

James Carville put it best when he recently told CNN/Sports Illustrated: "The only reason the BCS exists is that they're scared that if they change it, they'll lose money. And they're unable to say what the truth is, so they're constantly coming up with other, phony reasons."

We appreciate the ideal that a national champion should be crowned on the basis of performance on the field. But even a playoff would offer no guarantee that the two best teams would play for the national championship. There would remain arguments about which teams were selected for the playoffs and how they were seeded.

Translation: Why bother fixing the engine when we could get a flat tire?

Rebuttal: Last year, Texas, USC, Utah, Alabama, Texas Tech, TCU and Boise State were all upset with the BCS system. This year, Cincinnati, TCU, Penn State, Boise State, and Florida are all disappointed in their allotment.

That is an awful lot of distressed teams and fans from a system that is “working”.  What’s interesting is that much of the frustration is coming from teams that have already qualified for a BCS Bowl.

How does that compare to the one or two that get left out of a playoff system? Especially when you consider that those one or two teams have probably lost two or three games already. They would really have no one to blame but themselves. Plus, if the regular season is indeed a playoff, how would a two to three loss be upset about not making the cut?

The BCS turns the regular season into the "playoff" and produces an opportunity for a game between the two highest-ranked teams.

Translation: The fans are not as sophisticated as we are, let’s manipulate their perception by using the excitement and popularity of college football against them as the basis to stunt the hatred towards the BCS system.

Rebuttal: Does that mean Utah was last year’s Champion?

The best team Oklahoma had beaten prior to the National Championship game was TCU. The best team Florida had beaten was Alabama. Utah beat both of them as well. So how and when did Utah get disqualified?

Also, if the regular season is a playoff why aren’t Boise State, Cincinnati, and TCU playing for the title? All three boast a stronger, more impressive victory than Texas’ best win.

To secure the agreement of these essential conferences, the system must provide revenue in excess of the opportunities they could obtain on their own, must be consistent with their academic values, must take into account the effect on the fans who provide their schools with support, must protect the bowl system for broad access by many institutions, must preserve the excitement and relevance of the regular season, and must honor the long-standing relationships they have had with the bowls and the communities those bowls support.

The BCS satisfies these requirements. We have yet to see an alternative arrangement that does the same.

Translation: The current system makes the “essential conferences” and our bowl business partners a lot of money. Any new system would have to provide additional revenue for both of those properties. We just haven’t seen a proposal that guarantees that for us. 

Rebuttal: That’s because you refuse to consider alternatives. End the greed already. It’s insulting to the fan, it debases college football and it’s unfair to the players and coaches who seem adamantly against your system.

Nearly every playoff proposal matches or exceeds your laundry list of requirements.  For example:

1) The system must exceed what the conferences can make on their own: A simple eight game playoff can be arranged in conjunction with the bowls to create an end product that provides more compelling match-ups, more intrigue, higher TV ratings and increased tickets sales for each BCS Bowl game—as each one has National Championship implications.

2) …must be consistent with their academic values: A true playoff system, beginning the second or third week of December could actually reduce the length of the season for several teams and using Mr. Perlman’s own rationale—could make the post-season more meaningful for these athletes.

3) …must take into account the effect on the fans who provide their schools with support: The overwhelming majority of fans prefer a playoff. The BCS found out quickly when they tried to initiate dialogue with the fans via twitter. That didn’t work so well. So they have taken to Plan B which is to crash the message boards and comment columns in attempt to “tell their side of the story” and manipulate fans.

4) …must protect the bowl system for broad access by many institutions: Bowls can be easily incorporated into the playoff system. Just as you did with the National Championship game, adding games to prestigious bowls only adds to their revenue and viewership.

5) …must preserve the excitement and relevance of the regular season: The NFL regular season is one of the most exciting, profitable and closely followed entities in sports. In fact, it’s held up as the gold standard of all professional leagues. It also happens to be the model that most closely mirrors college football.

In reality, the regular season will remain just as compelling. Instead of having two teams vying for a National Championship berth, you will have dozens of teams fighting to reach the playoffs that allows for that opportunity.

With the emphasis on traditional powerhouses, they are securing fewer match-ups with big opponents by increasingly scheduling cup cakes.

By contrast, the pre-season NCAA offers some of the most compelling match-ups. In addition, with the money and prestige offered under the current system, the conferences seem to be having a hard time staying objective in their officiating.

At the beginning of the season, every bowl subdivision team starts out with an equal chance to become national champion. To be sure some schools are thought to have an advantage because of the schedules they play, their history of success, the size of their budgets and the support they receive from fans and donors.

Translation: Look, anybody can win a National Championship, all they need is a huge budget, strong tradition, large boosters and to come from an elite conference.

Rebuttal: This is effectively the argument Harvey Perlman brought to court to block the anti-trust claims. The problem is that now a team like TCU has actually looked better than Texas, boasts a comparable—if not better—schedule, yet has had no chance at the Championship.

In fact, they are so strong that the BCS went far out of its way to avoid pairing them up with a BCS school to avoid further controversy.

For example, if one were to start at the beginning of time, you would not predict that the University of Nebraska would have enjoyed the success we have. We come from one of the smallest population states in the country and must recruit athletes nationwide.

We don't have mountains or seashores or large cities or a moderate climate capable of attracting student athletes. And we labored long in the obscurity of losing seasons. But we sustained a loyal fan base, and we hired and retained gifted coaches who were skilled at recruiting student athletes and getting them to play at the height of their abilities.

We built this success, as we have built our recent academic success by trying to work harder and be more creative than our competition. We believe these options remain open for all schools if their particular circumstances permit.

Translation: We at Nebraska came from nothing. We built this program the American way. Hard work, innovative thinking and overcoming obstacles, therefore any team that has done the same and has become better than us, should not have access to the system because well…we were here first. And just because they can beat us today doesn’t mean they should have any rights to what we have.

Rebuttal: Come to think of it, wasn’t TCU there before you?

BYU, Utah, Boise State, and TCU currently boast markedly superior teams AND programs than Nebraska. These teams too have had to overcome major hurdles, physical limitations and BCS-imposed restrictions; yet they have all accomplished as much or more than Nebraska, and most Big XII teams for that matter, in the last decade.

Nebraska may have more history, better recruits and a stronger fan base but they wouldn’t hold a candle to the MWC elite on the field right now.

Ironically, if Nebraska had any semblance of an offense we wouldn’t be having this discussion.


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