Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ohio State demonstrates need for playoffs with a YAWN.

Youngstown; Akron; Washington; Northwestern

How fitting that Ohio State opens it’s season with a Y.A.W.N. Yes it’s become an old joke already but the fact that the initials of the Buckeyes’ first four foes spells out what football fans will be doing when they watch these games should have driven whoever drafted this schedule to reconsider. Expect the national pundits to beat that dead horse late in the season and watch it send Ohio State’s stock into a tailspin.

The Big 10 takes a lot of heat from commentators around the country thanks to a rotating schedule that often results in conference powers avoiding a meaningful confrontation. Last year Ohio State and Michigan closed out their schedules with a head to head showdown that had national championship implications but Wisconsin squeaked into the BCS picture by avoiding a difficult game against Ohio State and because of this quirk the Big 10 title is often shared. In 2005 Penn State shared the conference title with Ohio State even though the Lions beat the Buckeyes during the regular season. The 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes won the national title but shared the conference championship with Iowa and back in 1998 the conference title was split three ways. It’s ridiculous, but the Big 10 sells it as tradition. It was also tradition that a Big 10 program couldn’t represent the conference in back to back bowls. What happened to that one?

So all eyes are on the Big 10 and this year Ohio State, fresh off a perfect regular season capped by a disgraceful performance n the BCS Championship game, has responded to the challenge by booking a non-conference schedule that opens with Youngstown State. That’s the Division I double-A Youngstown State Jim Tressel coached at prior to starting his stint with the Buckeyes.

Ohio State chases its opening patsy with Akron, takes the road to face a Washington team that is still in the early stages of a major rebuilding plan and then it’s back to Columbus for a contest with Northwestern. Somehow Ohio State managed to maintain the integrity of its bye week by scheduling Kent State on October 13th.

It’s a schedule that Indiana would be sheepish about and it’s made worse by the fact that this is a down year for the conference. It’s not uncommon for Big 10 programs to schedule two creampuffs each year, generally one being an instate rival (that’s a loose interpretation of the term) and another being an at large whipping boy. This practice is normally quite acceptable as the conference has a history of being pretty tough. Not this year; Michigan and Wisconsin are expected to be solid but the rest of the Big 10 would struggle in the M.A.C.

This isn’t exactly Ohio State’s fault. The structure of the BCS rewards perfection over the course of a mediocre schedule. Thanks to the way teams are rated in the system it’s far better to be unbeaten than it is to be good. That’s not true in the case of a program like Boise State which plays in a non-BCS conference but if Boise State wants to have a shot at a national championship they can always move out of the W.A.C. The BCS is inherently flawed but would not be enhanced if the winners of the garbage conferences got a bite at the apple by default.

Why should Ohio State beat itself up with a tough non conference schedule when the road to the national championship is paved with patsies? Why would Ohio State trade the revenue generated by those extra home games when there’s nothing to gain in the BCS by playing on the road? The system rewards cowardice.

Ohio State’s uncharacteristically bad schedule is why the NCAA needs to step in and insist on a meaningful playoff system. Adopting a playoff format for determining a national champion would not eliminate bowls, it would just alter the bowl schedule to accommodate playoffs and those teams failing to qualify for the playoffs would still be able to play in the already meaningless bowls available to them. People would still watch Bowling Green play Utah State in the Crane Plumbing Products Toilet Bowl on December 21. We could still have the Motor City Bowl sponsored by Tampax.

A version of the BCS system would still be necessary for selecting the playoff teams but instead of giving conference champions automatic selections the criteria would be simplified to include the top 12 teams. The idea is that if a team couldn’t play well enough to merit a top 12 ranking it wouldn’t deserve a post season bid.

The top four teams would get a bye while the remaining eight teams played for the right to advance to the first round of eight. The play in round would take place in early December after the final BCS poll was released. The second round could then be played as an extra home game at the respective field of the top four teams and then the subsequent rounds would be scheduled as BCS bowl games on a rotating basis. The championship game could then be played on or around the ninth of January as is under the current system.

Because the additional games would take place over the winter break, the playoffs wouldn’t interfere with academics. No that the academics argument holds water anyway. The NCAA has managed to feature playoffs in the other divisions for years. The sticking point at the Division 1a level is money. University president are afraid that altering the current system will change the way money changes hands. A lot of people get rich off of the current system and they don’t want that to change.

But it will have to change. The integrity of the game is at stake and that will drive fans away in droves. Why would anybody pay money to watch a juggernaut like Ohio State lay the wood to Youngstown State? The fact is they won’t. Sure they’ll put up with it for a little while but as the practice of padding the schedule with soft opposition becomes more widely accepted by university officials, fans will lose interest and the money will stop flowing.

People are already growing weary of the annual ritual of crowning a paper champion. When the BCS system was first introduced fans were excited because traditional post season barriers were torn down. Now that college football is stuck in another arbitrary rut the chants for a better format are getting louder. The next step will be the dreaded “plus one” game but after that something will have to give. As much as the university officials hate to admit it, the fans call the shots.

Hopefully people realize this before it’s too late.

No comments: