Monday, September 03, 2007

Michigan seals fate of NCAA Football.

Michigan put together a nice run last year that was capped by a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of a talent laden Ohio State squad that could only be stopped by its own complacency. Coincidentally, that is precisely why Florida won a so called national title. Even after the loss Michigan was very close to getting another shot at Ohio State and a chance to be crowned BCS champs. Ultimately the Wolverines fell short of enough points to qualify for that title shot.

Ironically Michigan chose to play a team that won a legitimate national title last year. Appalachian State is a division 1 AA college which means it is considerably smaller than Michigan but somehow the NCAA has no problem with organizing a playoff system for the smaller programs. Appalachian State didn't have to worry about computer points and polls because in division 1 AA champions are determined on the field.

Appalachian State had little hope of beating #5 Michigan. Michigan was loaded on offense and only needed to tune its defense to march through the season unscathed. Nobody gave Appalachian State much of a shot and starting the season off with a beating at the hands of a division 1 A powerhouse was not going to hurt Appalachian State's chances of repeating it's championship run. Michigan, however couldn't afford to lose a single game this year. Under the BCS system perfection is the only sure way of getting a title shot which means its better to be lucky than good.

Appalachian State is not better than Michigan and if they played 100 times Michigan would win 99. Appalachian State simply caught Michigan asleep at the wheel. Everybody knows this but that won't stop Michigan from free falling in the polls. Now Michigan, a team capable of beating anybody in college football will have to hope that other top-ranked teams lose later this season if they have a shot at playing in the BCS Championship game. Appalachian State, on the other hand, gets nothing but a pat on the back for pulling of the massive upset. Later this year Appalachian State will have to run a gauntlet of top caliber teams on the road to a real championship game while Michigan waits for reporters, coaches and computers to award it with enough points to play for something meaningful.

Lost in this story is the fact that Michigan did what every other top-ranked team in D1A did this year. Everybody scheduled a D1AA opponent in order to pad the schedule with an easy win while still collecting ticket revenue. The NCAA realized that there was more money to be made with a 12th game but nobody wanted to give up a home game so they opened the door to the newly dubbed Championship subdivision. It sounds better than D1AA.

While everybody is snickering at Michigan's misfortune the policy makers in the NCAA office are thrilled. This upset legitimizes the scheduling of D1AA foes and increases the marketability of these games. Who will be the next to fall?

The problem is it won't be anybody of Michigan's caliber anytime soon. Michigan was looking past this game and down the road at key match ups such as its November grudge match against Ohio State. Appalachian State went out hoping to catch Michigan by surprise. In the end it was all about motivation. What happened to Michigan will serve as a wake up call to the rest of college football. Coaches will have a tangible example of what can happen on any given Saturday and getting players motivated to play their best against a weaker opponent will no longer be a struggle.

Sadly that game will keep the critics at bay for a few years too. The NCAA can point to this upset anytime somebody questions a soft schedule. People will claim that parity has equalized the balance of power but when you ask why the Western Athletic Conference doesn't get an automatic BCS bid they'll change the subject. In the end it's all about the money and though Michigan will pay the price for this loss in the polls all year, this game has secured the financial future of the NCAA for the next decade.

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