There’s a paradigm shift taking place in college football. More change might be on the way, but this year has brought about a game changing shift which will have immediate effect.
The conference changing and the BCS mess, and I don’t know what else to call it but a mess, has brought us to this current point. Now I’m a big fan of college football, have been since I was in college, and I’ve seen a lot of change in the last thirty years. Some of the changes have made the game better, such as the NCAA equalizing the scholarships and dollar amounts, which led to a certain amount of parity, and opened the door to expansion of the number of schools able to compete. Rules changes have made the game safer. But the BCS has corrupted it, and turned it into a competition for big time bucks. The flow of money into the system has let to the breakup of conference alignments, traditional rivalry games and the pursuit of more money.
The BCS is the representation of the commercialization of the sport. The creation of a bowl “heirarchy” has given control of the rankings to commercial interests, and the new system of BCS bowls and a national “championship” game has created a market demand that generates gigantic profits through television ratings. The assigning of automatic BCS bowl game berths to certain conference champions, while leaving other conferences out, furthers the demand, raises the monetary stakes, and has created a whole heirarchy of haves and have nots among the educational institutions who participate in this mess. The fact that there are four BCS bowls, with eight spots plus the two national champions, creates the demand, and causes a frenzy among the few remaining schools for the “at large berth” designations. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the whole system is based on the subjective opinion that certain conferences are “tougher” than others.
The evidence of the paradigm shift has come in the form of Ohio State’s offer to Urban Meyer to become their head coach. The willingness of a university whose mission is to function as an educational institution to pay a salary to its football coach that will not only make him the highest paid employee on campus, but puts him among the highest paid individuals in the country. In the wake of that decision, several other universities looking for coaches have raised their salaries to the point where the coach gets paid several million dollars a year. The money is there. The new television deals negotiated by individual schools, like Notre Dame and the University of Texas, and conferences like the Pac-12 and the SEC, will give anywhere from $10 million to $20 million dollars in revenue to the conference members. The idea then becomes to buy the coaches who will recruit the best players, and who can get the most of out of them on the field.
The potential for corruption is mind boggling. The irony that the year in which coaching salaries soar is also the year that at least two major colleges are dealing with scandals surrounding successful athletic programs should not be lost on anyone interested in the future of college football. Schools with money will buy the coaches who recruit the players.. There is enough subjectivity in the way the rankings are determined to allow for the influence of money there, as well. I think we’ve already seen that in the BCS on a regular basis. Certain matchups guarantee high ratings, so there is always some tweaking to get the teams to fall into place. There was talk this year that even if Georgia had beaten LSU on the field, the ratings would have still put LSU in the title game with Alabama, a done deal not because the teams had earned it on the field, but because it generates the kind of ratings and money to sweeten the pot.
But what does it say when educational institutions, whose mission and purpose have more to do with educating students in the classroom and helping teach them the things they need to learn to have a successful career, and live as a free citizen in a democratic republic, than to generating athletic success find themselves paying multiple millions of dollars to get a good football coach but cutting other expenses because of financial shortfalls and budget considerations? You have millions poured into the football program, and a coach who earns multiple millions while at the same time 80% of the students are committing themselves to massive debt through student loans to pay tuition and fees which increase at a much faster rate than retail prices. How do you explain that? How do you justify that, except that it is the result of pure greed. It certainly isn’t fair.
For the sake of the game, the coaching salaries should be capped, in the same way that scholarships are regulated. The current system is a slap in the face to anyone who works at a university and struggles just to pay their bills and live from paycheck to paycheck simply because they chose to work on the educational side of the school.
Notice how the money interests set up the whole BCS, excluding the MWC champion which held a victory over the SEC’s #2 team, but including 10-2 Michigan and 10-2 Virginia Tech. The ACC getting two teams in the BCS is a travesty, since it is arguably not as good a conference as either the MWC or C-USA, which was also left out. And we are stuck with an LSU-Alabama rematch that hardly anyone in the country wanted to see, or will watch. My guess is that the Fiesta Bowl has picked the matchup that will be the television ratings success between Oklahoma State and Stanford.
So, who got rooked and should be upset? For starters, Oklahoma State. How the BCS math works is anybody’s guess, since it seems on the surface that those who had a vote cast their ballot for OSU in second place. Boise State should be hopping mad, with just one loss, by one point, to a team that should be ranked, and a #6 ranking, with a big win over the SEC’s #2 team. I would sue, and they should too. Michigan State was also rooked. The Orange Bowl ought to be a laugher, between Clemson, the highly over-rated ACC champ, against West Virginia, which finished in a three way tie for the Big East.
Maybe people will finally get tired of this BCS garbage, and go for the genuine playoff. But then, money is involved, and so that’s not likely.