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Thursday
Dec272007

You Can't Say I'm Playing Favorites Here

Found a cool anti-playoff blog recently.  I'll give you just a taste of the author's point-by-point rebuttal of a Gene Wojciechowski column:

Wojo: "USC, playing as well as anyone these days, finished 10-2, but still gets no soup."

Author: A typical playoff guy. The hot team at the end of the season takes it all. The BCS is unique in sports. It attempts to assess a team's entire body of work over the course of a season, not just give the crown to the hot hand who gets the breaks at the end. True, nobody wants to play USC right now either, and they won't have to because USC lost to a 41 point underdog at home! Nothing is more appropriate than these guys not getting the second chance they would have gotten in a playoff system. We have the BCS to thank for that.

Truedat. 

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Reader Comments (22)

While I think USC is getting too much love based on who they are rather than what they have accomplished, the idea that a playoff, 16 teams being my preference, would ever just reward a team that gets hot is ridiculous. Under the format I favor, if there are no other upsets, a 7th seed USC would have to beat the 10th seed at home, followed by consecutive road wins at #2 and #1 followed by a neutral site win versus #3 to claim the title with a 14-2 record. That is more than Ohio State or LSU would have accomplished after January 8th.

http://www.objectiverules.blogspot.com
December 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCJH
Careful, CFR, you may have some competition for funniest web site. The idea that USC's loss to a 41 point underdog early in the season is worse compared to losing to an unranked opponent in the final weeks of the season represents a hilarious thought.

While every team continues to play, said loser to unranked team gets to compete for the MNC because it no longer played. Comedy gold, Jerry.

Let's say the Cleveland Browns miss the NFL playoffs. Under the Division I-A format, the Brown would get to play the winner of the Super Bowl for the real championship. Actually, under the I-A format, the Patriots would not get to compete for the championship.

But, that is another comedy topic, for another day at the web's funniest site, CFR.
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermichael
It's interesting how you keep avoiding the fact that the regular season does nothing but determine conference champions. If you really want to find out who the best of the best are, then they have to play each other on the field in a playoff, instead of having them all stand in the wings waiting for the judges scores when the regular season is over.

If you think the BCS system is so great, then you should be banging the drum for change in every other sport by replacing the proven playoff system with the crappy BCS system.
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Blogical
Tom Blogical,

You said "proven playoff system"???? You have to be kidding me. From a mathematical perspective you can't possibly argue that a single Super Bowl or a 6-team NFL style playoff crowns a legitimate champion. The sample size is entirely too small!

I know I'm beating a deadhorse, but Oakland A's manager Billy Beane and every sane baseball analyst has said the baseball playoffs are a complete crapshoot. Even Joe Torre said this. Baseball Prospectus did a study that Joe Sheehan wrote about a couple of years ago that said it's was apparent that the 162-game regular season simply wasn't long enough to get any significant amount of luck out of the equation.Even Joe Torre, a baseball traditionalist, said that playoffs were a crapshoot after the Cleveland/New York ALDS this year.

If 162-game season, followed by a 5-game division series, a 7-game championship series and a 7-game World Series is just a crapshoot, then how is a 12-game season followed by a 4 or 8 team playoff is going to be "legitimate"?

That's just talking crazy right now. The problem with you playoff proponents is that you can't argue against the "sample size" problems and you know it.

Right now the BCS and college football comes closest to the fact of taking in the entire season as a whole and don't confuse CFR for being a proponet of the BCS. He's said on many occassions that the fabric of college football is made up partially by the "Mythical" national championship and he has said he'd be more than happy with returning college football to it's pre-BCS days with the bowl traditions still intact.

I agree whole heartedly with him.
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBaseball Savant
"Let's say the Cleveland Browns miss the NFL playoffs. Under the Division I-A format, the Brown would get to play the winner of the Super Bowl for the real championship. Actually, under the I-A format, the Patriots would not get to compete for the championship"

I know I don't have to point this out, but this post is absolutley absurd. How would the Browns get to play the winners of the Super Bowl to play for a National Championship? Furthermore, if this were college football, how would a 15-0 Patriots team not be #1 in the polls with the next best record being 13-2?
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBaseball Savant
As a playoff proponent, I don't need to argue against this "same size problem" invented by playoff opponents because it isn't a problem for me. Competition is simply about determining winners. As I mentioned elsewhere on this blog, a CHAMPION is nothing more and nothing less than the winner of first place in a competition. The idea that the winner of first place is illegitmate for any of the reasons mentioned by playoff opponents is ridiculous. The winner is still the winner. That is all that matters. If someone prefers the current method for determining the winner of first place, so be it. However, playoff opponents shouldn't expect proponents to fix problems that are not problems to us. If, for example, the 16th seed in my preferred format beats the top four seeds in succession to win the national title, I do not care if playoff opponents wish to credit luck or just getting hot or anything else to discredit any such team legitimately being the winner of first place. The bottom line is that I find it funny that playoff opponents expect proponents like myself to slove problems that we do not agree are problems. Furthermore, the continued use of terms like true champion or legitimate champion. The people that use these terms appear to have their own defintions for true, legitimate, and champion than the rest of the world. Especially, if they believe pulling two names out of a hat at the end of the season to face off in a championship game qualifies as legitimate just because the participants managed to roll through weak schedules without a loss. Oh, wait, OSU and LSU have three combined losses. Well, at least there is no luck involved. Surely, being voted into the title game takes great deal of skill.

http://www.objectiverules.blogspot.com
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCJH
I love this line from the opening post: "The BCS is unique in sports. It attempts to assess a team's entire body of work over the course of a season, not just give the crown to the hot hand who gets the breaks at the end."


Winning an expanded playoff is diminished as "just getting hot" but two teams being voted into the title game with two wins versus top 16 competition and three overall losses qualifies as what? Getting it done over the entire season?

http://www.objectiverules.blogspot.com
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCJH
Baseball Savant:

Yes, PROVEN playoff system. The champion is not divined from the imagination. The champion is determined from Conference Champions ON THE FIELD in a playoff system. I'd rather have a "complete crapshoot" in your words, (and Joe Torre's words, or Billy Beane's words, or anybody else's for that matter) than the regular football season being determined on the field, then the Figure Skating system being used to determine who should be installed into the championship game, in order to determine the best of the best.

I find it very, very interesting that you and other BCS proponents STILL do not propose to install the crappy BCS system to replace the playoffs/tournaments held in every other sport. That speaks VOLUMES. And if you did, you'd be laughed off the face of the planet.

I second CJH's two comments.
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Blogical
"The sample size is entirely too small!"

"The problem with you playoff proponents is that you can't argue against the "sample size" problems and you know it."

Utter and complete bullshit. According to my former Engineering Stats prof, 1000 is getting a good start for a sample size. So, as far as I'm concerned, every regular season out there is a crapshoot, too. ESPECIALLY a 12 game CFB regular season schedule or a 16 game NFL regular season schedule.

So what, MLB should dump the playoffs and crown the team with the best regular season record the champs? ROTFLMAO!!!! Right. Good luck with that. 162 games is marginal for a sample size, and still better than other regular seasons statistically speaking, but GET REAL. They still want the Division champs to square off. If you had your way, the postseason would go on for months.

You're starting to sound like the Florida Supreme Court--have them play (i.e., recount over and over, and attempt to divine voter intent) over and over again until we get the results we want.

There's something else I learned in that Engineering Stats class. There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Consequently, EVEN ACCURATE STATISTICS CAN BE USED IN AN ATTEMPT TO BOLSTER INACCURATE ARGUMENTS.

Such as yours.
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Blogical
Tom,

The bigger problem with their arguments is that they imply if the best team does not win, then the winner is an illegitimate champion. That's absurd. While I see nothing wrong with others favoring a format that emphasizes long term success, the bottom line is that competition is only about determining a winner. For me, a 16 team playoff will determine a WINNER is a more fair, more exciting, and more satisfying manner than the current format. Unlike playoff opponents, I'm not bothered by a three loss team earning the opportunity to beat the top four teams in succession in order to be champions. Again, it is quite clear from the arguments against a playoff on this site is that the opponents of a playoff are using a definition of the word champion that cannot be found in any dictionary. I don't care who the best team is and the best team failing to win a playoff for any reason means nothing to me. The sample size argument is total nonsense given the fact that a playoff would accomplish want I want it to. CFR and Baseball Savant can continue to oppose a playoff for their own reasons. But is it absurd for either of them to think I have to debunk a "problem" that I don't consider a problem and has nothing to do with the purpose I believe a playoff serves.

http:/www.objectiverules.blogspot.com
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCJH
CJH:

"The bigger problem with their arguments is that they imply if the best team does not win, then the winner is an illegitimate champion. That's absurd."

"For me, a 16 team playoff will determine a WINNER is a more fair, more exciting, and more satisfying manner than the current format."

I wholeheartedly agree with both statements. A playoff system determines the winner by division or conference champs duking it out on the field of play. It is results-oriented, and not a determination of pie-in-the-sky dreams and subjectivity, as is the BCS.

Interestingly enough, Baseball Savant seems to be a Sabermetrics guy, and could have possibly read Moneyball. Sabermetrics is results oriented; therefore, he's debunking himself. So is CFR or anyone else who actually thinks the regular season is a playoff in and of itself, instead of what it is: a method of determining a conference champion.

"I don't care who the best team is and the best team failing to win a playoff for any reason means nothing to me."

The only quibble I have with this statement is, the best team is the one which qualifies for, then wins their postseason tournament. They couldn't have won it otherwise. For me, Champion/Winner = Best Team.
December 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Blogical
Tom,

When I say best team, I'm referring to the most talented team definition used by others. For example, I'm a Cardinal baseball fan. I certainly don't think the Cardinals' 2006 team was the best team in baseball based on this definition nor do I care. They won. That is what matters. If people are bothered by an 83 win-team making and winning the playoffs, so be it. But Baseball Savant's sample size argument appears to be tied to the definition of best team I'm using here.
December 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCJH
CJH:

"I certainly don't think the Cardinals' 2006 team was the best team in baseball based on this definition nor do I care. They won. That is what matters."

Exactly. I knew what you meant--we're on the same page. (:-D)

Like you, I think that definition is a bunch of crap. I don't care about that definition either, so that's why I say Champion/Winner = Best Team. The best teams work together for the same goal. Most often, the most talented ones work for individual goals, whether that's best for the team or not.

Billy Beane was one of the most talented baseball players the game has ever seen. Coincidentally, he was also one of the least productive players with that level of talent in history.

Talent never guarantees success. It's what's done with the talent that matters. I care about results, not "shoulda, woulda, coulda".
December 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Blogical
I'd argue that it's impossible to determine the "best" team every year, since you can define "best" in so many different ways.

Most define "best" as the team that won the most games. I'd argue not necessarily, because sometimes the better team on a given day loses; just look at the BC-VT game this year. By the way, if you argue that no, winning defines being the better team, you've just identified yourself as a playoff proponent. Congrats.

If you can't define best, all you're left with is finding who is most deserving. To that end, since everyone plays wildly different schedules, the best you can do is select a few of the top teams and play them against each other. It's also impossible to look at Ohio State and LSU this year, for instance, and say who's better because they played no common teams, and every one of each's games happened under different circumstances.

You find the most deserving champion by finding who can win the most over the top teams. Since top teams from different conferences rarely play each other in the regular season, a post season is required for that. What would give you a more deserving champ, winning one post season game against a top team, or 4 games? I'd argue for the 4 games.
December 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGatorDave
GatorDave:

Absolutely agree. Especially the last paragraph.
December 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTom Blogical
Gator Dave,

It would be best if people stopped using the phrase "best team". All that matters is who wins. Certainly, playoff opponents can favor a format that emphasizes long term success toward determining a winner. However, the winner of a hypothetical playoff is still the winner. The idea that the winner is only a "legitimate" champion if playoff opponents trust it would be the winner of the same playoff more often than not is absurd. The winner is the winner and a champion is nothing more and nothing less than the winner of first place in a competition. It appears CFR and Baseball Savant are using a different definition for champion and they expect playoff proponents to oppose a playoff because its winner may not match their definition.

http://www.objectiverules.blogspot.com
December 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCJH
Dictionary.com gives the following definition for champion (and I subbed "team" for person): "a team who has defeated all opponents in a competition or series of competitions, so as to hold first place." That's the dictionary definition of champion.

Since 75% (give or take) of teams' regular season games are devoted to conference play, all the regular season decides is the conference champions, or at least 5 of them. The Pac 10 and Big East have true champions since those leagues have a round robin format; the SEC, Big 12, and ACC have the next best thing with divisions and a title game; the Big Ten has a mythical champion since it has neither a round robin format nor divisions and a title game. One single national championship game is not going to be enough to pick out the team most deserving of the title "national champion" out of those conference champions most years, assuming the most deserving team did actually win it's conference. This situation leaves college football with an unsatisfying ending.

As for the argument that college football is fine with a mythical champion and one single uncontested champion isn't necessary, consider this. On the BCS's website(1) it says this: "The BCS was established to determine the national champion for college football." It says *the* national champion, not *a* national champion. That indicates that those who set up the system (the 6 power conferences and their members, Notre Dame, and the 4 BCS bowls) believe college football should have one clearly defined champion. The majority of the public must want one single, clearly defined champion as well considering how much money is invested in TV contracts, payouts, advertising, travel, and promotions for the BCS. The desire for one clear champion is definitely there from the schools and majority of fans. So, while I probably can't convince CFR or Baseball Savant that college football needs something other/better than a mythical champion, I can tell you all that they are in the minority on the topic.

Purists hate the wild card in baseball, but it has made stretch runs a lot more interesting than they have been in the past for a larger number of teams. I'm sure throwbacks and purists would hate having college football playoffs, but it would give more teams hope for winning it all. Two losses would no longer guarantee that your team is out of the national title hunt, and that's the best a fan can ask for. If there's a system that keeps my Gators in the national title race for longer than with the current one, I'd be in favor of it. I can't imagine why someone would be against a system that keeps his or her Tigers, Trojans, Buckeyes, Wolverines, or whatever in the race longer than the current one does.

(1) http://www.bcsfootball.org/bcsfb/about
December 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGatorDave
There is no evidence to suggest that CFB is somehow unappealing to average fans. Attendance is at an all-time high. From 1994 to 2004, cumulative Bowl money tripled and it continues to grow.

(Source: http://www.knightcommission.org/about/white_papers/sandbrook/ )

Playoff proponents argue a playoff would generate untold amounts of money. That may actually be the problem. Testifying before the Consumer Trade Committee in Congress, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged, "an NFL-style football playoff would provide three to four times as many dollars to the Big Ten as the current system does. There is no doubt in my mind that we are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table."

(Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10370453/from/ET/ )

However, a CFB playoff raises a multitude of new issues for college athletics. When University of Florida President Bernie Machen proposed a playoff at SEC meetings in 2007, he came out of the meeting saying, "They are persuaded, and I am now persuaded, that the best way to proceed is to try to work within the BCS structure, to make some changes to make it better. That seems to me to be a very good way to go."

(Source: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=2889798 )

What changed Mechan's mind? At the bottom of the aforementioned article, Vanderbilt chancellor Gordon Gee (formerly the President at Ohio State) said, "We've been consistent all along that we're trying to bring some semblance of integrity and some semblance of balance back into what we're doing, and this moves in exactly the wrong direction. This is a slippery slope toward us finally just throwing in the towel and saying what we're about is fielding football teams and we have a university on the side, and I'm just not in favor of that."

Mr. Gee's concerns are one of two major issues that lie at the heart of the matter. At what point does a University stop becoming a tax-exempt educational institution and start becoming a for-profit commercial enterprise which should be legitimately subject to taxation? Why should universities receive State funding under such circumstances when such an enterprise is brazenly separate from the University core mission?

One could argue college athletics has already passed that point. This has been addressed by California Republican Bill Thomas of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee who sent this letter to the NCAA after it signed a $6 Billion contract with CBS to broadcast March Madness.

(Source: http://www2.ncaa.org/portal/media_and_events/press_room/2006/november/20061115_housecommitteeonwaysandmeans_letter.pdf )

The inquiry "has legs". It has been expanded in the U.S. Senate Finance Committee by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley. The senator has begun questioning why Booster Clubs and individual donors should retain tax benefits when a $50,000 "gift" to an athletic department suddenly gives donors the "opportunity" for a private suite at home games and a free seat on the team charter for away games. These are perfectly valid questions, since the "gift" has absolutely nothing to do with the core mission of the university. The inquiry has also been extended to athletic departments themselves.

(Source: http://chronicle.com/free/v54/i06/06a03501.htm )

The issue of tax-exempt status is a big deal, particularly when out of control athletic spending results in only a handful of athletic departments actually showing a profit. I have been an Ohio State fan for more than 35 years. Yet even I wonder about an athletic department that shows revenue of $109,382,222 against expenses of $109,197,910 for a net profit of only $184,312.

(Source: http://ope.ed.gov/athletics/InstDetail.asp?CRITERIA=3 )

Almost 29% of this revenue is from "student athletic fees", a common practice among schools of charging full-time students a fee (in addition to tuition) on a per credit hour basis to subsidize the athletic program. When student borrowing in this country is at an all-time high, it a perfectly valid question to ask how students actually benefit from all of this.

From a financial standpoint, if a playoff were installed that makes the college game look like a commercial enterprise reflecting the NFL, then it's fair to start taxing these revenues, or eliminate student athletic fees, or both. Either one of these actions would essentially put a majority of athletic programs "out of business".

The second major issue is player compensation. Let me set it up this way. The executive summary of a recent nationwide survey of university faculty (a major constituency who have a voice in all this) discovered many interesting views. Go here http://www.knightcommission.org/about/faculty_perceptions_of_intercollegiate_athletics_executive_summary/ to look at the major bullet points. Click on "link here" at the bottom of the page to read the entire summary. There are two things to point out here that faculty agree on:

Professors have similar levels of satisfaction with the academic performance of students in general and athletes in sports other than football and basketball. However, they are significantly less satisfied with the academic performance of football and basketball players. They believe athletes are more burdened than other students by demands on their out-of-class time.
2. Faculty members are satisfied with the practice of awarding scholarships based on athletics ability, and believe that scholarships for basketball and football athletes may not compensate them fairly for their services.

Two reasonable questions result from installing a CFB playoff that generates "hundreds of millions of dollars" as Jim Delany points out. Keep in mind that football generates more than 85% of all Team Revenues for a majority of athletic departments under the current system. Faculty already believes players are not compensated fairly. With a playoff that generates millions in commercial revenues while requiring players to play more games, why shouldn't college football players sign contracts and draw a salary? What are the ethical ramifications of keeping their compensation as it is now, even as the athletes rake in "hundreds of millions" for their schools under a playoff system?

The fact is, as a society, we would not tolerate this kind of "gladiator-slaveholder" relationship in any other commercial industry. In the real world, it's called profiteering. Yet playoff advocates overlook this major issue every single time as they draw up 8- or 16-team brackets. This isn't D-1AA football where 40,000 people show up for a championship game and broadcasting rights are a mere $200,000 for the final game. This is D-1A football where more than 79,000 people showed up in Tuscaloosa for the Spring game, and FOX pays $20 million per BCS game. There is a very fine line between throwing any resemblance of amateur status completely out the window and preserving what it is now. Some would argue college athletics has already crossed that line.

Anyway, a playoff system may (or may not) be the best way to declare a champion. But there is an entirely new set of issues resulting from taking that path. Those issues are much more serious and they deserve consideration before complaining about the current system.

I guess I just find it interesting at a time when Americans voice legitimate concerns about jobs being shipped overseas to low wage workers, playoff advocates would like to see "hundreds of millions of dollars" (Jim Delany's words, not mine) generated by college athletes who would receive nothing more than what they already have. Some of them (not the particular poster I am responding to) then turn around and call the BCS "greedy", but I have to wonder who the greedy ones really are.
January 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMJ
Tom Blogical writes: “I find it very, very interesting that (Baseball Savant) and other BCS proponents STILL do not propose to install the crappy BCS system to replace the playoffs/tournaments held in every other sport. That speaks VOLUMES. And if you did, you'd be laughed off the face of the planet.”


That may be true, Tom. However, the biggest fallacy playoff proponents engage in is the idea that this is an argument based in logic by comparing football to other sports.

The fact is, Tom (and every other playoff advocate on the planet), this is an argument based in BUSINESS and ETHICS. Football is by far the most profitable enterprise for most D-1A schools and thus should not be compared to the other sports.

From a business point of view, NONE OF THE OTHER ARGUMENTS MATTER. They are nothing more than philosophical exercises in futility.

Playoff advocates would do well to visit the Office of Postsecondary Education web site at http://ope.ed.gov/athletics/index.asp and go to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis Cutting Tool Website.

Here, one can view the Athletic Department Revenues and Expenses for every school in the country.

I did a little research on the SEC and put it on a spreadsheet. The following is a list of each SEC school and the percentage of Revenue that football generates (under the current BCS format) compared Gross Team Revenues of all sports (the rest of which have NCAA tournaments). Here are the results:

School vs. % of Gross Team Revenues attributed to Football

Tennessee, 75.54
Florida, 80.02%
Georgia, 83.8%
Kentucky, 60.66%
South Carolina, 68.26%
Vanderbilt, 61.04%
Alabama, 85.8%
Arkansas, 69.93%
Auburn, 90.01%
LSU, 84.53%
Ole Miss, 72.43%
Miss. St., 69.14%

The fact of the matter is, Tom, the amount of Revenue generated by football dwarfs that of all the other sports COMBINED. From a business point of view, there is simply no comparison.

The following table represents the same schools with the Net Profit from Football (in millions, rounded to the nearest one hundred thousand) compared to the Net Profit reported by the entire Athletic Department.

School, Football Profit, Athletic Dept. Profit
Tennessee 17.3 2.9
Florida 38.2 15.6
Georgia 43.1 14.3
Kentucky 11.7 0.6
S. Carolina28.9 3.4
Vanderbilt 1.8 0
Alabama 31.9 10.5
Arkanses 19.3 3.2
Auburn 33.8 12.8
LSU 31.7 4.3
Ole Miss 10.6 0
Miss. St. 5.7 0

As you can see, in each case football reported a profit that is HIGHER than the Net Profit reported for the Athletic Department as a whole. In other words, from a financial point of view, football carries the rest of the department. The most extreme case is Georgia, which made up for a $28.8 million LOSS by the rest of the department with its football profits.

Two schools, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss report an actual Net Profit/Loss of ZERO for their entire athletic programs. Miss. St. was rounded to the nearest one hundred thousand. It's actual Net Profit was seven thousand dollars.

This is exactly why NONE OF THE OTHER ARGUMENTS MATTER, AND THEY ARE NOTHING MORE THAN PHILOSOPHICAL EXERCISES IN FUTILITY.

To illustrate this point further, consider North Carolina. The awful football team generated more revenue (18.1 million) than its stellar basketball team (17.8 million). But even UNC is an anomoly. The financial disparity between football and all other sports is repeated time and again at most D-1A schools.

Now, from an ETHICAL point of view, having a playoff would probably break the bank. Even Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has said, "There is no doubt in my mind that we are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.”

Given that these are college kids, there are significant ethical ramifications that go along with chasing "hundreds of millions" on the backs of unpaid student-athletes (see my other post on this subject). The rest of the business world has a name for this type of practice.

It's called profiteering.

Not surprisingly, playoff advocates never seem to approach this part of the conversation. In their zeal, perhaps they are afflicted with tunnel vision. I don't know.

What I do know is this: there is a growing movement against all of this in general, and against playoffs in particular. It is the only industry I know of where mobs of people are bitching loud and hard for more free labor... simply because they aren't satisfied with the current level of entertainment from the unpaid performers.

This, in my view, is pathetic.

January 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMJ
There is no evidence to suggest that CFB is somehow unappealing to average fans. Attendance is at an all-time high. From 1994 to 2004, cumulative Bowl money tripled and it continues to grow.
(Source: http://www.knightcommission.org/about/white_papers/sandbrook/ )

Playoff advocates often note that a D1-A playoff system would generate millions of dollars. Testifying before the Consumer Trade Committee in Congress, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany acknowledged, “an NFL-style football playoff would provide three to four times as many dollars to the Big Ten as the current system does. There is no doubt in my mind that we are leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.”
(Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10370453/from/ET/ )

However, a CFB playoff raises a multitude of new issues for college athletics. When University of Florida President Bernie Machen proposed a playoff at SEC meetings in 2007, he came out of the meeting saying, "They are persuaded, and I am now persuaded, that the best way to proceed is to try to work within the BCS structure, to make some changes to make it better. That seems to me to be a very good way to go."
(Source: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=2889798 )

What changed Mechan’s mind? Perhaps it was Vanderbilt chancellor Gordon Gee (formerly the President at Ohio State) who said after the meetings, "We've been consistent all along that we're trying to bring some semblance of integrity and some semblance of balance back into what we're doing, and this moves in exactly the wrong direction. This is a slippery slope toward us finally just throwing in the towel and saying what we're about is fielding football teams and we have a university on the side, and I'm just not in favor of that."

Mr. Gee’s concerns raise two major issues that could develop if a full-scale D1-A playoff is implemented. Not surprisingly, playoff proponents seem to ignore these issues.

The first issue is, given that “hundreds of millions of dollars are on the table” as Delany’s Congressional testimony, at what point does a University stop becoming a tax-exempt educational institution and start becoming a for-profit commercial enterprise which should be subject to taxation? Why should universities receive State funding under such circumstances when it operates such an enterprise that is brazenly separate from the University core mission?

One could argue college athletics has already passed that point. This has been addressed by California Republican Bill Thomas of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee who sent this letter to the NCAA after it signed a $6 Billion contract with CBS to broadcast March Madness.
(Source: http://www2.ncaa.org/portal/media_and_events/press_room/2006/november/20061115_housecommitteeonwaysandmeans_letter.pdf )

The inquiry “has legs”. It has been expanded in the U.S. Senate Finance Committee by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley. The senator questions why Booster Clubs and individual donors should retain tax benefits when a $50,000 “gift” to an athletic department suddenly gives donors the “opportunity” for a private suite at home games and a free seat on the team charter for away games. These are perfectly valid questions, since the “gift” has absolutely nothing to do with the core mission of the university. The inquiry has also been extended to athletic departments themselves.
(Source: http://chronicle.com/free/v54/i06/06a03501.htm )

The issue of tax-exempt status is a big deal, particularly when out of control athletic spending results in only a handful of athletic departments actually showing a profit. I have been an Ohio State fan for more than 35 years. Yet even I wonder about an athletic department that shows revenue of $109,382,222 against expenses of $109,197,910 for a net profit of only $184,312.
(Source: http://ope.ed.gov/athletics/InstDetail.asp?CRITERIA=3 )

Almost 20% of this revenue is from “student athletic fees”, a common practice of charging full-time students a fee (in addition to tuition) on a per credit hour basis to subsidize the athletic program. When student borrowing in this country is at an all-time high, it a perfectly valid question to ask how students actually benefit from all of this.

From a financial standpoint, if a playoff were installed that makes the college game look like a commercial enterprise reflecting the NFL, then it’s fair to start taxing these revenues or eliminate student athletic fees, or both. Either one of these actions would essentially put a majority of athletic programs “out of business”.

The second major issue is player compensation. Let me set it up this way. The executive summary of a recent nationwide survey of university faculty (a major constituency who have a voice in all this) discovered many interesting views. Go here http://www.knightcommission.org/about/faculty_perceptions_of_intercollegiate_athletics_executive_summary/ to look at the major bullet points. Click on “link here” at the bottom of the page to read the entire summary. There are two things to point out here that faculty agree on:

1. Professors have similar levels of satisfaction with the academic performance of students in general and athletes in sports other than football and basketball. However, they are significantly less satisfied with the academic performance of football and basketball players. They believe athletes are more burdened than other students by demands on their out-of-class time.

2. Faculty members are satisfied with the practice of awarding scholarships based on athletics ability, and believe that scholarships for basketball and football athletes may not compensate them fairly for their services.

Two reasonable questions result from installing a CFB playoff that generates “hundreds of millions of dollars” as Jim Delany points out. Keep in mind that football generates a majority of all Team Revenues for most athletic departments under the current system, and faculty already believes players "are not compensated fairly". With a playoff that generates millions in commercial revenues while requiring players to play more games, why shouldn’t college football players sign contracts and draw a salary? What are the ethical ramifications of keeping their compensation as it is now, even as the athletes rake in “hundreds of millions” under a playoff system?

The fact is, as a society, we would not tolerate this kind of “gladiator-slaveholder” relationship in any other commercial industry. In the real world, it’s called profiteering. Yet playoff advocates overlook this major issue every single time as they draw up 8- or 16-team brackets. This isn’t D-1AA football where 40,000 people show up for a championship game and broadcasting rights are a mere $200,000 for the final game. This is D-1A football where more than 79,000 people showed up in Tuscaloosa for the Spring game, and FOX pays $20 million per BCS game. There is a very fine line between throwing any resemblance of amateur status completely out the window and preserving what it is now. Some would argue college athletics has already crossed that line.

Anyway, a playoff system may (or may not) be the best way to declare a champion. But there is an entirely new set of issues resulting from taking that path. Those issues are much more serious and they deserve consideration before complaining about the current system.

I guess I just find it interesting at a time when Americans voice legitimate concerns about jobs being shipped overseas to low wage workers, playoff advocates would like to see “hundreds of millions of dollars” (Jim Delany’s words, not mine) generated by college athletes who would receive nothing more than what they already have. Some of them then turn around and call the BCS “greedy”, but I have to wonder.
January 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMJ

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