Last year, Rutgers accepted an offer to move to the Big Ten Conference (B1G). It was a no-brainer move – RU has an athletics program with deep financial problems; B1G is a conference with deep pockets. The B1G wanted RU’s New Jersey media market for future tv contract negotiations. Moves like this killed Big East football and created one league with two perception-tiers.
Because there’s no legitimate tournament to determine a champion (and the coming four-team farce isn’t even a bandage), who finishes #1is determined by polling and metrics with built-in biases. The accepted stupidity of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) even allows for a poll to determine who will start the season in the Top 25. In the over a decade, no team has finished the season in first that wasn’t ranked in the top ten prior to Week One. There have been undefeated teams (Boise State, Utah, TCU) that didn’t even figure into the final equation because of where they were placed before a ball was snapped. The small championship pool had already been determined and it didnt include teams in certain conferences. This is not a meritocracy.
The oligarchy is the Southeastern Conference (SEC), B1G, Pacific 12 Conference (Pac-12), Atlantic Athletic Conference (ACC) and the Big 12. However, it is ESPN (which controls 33 of 35 bowls, and the “championship”) who calls the plays. You’ll remember Boston College’s now-retired athletic director explaining the ACC’s decision to poach Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East:
“TV – ESPN – is the one who told us what to do. This was football; it had nothing to do with basketball.” – Gene Defilippo
While ESPN, and other networks, have seen their revenues soar through the increased popularity of the game, they have chosen a path of exclusivity going forward. Why do other schools outside of the fixed-elite put up with this? Maybe it’s the same reason lower income voters vote for candidates seemingly against their economic interests.
Instead of banding together and fighting for a level playing field, teams outside of the Fixed-5 (F-5) conferences desperately vye for one of the limited F-5 slots left. “Conference realignment” has become reminiscent of this scene from Spaceballs. But what’s worse is this may not be simple cynical clamoring. They may actually believe this is how it should work. That “past is prologue” to the simple, bizarre extent that there was a past.
There wouldn’t be a problem with the FBS system if all the schools in F-5 conferences had a long, consistent history of success and/or were large universities that had a great impact in their cities. Outside a handful of schools, that’s not the case. A lot are like Baylor University (BU), with decades of mediocrity despite the millions earned through conference payouts and exposure from ESPN. A couple of years ago, when the University of Texas (UT), University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Texas Tech University were poised to bolt to the PAC-12, Baylor’s president, Ken Starr, went on a media rampage, trying to keep his school in a F-5 conference. But he didn’t talk up BU’s success on the field or court. As a small, private university, he would’ve been lying if he mentioned how much Baylor has done for the state. What did he bring to the table? Tradition. He spoke of hundred-year old “rivalries.” (BU has a 24 – 74 record against Texas.) His tradition is circular reasoning wrapped in nostalgia. People are just lazy enough to go along…
On the season premiere of College Gameday, Kirk Herbstreit proudly claimed not to know which conference the University of Central Florida and the University of Houston were in… They’re in the American Athletic Conference, whose champion gets an automatic bid for the last year of “BCS bowls.” Herbstreit was on Houston’s campus in 2011 for an episode of his show. He makes a quarter of a million dollars a year to cover one sport. He was gleeful to make public his ignorance and no one cared because it wasn’t an indictment on his professionalism, but on those schools who didn’t meet the “tradition” standard to be respected.
The Houston Cougars are the only sports program in Texas that can say they’ve won the Heisman (Andre Ware, 1989) and have five Final Four appearances. No other school in the region has four Naismith Hall of Fame members (Guy V. Lewis, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, and Clyde Drexler). When it shared a conference with schools like the University of Texas and Texas A&M, Houston won more than 1/4 of the football conference championships for which they were eligible. The University of Houston has a student population of over 40, 000 and have the largest on-campus housing available in the state. They’re also one of three public universities in Texas (along with UT and A&M) that is among the Carnegie Foundation’s highest tiered research universities. The University of Houston has a $3.1 (B)illion economic impact on the city of Houston. Only in ESPN’s alternate reality can a school like this be looked down upon.
As a University of Houston graduate, my point in writing that last paragraph was not to advertise my school for an F-5 conference. I would much rather people just snap out of this idea that there’s a college aristocracy entitled to championships,television exposure and respect. I want a level playing field. The FBS needs a real playoff format made up of thirty-two teams. Honest hard work, innovation and determination should be what determines upward mobility. That’s what sports are about. That’s what America is about.