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BCS hurts college sports, especially basketball

January 7, 2012 Columns No Comments

Last month, Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen talked to local reporters about the BCS. Mainly, he simply unleashed a lot of feelings that many of us have, and rightly so for a lot of reasons. Many of us understand that the BCS is hurting college sports, especially college basketball.

From the outset, the BCS was a joke as far as its place in college football is concerned. There is no national championship in the Football Bowl Subdivision; the winner of the BCS Championship Game is like the winner of the NIT Season Tip-Off or the Maui Invitational in basketball, not a national champion. (The Division I national champion will be either Sam Houston State or North Dakota State, who will play on Saturday.) The system is your basic old boy network applied to college football, as it’s designed to benefit the six conferences that were in on the whole deal all along. The Big East has been a laughingstock in football for a while now, yet it still gets its champion into a BCS bowl while more deserving teams – which often have included Petersen’s Broncos – are pushed back into less prestigious bowl games (and ones without nearly the same payout).

This year was a perfect example of that last point. West Virginia, who finished 23rd in the final BCS standings, was in the Orange Bowl, while Boise State finished seventh was relegated to the Maaco Bowl and annihilated an Arizona State team that frankly had no business playing in a bowl game with a 6-6 record and a coach that was fired effective after the game.

It doesn’t end there, though. Additional teams in BCS bowl games that finished below Boise State are Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Clemson. In other words, fully half of the ten teams in the BCS bowls finished below Boise State in the BCS rankings, showing that the bowl selections clearly were not made based on who the best teams were. Several of those teams – West Virginia, Clemson and Wisconsin – made it with automatic bids, but that still means two teams were selected over Boise State and clearly not on merit.

And in light of that, Petersen asked a very sensible question: “Why are we even voting?”

Petersen has generally bit his tongue over the years on the subject, but everyone has a threshold before they finally tell how they really feel. There’s no issue here; what he said made a lot of sense.

“I think everybody’s just tired of the BCS and that’s the bottom line,” Petersen told reporters. “Everyone’s just frustrated, no one even knows what to do anymore – it doesn’t make sense to anybody. I don’t think anybody is happy anywhere.”

One of the many flaws of the system is that the results of the weekly USA Today Coaches Poll is one of the factors in the scoring. Leaving out the obvious issue of human polls playing a role in this, Petersen also noted the conflict of interest for those who vote: “I know what I’m trying to do is make the best case for Boise State to get in there, I probably shouldn’t be a voter.”

But Petersen’s school is currently in the middle of the biggest reason the BCS is exceptionally bad for college sports. Boise State and San Diego State will be changing conferences in football only to – get this – the Big East. That’s right: the Big East, with its headquarters in Providence, R.I., is the future home of schools that are about 2700 (Boise State) and 2600 (San Diego State) miles away.

Indeed, all of the conference maneuvers we have seen in recent years – ones that make school presidents and conference commissioners look like they flunked geography, to say nothing of the sacrificing of great rivalries in some cases – can be traced to the BCS. These moves have only made less and less sense as time has gone along, and while basketball is not driving the train, it is taking a hit.

Miami and Virginia Tech leaving the Big East for the ACC made sense geographically. That started the domino effect: Boston College followed suit, fearing that the Big East was in jeopardy and that being in the ACC meant they would be in a powerhouse conference. The former happened, the latter has not, but the Eagles are an ACC outlier all the same; until Syracuse and Pittsburgh arrive, the closest school in the ACC to them is Maryland, more than an eight-hour drive away.

The Big East is really the epicenter of the insanity. Sure, the Pac-10 expanded to 12 schools (and changed its name to the Pac-12), and the SEC is headed to 14 by adding two from the Big 10, er, 12. But the Big East is where it really gets out of hand.

It started with the five schools they brought in from Conference USA after the aforementioned departures to the ACC, which expanded the conference’s footprint away from the east coast. It was set to continue with TCU, a four-hour flight from the conference headquarters, before TCU went to the Big 12 before they ever played an athletic contest in the Big East. Now Syracuse and Pittsburgh will leave, robbing the conference of two basketball powerhouses and some great rivalries, from the signature Georgetown-Syracuse to West Virginia-Pittsburgh (with West Virginia also leaving for, of all conferences, the Big 12, where they will be the easternmost school) and ones that both have developed over time with Connecticut.

But where things go beyond head-scratching is with the five schools that the Big East will soon add. Boise State and San Diego State make no sense geographically and are joining for football only. UCF makes sense since it is in the east coast, but Houston and SMU do not. Just the fact that some schools are joining in football only should illustrate the ridiculousness of it all. Boise State and San Diego State will be leaving the Mountain West in other sports, as the former goes back to the WAC after just one year and the latter will go to the Big West, where it should instantly be the signature program in basketball.

The real motivator on both ends is none other than the BCS and the added money it potentially brings a school. Boise State and San Diego State, along with the three schools joining in all sports, want access to the bowls that are under the BCS umbrella, to go with their higher payouts. The easiest way to do it is to get into one of the big six conferences. Meanwhile, the Big East has to at least look the part of a conference that is deserving of having its champion play in a prestigious bowl, not to mention they have to make up for three schools that are already slated to depart from the conference in the next few years. While Boise State will help them, and Houston might as well, the jury is out on the others.

The Big East is a basketball conference at heart. It was founded solely as that, adding football later. It became a powerhouse in basketball long before it added the best basketball schools from Conference USA several years ago, and has a great history. Now, football has co-opted the conference, leading to moves that hurt the end product on the hardwood. The conference is selling out basketball in the name of preserving the chance to add football dollars.

Boise State will instantly be the best team in the Big East on the gridiron. The question will be if the added money they might get from a BCS bowl appearance will offset the added costs of travel for many of their road games enough to be worth it. Additionally, will the other teams appreciate having to spend big money to travel across the country for a conference game? Plus, with all due respect to the programs, I’m not sure a matchup like Connecticut at San Diego State excites a lot of people as far as getting television interest goes.

What’s worse is that the conference maneuvering is probably not done yet. The BCS is, unfortunately, not going away anytime soon, so we shouldn’t expect all the ridiculousness to depart, either. Chris Petersen was on to something, although for just one of the reasons. The BCS is not good for college sports, only for those who are chasing dollars – even if chasing those dollars leads to losing some of the soul of college sports, which is something that should never be sacrificed.

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