Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The SEC and the BCS

Golden recently referenced an "excellent" article by Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel that talks about the Miles to Michigan rumors, and compares the SEC to the Big Ten, among others. The article is pretty much your run of the mill article this season: SEC rocks, Big Ten sucks, yada yada yada. While the general tenor of the article is antagonistic, it's hard to argue with most of the assertions in the article: Right now the SEC is a better conference than the Big Ten, it is easier to get through the Big Ten to a title game than the SEC, and LSU has a lot to offer a head coach that Big Ten schools don't.

But where the argument goes astray is when Wetzel argues that the BCS is somehow bad for the SEC. Nothing could be further from the truth. The BCS, and the bowl system it is helping to prop up, maintains the current balance of power in college football. The BCS conferences got 44 of the 64 bowl bids last season and a lion’s share of the prize money. It would have been more if not for a new NCAA rule, which forbid power conference 6-6 teams from getting at-large bids over 7-5 or 8-4 teams. For the first time last year both the MAC and Sun Belt got at-large bids to bowl games. With more money, and the extra practice time that is permitted with a bowl game, the power conferences have a stranglehold on success in college football. There are no Gonzagas or George Masons in football.

Furthermore, the current system helps the southern power structure of the game. The bowls create a large amount of revenue for southern and western cities. Most of the bowl games are played in the south; most of the bowl games are won by teams that are closer to the bowl. How successful would the ACC be in basketball if all NCAA tournament games were held in Chicago or Kansas City? The reason the BCS was created by an SEC commissioner and is still run by a former SEC commissioner is that the SEC has more to gain with the continuation of the current system that just about any other conference. 18 of the last 29 national champions came from the south. In contrast, in I-AA(sorry, FCS), the last 29 years of playoffs, where teams play on campus, have resulted in 15 southern championships, and 14 northern championships. A playoff system would level the playing field and would take away the built in advantage that SEC, ACC and to a lesser extent, PAC 10 teams currently hold.

A playoff system wouldn't help the SEC as much as it would help the WAC, the CUSA, or the Mountain West. Look at Boise State last year. Do we know for certain that they weren't the best team in the country last year? We have a pretty good idea based on watching teams play, but if there had been a playoff, would a Boise State run to a championship have been any more surprising than the first Gonzaga run to the Elite Eight a few years back? No, the SEC, like the Big Ten, and the other BCS conferences will protect the BCS at all costs. That's why Florida president Bernie Machen went into the SEC spring meeting touting a playoff and came out saying:

"They are persuaded, and I am now persuaded, that the best way to proceed is to work within the BCS structure and make some changes to make it better. That seems to me to be a very good way to go, and being that we are the leading football conference, we'll be able to be heard in that regard.''

The other presidents showed him the books and told him not to bite the BCS hand that feeds them. Wetzel, and Golden to a certain extent, both want you to believe that the SEC is a paragon of virtue, fighting for a playoff, while the big bad greedy Big Ten won't let it happen. The truth is, the SEC has its snout buried in the bowl system trough as much as anyone.