Picking Splinters: BCS Blow Up

The BCS is going to ruin college athletics.

I’m sure you’ve read that line, or something similar, several times this past week. With TCU joining the Big East, it’s not too hard to see how this ridiculous bowl system has compromised college sports.

Because of the BCS, we now have a 17-team Big East conference. Because of the BCS, we now have schools jumping from conference to conference like a game of musical chairs, afraid they won’t have a seat when the music stops. Because of the BCS, and the huge revenues it generates for football programs participating in its games, we have added pressure for coaches to win, every year, no excuses. Because of the pressure to reach those cash-cow bowl games, the BCS may have even inadvertently increased the number of teams willing to commit NCAA violations in order to capitalize. The only thing the BCS hasn’t done is the one thing it was supposed to do – eliminate the debate that clouded the national championship picture.

Blow. It. Up.

Tear it down. Start over. Because the BCS is not only not working, it’s killing just about everything college athletics are supposed to stand for.

University of Miami football coach Randy Shannon had a record of 28-22 in four seasons spent trying to reclaim a once-dominant program that had degenerated into a street-brawling shadow of its former greatness. In the process of rebuilding the roster – with minimal talent already in place – Shannon was helping his players do something else in addition to play football: Graduate.

I know. It’s a wild concept that college football players do more than enable their schools to rake in profits, but Shannon actually flaunted the third-best academic progress rate among D-1 football coaches. The APR measures the ability of a coach to move his players towards graduation. Shannon trailed only the coaches of Air Force and Navy in that department. But, naturally in the BCS world, his winning record of 7-5 this season, wasn’t winning enough support from folks more concerned with national titles and BCS bowl bucks. He was fired last weekend.

While corruption in the recruiting process has certainly predated the BCS, I can’t help but notice the increasing number of NCAA violations committed by BCS schools. North Carolina and USC have been nailed already, and Heisman frontrunner Cam Newton continues to be scrutinized after his father allegedly sought money in exchange for his son’s commitment. It may just be that, in this WikiLeaks era, sensitive information has more ways of getting out so I’m hearing about these instances more than ever, but with the amount of money associated with the BCS football programs, it certainly makes these kids attractive targets for agents and other nefarious folks seeking to cash in on a player’s ability and a team’s desire/requirement to win.

But since the BCS system revolves around money, here’s a financial argument why this whole situation is stupid. After being repeatedly passed over for a title shot, despite unbeaten seasons, TCU joined the Big East primarily for the conference’s automatic bid to a BCS bowl game each season – an auto-bid that could allow a four-loss UConn football team to cash in on a payout of $17 million or so, while one-time title fave Boise State sits on the sidelines. But to chase that cash, TCU – and the Big East’s other teams – have now greatly expanded their travel budgets. Softball, cross country, swimming, soccer, baseball – programs from all 17 of the Big East’s schools will now have to travel to the conference’s far reaches in Milwaukee, Tampa and Fort Worth.

It’s no secret that schools have been cutting, not adding, sports lately. With budgets tight and tuition on the rise, even more of these non-revenue generating sports could be placed on the chopping block as schools seek to curb expenses.

So, like I said, how, exactly, has the BCS helped college athletics? If someone wants to tell me how it has helped increase graduation rates, promoted a more fair system for determining the football national champion, reduced the corruption of amateur athletics or benefited non-revenue generating sports teams, I’m all ears. Until then, I’ll be looking for someone to come up with a better alternative.