I apologize in advance for those who do not intimately follow collegiate athletics, specifically NCAA football, and thus may be confused by some of the content of this post. While I attempt clarify most NCAA specific terms mentioned, it may be of your benefit to familiarize yourself with the way that the BCS works. But in any case, I digress..
It is around this time of the year that any mention of the thee letters BCS in consecutive order raises hoots and hollers from sports fans and teams alike, declaring the unfairness of the current system, and proposing the benefits of a playoff system instead. Let me be clear that while I agree with this sentiment completely and would favor an overhaul of the current BCS system, it is not my intent to argue such. Rather, I simply intend to provide evidence to illustrate that teams from non-BCS conferences (not the six major conferences), epitomized by the Boise State Broncos, are not considered “citizens as standing” in NCAA football.
I know what you’re thinking, how can a football team be a citizen? What I’m really after is seeing whether certain schools outside the major six conferences are seen both by the polls that rank each team, and the teams themselves, as equal socially. In Judith Shklar’s work American Citizenship, she believes those “who are not granted these marks of civic dignity feel dishonored, not just powerless and poor. They are also scorned by their fellow-citizens” (2). If these schools outside the major conferences are not granted the same equal marks, they do not have a fair and equitable chance of maximizing their status and self-advancement, and consequently are not “citizens as standing.”
The BCS is a ranking system, which compiles the results of three measures: two human polls (Harris and Coaches) and a formula that measures teams’ performance, with metrics such as strength of schedule and margin of victory, to produce a numeric value to rank each team. The top two teams as a result of this ranking system play each other for the national championship at the end of the year. While this initially may seem fair, the University of Utah in 2004 and 2008, and Boise St. in 2006 (both non-major conference teams) finished undefeated, yet were denied the right to play for the national championship game. Furthermore, many of the teams in those years who did make the national championship game had lost at least one game that season. It is apparent that both the computers and coaches that voted in the human polls deemed Utah and Boise St. as inferior to major conference teams, despite their undefeated records.
In fact, “From 1998-2008, nine undefeated teams were excluded from the BCS National Championship game while teams with one or more losses were included. Eight of those nine teams were non-BCS schools.” Finally, this year, the University of Houston is undefeated heading into their final game and will most likely finish the season without a loss. Yet, as a non-BCS school with little respect, their BCS ranking of 8th in the country sure won’t get them a chance to compete for a national title. These schools from smaller conferences are not seen as legitimate, nor do they garner the respect of the coaches and press alike.
Unfortunately, there is a very simply reason for why this happens. It’s a five letter word, T-Pain and Lil Wayne rap about it, and Donald Trump has a lot of it. Yes, money runs college athletics, predominantly football and basketball. There are 36 bowl games every year, meaning 72 teams participate in some sort of playoff game. However, 2/3 of total bowl game revenues are given to the teams in the five major bowl games, the national championship, and four other BCS bowl games (rose, sugar, orange, and fiesta).
So how do you earn an elusive spot into one of these top five bowl games? The winner of each of the major conference is guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl game, while the non-BCS teams have to depend on receiving one of the four remaining at-large bids, competing with other at-large BCS conference teams. Because of their inequity, non-BCS teams like Boise State and Utah find it more difficult to make a BCS bowl. They are usually ranked lower due to a lack of respect from the human polls, and have lower formulaic values, where they are penalized for playing in a weaker conference. Furthermore, the BCS is likely to pick a team like Michigan this year (hopefully 10-2) as opposed to a likely 11-1 Boise State team, because Michigan is a more well-known program, will bring in more TV revenue, and has a much larger national following which would fill more seats.
In 2008, teams from the major six conferences took in over 82% of the $155.2 million awarded to BCS bowl participants. In an excerpt from “Death to the BCS,” Dan Wetzel compares the six major BCS conferences to a Cartel, suggesting that “the Cartel and the BCS exist to consolidate control among the power conferences and position themselves to never let go.” Despite the fact that a team like Boise St. has been the winningest college football program in the last decade, they have zero national championship appearances to show for it. According to Mark Schurtleff, the Attorney General of Utah, “The BCS unreasonably limits access to participation in the national championship and other lucrative bowl games to protect revenues and market shares of the six preferred conferences, the bowl hosts and television networks.” If there was a glossary of Shklar terms, next to the term exclusion there would be a picture of the commissioners of the major six conferences hoarding money and pushing away the Utah’s and Boise St.’s.
Some smart alecs may say, wait a second, Utah is now in the Pac-16, and Boise St. was offered an opportunity to play in the Big East. They were able to raise their social status and through self-advancement and move to a major conference. This misses the point entirely. While this may eliminate the plights of these individual teams, it does not solve the bigger picture of inequity that exists for teams outside the major six conferences. The coaches and sportswriters won’t rank these teams high in the polls. They receive less than 20% of bowl game revenues, while the major conferences get over 80%. They don’t receive an automatic qualifier bid to a BCS bowl game, like the major six conferences. They are excluded from a chance to make the national championship game or a BCS bowl games in favor of more bigger named programs with national appeal and broad fan bases. Shklar would see clear exclusion and a lack of social respect for these schools. There are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of reasons for the major conferences to keep the Boise St.’s and Houston’s out, and they do just that.