BCS: Boise St. Citizenship as Standing?

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.

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9 Responses to BCS: Boise St. Citizenship as Standing?

  1. allisonrd says:

    While I do see where you’re coming from, I do think that you’re leaving out one extremely important factor: the quality of opponents that each team plays. While #7 Boise St. might have a record that’s better than, #3 Arkansas’ for instance, when you’re playing teams like Toledo, Tulsa, Wyoming, and only one ranked opponent the entire season (Georgia), it’s hard to say with certainty that they deserve a BCS berth because they really haven’t proven themselves against quality opponents. Compare that to Arkansas whose only losses have come against #1 LSU and #2 Alabama. That being said, something that Schklar also emphasized is the idea of the “self made man.” When you factor this is, the rankings don’t look nearly as backwards—programs need to recognized for playing and beating difficult teams.

  2. bjacobs25 says:

    I think you’re dead on. Another aspect that can be argued for why non BCS teams do not have “standing” is they truly don’t have the ability to “earn” in the strictest sense. There have been many teams in the past that could have qualified in the past for the BCS but did not. As a result these teams were demoted to sub par bowl games – games that pay out way, way less than there BCS counterparts. Last year, Boise state missed a last second field goal in their last game. Instead of playing in the Rose Bowl (which they would have had the kicker been successful), they were demoted to the “Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.” Estimations were that the kicker who missed the kick cost Boise State somewhere between 13 and 17 Million dollars. Despite potentially being worthy enough to compete in the Rose Bowl (one missed kick here or there shouldn’t drastically lower the value of a team), Boise State was being paid way less than they were worth. They were not “earning” as Schklar would point out. As a result, I agree that non BCS teams do not have citizenship as standing.

  3. stephmfarr says:

    Interesting post relating Shklar’s idea of citizenship as standing to a very obvious case of exclusion. While jason5brown’s reasoning is sound, and money is certainly a factor, I must agree with allisonrd’s point about strength of schedule. While Houston may be undefeated, their weak schedule does not inspire much confidence about their ability to compete with teams who have earned inclusion. Houston only barely beat UCLA, a fairly unremarkable team that was among their most challenging opponents. No teams they beat, including SMU and Tulsa, were very good teams. Consequently, their BCS ranking is lower. If Houston (or Boise St, etc.) were playing and beating teams of similar quality to those teams which play in the major conferences, coaches would rank them higher and so would the computers. Since they don’t though, it follows they aren’t earning a higher ranking. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see an undefeated Houston team lose to 2-loss Michigan (or any similar team) in a BCS bowl. They simply haven’t competed with particularly challenging programs, so it follows that their ranking isn’t as high as one might expect.

  4. Justin says:

    I completely agree with allisonrd and stephmfarr. When we look at why certain groups of people lack standing, the two most obvious scenarios per Shklar are the lack of the vote or a failure to work and earn. In both cases, those excluded do not possess or do certain things that citizens have or do. In the case of non-BCS teams like Boise St. or Houston, they are not “citizens” of the BCS because they do not play in one of the six major conferences (analogous to citizens lacking the vote), while they also do not earn, because they usually do not play any (or as many) legitimate opponents throughout the season when compared to BCS teams. To acquire standing through possessing the vote, they can join one of the top six conferences, like Utah has done. To acquire standing through earning, they can schedule more (or all) of their non-conference games against top tier opponents, and consequently they will get more respect in the polls. Both the voters and the computer takes into consideration stregnth of schedule, so it is no mistake that these undefeated non-BCS teams are less respected and do not get a chance to play in the national championship. As a sports fan, I have no problem with the exclusion of these teams, and I think Shklar would concur that they lack the requisites for citizenship in the BCS.

  5. arullis says:

    I think that your comparison to standing and the BCS conferences are dead on. How you relate non BCS teams to lowering standing and their exclusion from certain bowl games. The thing which I question is that isn’t the primary point of a football program to be in one of the 5 conferences for the exact reason of bowl status? When in those conferences you guarantee a quality strength of schedule and proves your worth as a team. Someone in the MAC, WAC, C-USA, or other conferences face inferior opponents. The strength of schedule as well as quality wins increase your rankings which is the ultimate indicator of bowl games. One thing which I think is interesting to your point is Independent teams. How would a team like Notre Dame fit in your view. They are technically not in the automatic qualifying conference but due to contracts with the NCAA they are on the same standing as teams in those conferences. What sort of role does Notre Dame play in standing?

    • jakmel says:

      In response to the question that “arullis” poses, Notre Dame is in my opinion benefits the most from the BCS system in regards to standing. Since, they are considered an independent team they are able to choose all the teams they play are there schedule because they do not have to play any mandatory conference games. This gives their school two huge advantages over schools which play in conference. The first is that they are able to schedule almost all their games against big name teams like USC, Michigan, Stanford, and Michigan State. Games like these, generate huge interest from the public which equates to a lot of money for the school, playing one of these big names teams almost every week. The second advantage Notre Dame in the BCS system, is that they are able to pad there resume to the biggest BCS bowl games due to their strength of schedule. Although there strength of schedule might hurt there chances at the ultimate national championship, it helps there chances in getting one of the BCS at large bids. Even if throughout the season they accumulate 2 or 3 loses, they will still get precedent over a team with maybe 1 or 2 loses because there strength of schedule is so good and also they have a better chance of beating a good team because they play so many of them. This gives Notre Dame a huge advantage over teams like Boise State who’s resume for an at large BCS bid is weighed down, by all the bad teams they play throughout the year.

      For a team like Boise State to even receive an at large bid they have either be perfect or
      have one lose and have some very good wins on their resume. It would be in the best interest of teams like Boise State to either switch to a more prominent conference, or an even better idea would be to just become an independent team, like BYU did recently. Although there are many challenges to being independent and playing a tougher schedule, if Boise State is serious about getting to the national championship game, there best bet is too disaffiliate with their current conference and register as an independent team.

  6. lgeorge905 says:

    I agree with the comments above. I think the majority of the public would be in favor of offering a spot in the BCS to an undefeated team from the SEC over an undefeated Boise St. If so, you are acknowledging that scheduling differences DO matter. And if that is the case, the only question to be asked is: how far should it go? Not losing shouldn’t be the only requirement for playing in the national championship; beating quality opponents should also matter. I would argue that Boise St. has an equal right to vote, and certainly an equal right to earn. They just do it in different ways than the major conference teams. Earning, for them, should be moving up to a major conference. Voting, for them, should be playing quality opponents. It is not enough to have the ability to vote- you must be willing to exercise it, or you forfeit your voice for the time being. It is not enough to have the ability to earn- you should also make contributions. Boise St.’s inaction is the problem.

  7. charliefilips says:

    I like this discussion, cool post. I have to agree with those who suggested that playing a strong schedule is essential to standing within the BCS community. I don’t agree with the point that only “some smart alecs” would use Utah joining the pac-16 as a counter example to your argument. I think rather than masking the problem, as you suggested, the Utah example provides a solution for those teams who are seeking inclusion within the BCS community.

    The fact of the matter is that most of the teams playing outside of the top-conferences know that they have little to no shot of making it to a BCS game. This is because they are confined to a conference schedule that requires them to play teams comprised of players who are less talented than those who play the major conferences. If non-major teams want to prove themselves worthy of inclusion within the BCS community, then it is essential to play better teams. It is only possible to play better teams in out-of-conference games. Year after year non-major conference teams schedule major-conference teams early in their season. It cannot be argued that these games do not offer teams playing outside of the major conferences an opportunity to show that they are worthy of inclusion in the BCS community. If the non-major teams win these games, then they deserve recognition from the BCS. However, 9/10 times these teams lose, only furthering the argument that inclusion should be restricted to the top conference teams who have the top players.

    If you cannot prove yourself capable of beating the best teams, then you do not deserve inclusion within the community BCS community. If you want inclusion, beat the best teams that you can during the out of conference season and try to impress a major conference. That way, like Utah, you have a greater opportunity to find yourself in a BCS game at the end of the season.

  8. bkemeter says:

    The idea of college football and the BCS is definitely interesting. I would say that is true that those in the BCS conferences are citizens and the the others are not. For me, the point Justin made is very important. Teams who are on the outside and not working hard to move should not just assume that they will be allowed to reap the benefits. Last year when Boise was playing the “no one wants to play us” card, Nebraska stepped up. Boise however, refused to any of the offered games because they wanted more money (http://college-football.blogs.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/24156338/24447857). Top tear teams do not earn by other teams paying them, they earn by playing teams and raising their stock. Utah made the jump to the Pac-12, and found out the difference in levels of play, and TCU will move to the Big XII next year. Boise has the chance to join the Big East, in football only because every other part of their school is toxic both academically and in any other sports, and need to take opportunity to be on equal ground before they can claim they are being left out.

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