Thoreau and the BCS

I know, I know, another BCS post on the blog.  But one reason why the issue is so popular is because 1) it’s relevant today, and 2) the system is so wrong everybody has their own theories regarding how to fix it.

The BCS is broken.  For those who don’t know, the BCS is a combination of human polls and computer algorithms which, in lieu of a full-fledged playoff, are meant to determine the 2 best NCAA football teams and have them play one game to determine a champion.  The system is broken.  It fails yearly.  The human polls are simply a popularity contest, and the computer algorithms are top secret so that nobody knows what they empirically calculate.  No, that’s not a joke.  And yet, the system is still in place.

Many in the mainstream media are against the BCS, but the system lives on due to the corrupt, money hungry people who run the system and the “bowls” that the teams play in following the regular season.  A playoff would ruin the traditional “bowl” system, they say.  It would also provide the nation with an unquestioned champion of Division 1 College Football.

Now, where does Thoreau come into this?  In an article from the Idaho Statesman, Brian Murphy describes a perfectly plausible and clever way to destroy the BCS: stop participating. ( He implores reporters and college coaches, who comprise the constituencies of the two major college football human polls (and a large portion of the BCS system) to stop voting in the polls and stay of out the system.  “Among the other benefits, it’ll restore your sanity,” he scribes.

This is exactly how Thoreau would approach this flawed system.  The BCS, as written in another blog post, excludes some schools completely from playing in its lucrative bowl games.  These schools thus lose millions and millions in revenue all because of a system that plays favorites and is unfair.  If Thoreau were alive (and a college football fan), he would implore those who enable the system, such as media members and college coaches, to abstain.  In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau scribes: “All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable”

In this case, the BCS executives compose the “government.”  Without a doubt, they are running a “tyranny” over college football, as because of their system, there is no true way to determine a champion.  Murphy, doing his best modern day Thoreau impression, is urging the writers and coaches to “revolt” in order to overthrow the money-grubbing BCS head honchos.

Just as Thoreau’s civic republicanism is evident in his work, Murphy is urging those who participate in the BCS to band together for their collective rights and interests.  As Thoreau writes, “Oh for a man who is a man, and, as my neighbor says, has a bone in his back which you cannot pass your hand through!”  It is now up to those who enable the hypocrisy that is the BCS to somehow get “a bone in their back” that we, the American public (and University students especially), “cannot pass our hand through.”

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6 Responses to Thoreau and the BCS

  1. hengk says:

    I love that you were able to so handily imagine what Thoreau would think about the BCS system. But I think that the same thing reigns true for the stopped participation of both Thoreau/certain taxes and coaches/BCS system: not much will be accomplished unless everyone does it. Maybe Thoreau would feel better inside if one coach decided to not participate in the rankings for the BCS system. Would that provide contentment for that coach or university just because they chose to not participate? Even if one coach stops enabling, nothing much would be done. I recognize my own cynicism driving this comment, and would appreciate an exciting CFB playoff series, but I don’t see Thoreau or Murphy (the Idaho reporter) as realistic.

  2. haleynicoleepstine says:

    I think you are on target with your use of Thoreau’s way of not particpating as a way to make a change. I also agree with Thoreau’s philosphy. In the end of the day everything can be put into supply and demand. If there is a demand for something a supply will continue to exist. Yet, if the demand disappears so will the supply. Moral issues can be fixed the same way. While getting rid of slavery isn’t as simple as not buying a shirt, it’s the same concept. If people stopped buying a certain shirt they would stop selling it. If people stopped supporting things associated with slavery, the slave industries won’t suceed. Also I think that lack of particpation is the best way to “stick it to the man” and have your voice heard.

  3. arullis says:

    As you said in the opening line this post is interesting because it pertains to something relevant. Your post does a good job of describing your views as well as the current system in football. The one thing which I disagree with your post is when it comes to exclusion. Many people make a big deal about AQ teams and non AQ teams. You state that some teams are excluded when it comes to automatic qualifying but that really isn’t the case. No team is actually excluded from playing in the game. There are certain circumstances where teams like Boise St. makes a BCS bowl. While they may not make it by winning their conference like the six automatic bids but they can still make the same bowl games. Exclusion which Shklar talks about means that person is totally excluded, they can not participate. Whereas the non AQ teams can participate they just have a different way of doing so.

  4. dfox13 says:

    I agree with Hengk’s comment. This blog post was really interesting, but I don’t see a boycott by coaches or media happening. Such a movement would have to include all the coaches, but the reality is, only a few would protest, and those schools would pay the consequences. The BCS system protects many teams in big conferences, so members of those conferences would not be inclined to remove themselves from the BCS selection process. Of course a playoff would be incredible, but it won’t come along through such idealistic means. Instead, a creation of a vote or an open forum could get the ball rolling towards change.

  5. aazilli7 says:

    There is really no dispute about the evils of the BCS bowl system. It has made money the primary emphasis of the bowl selection process, ruined historic rivalries, and caused completely ridiculous conference changes. It has become the nasty bureaucracy of the college football world, and your comparison of it to a government makes sense, but I think you are forgetting an important fact about the BCS. It acts like a government, but it was not imposed upon the college football world like a government. All of the colleges agreed to the BCS and its rules. They knew the possibility of what it would bring. They knew that the influence of money could invade the bowl selection process, yet they still agreed to it. As Oklahoma State coach, Mike Gundy, conceded today after finding that his team would be ranked #3 and not reach the the national championship: “We bought into the system” and things just played out as they should have, even if it was not to their favor.

    Thoreau’s approach makes sense in instances of imposing governments, but this is not one of those instances. It was a mutual agreement for the schools to adopt BCS, so it is really not their right to call foul and refuse to co-operate once the system they agreed to does not work out for them. They are just going to have to settle and wait until 2014, when the BCS contract expires.

  6. goblue9123 says:

    I thought this was a very interesting approach to a modern day issue. I would have to agree with your assumption that Thoreau would advocate for a boycott against the BCS selection process in order to address this issue. However, as others have alluded to, I am not sure that Thoreau’s approach would be the most plausible solution to this problem. To refer to the metaphor explained by haleynicoleepstine, where any demand continues to exist, there will continue to be reason for a supply. As such, if a complete boycott of BCS cannot be organized, it is unlikely that the system will go completely to the wayside. Ultimately, as dfox13 also mentioned, there are teams who are widely benefitted and protected within the BCS system–those that are not as likely to see a reason to overhaul the current procedure. Therefore, while I agree that a boycott would be Thoreau’s suggest approach to the current corruption within the BCS system, I do not see it as a necessarily productive solution in this case.

    As a whole, however, I think that Thoreau’s message should be assigned some considerable value within our modern society. Amongst many other present day examples, strikes are one such example of the effectiveness of what Thoreau has had to say on this topic. Sometimes withdrawing from a situation can be the only most effective way to fix it.

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