The NCAA and its corporate lickspittles (here’s looking at you ESPN, CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX) should just drop the pretense of being an equitable amateur athletic association interested in fair competition, unbiased reporting, and coverage, and a level playing field for its member institutions. If one needed more evidence of this fact, look no further than the so-called College Football Playoff and the teams selected to play for a chance at a “National” Championship in what has been a most unusual, yet predictable, college football season.
If there were ever a season in which the “Playoff” should have been expanded from the exclusive four-team format to a more inclusive, say, eight-team format, this would have been it. Most of the “Power 5” schools (AAC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) only played conference schedules, presumably because traveling to a conference partner’s home field was much safer than visiting a non-league member’s stadium or allowing a smaller school to invade the hallowed confines of “The Swamp” or “The Big House”.
Amid those restrictions, how could one possibly judge the strength of a particular team or conference? With their sycophants in tow to justify the selections, two one-loss teams from the same conference (Notre Dame, Clemson) were chosen alongside a team that only played six games (Ohio St.) with the only clear choice of the four teams, undefeated Alabama, to play in the annual “Big Ten, SEC, ACC” showdown. Of the 28 Power 5 teams to play in the CFP since its inception, 21 of those teams reside in the Big Ten, SEC, and ACC (Notre Dame played this season as an ACC member).
Pay no attention to the three other teams that finished the 2020 season unblemished, Cincinnati, San Jose State, and Coastal Carolina, because the so-called experts and talking heads sure didn’t. They justified the inclusion of the Buckeyes by talking about their “game flow” and dismissing teams like Coastal and Cincy by decrying their schedule. Add to that the Big 10 changed rules, levied limitations, and publicly lobbied to have conference darling Ohio St. be included.
Not that it would matter anyway, the NCAA has a long and sullied history of ignoring any team that is not a part of their good old boy network. In the last 36 seasons, only two teams from a non-Power 5 conference have won the National Championship, BYU (WAC) in 1984 and Miami (Big East) in 1991. After the Hurricanes’ victory, no school outside the P5 has even gotten the chance to play for one. Colorado won a share in 1990 as a member of the Big Eight, however, that conference disbanded in 1994 and all member institutions formed the Big 12 (along with former teams of the Southwest Conference) with some moving to the Pac-12 a few years later.
Since the AP started declaring the National Champion in 1936, only 4 teams outside the big boys were declared champions (Army in ’44 and ’45, Syracuse as an independent in ’59, as well as the aforementioned BYU and Miami), even though over 40 teams from smaller conferences went undefeated in the 62 years before the Bowl Championship Series was created in 1998.
Once the BCS was created, there was a bias towards teams in “lesser” conferences. Tulane (1998), Marshall (1999) and Boise St. (2006, 2009) were all undefeated but were deemed unworthy to play for the championship. After the BCS was disbanded in 2013, ostensibly for the more equitable College Football Playoffs, which everyone was clamoring for, four teams have gone unbeaten but were left out in the cold to play in meaningless bowl games with corporate-sponsored tie-ins.
The most egregious of these ignored and unbeaten teams were the University of Central Florida Knights in 2018. They weren’t included in the Playoffs, which consisted of four teams with one loss each, including two from the same conference. Undeterred, UCF went unbeaten the following season, only to be disregarded once again.
This bias becomes obvious when one looks at the CFP committee selecting these teams and who the members are connected to. Of the current 13 members comprising the selection committee, 11 have ties to the Power 5, either as former or current administrators and ex-players and coaches. In the history of the CFP, 15 of the previous 22 members also have dubious relationships with the Power 5.
So, there is a pattern of favoritism here, and it doesn’t just apply to who gets to play for a championship in football. The Heisman trophy, which is supposed to go to the most outstanding college football player in the NCAA, has been handed out 81 times. Since Roger Staubach of Navy won in 1963, no player outside the Power 5 has been awarded the trophy. Two notable players who were overlooked, were Steve McNair of Alcorn State, who passed for 5,377 yards, rushed for 904 yards, and accounted for 47 touchdowns his senior year (Rashaan Salaam of Colorado won by rushing for 2,055 yards and 24 TD’s) and DeAngelo Williams of Memphis who rushed for 1,964 yards and 18 touchdowns in 11 games his senior year (Reggie Bush of USC won by rushing for 1,740 yards and 16 touchdowns and later had his Heisman vacated).
This bias is also apparent in the NCAA basketball tournament, as well as punishments handed down for rules infractions. The bigger institutions like Arizona and North Carolina, get slaps on the wrist for violations such as impermissible recruiting and grading scandals, while smaller schools effectively get kneecapped for similar or even lesser transgressions.
It appears the goal is to keep their formidable boot on the non-P5 school’s necks, ultimately diminishing revenue streams, and keeping schools on a lower plane by instituting a system that does not allow for winning at the highest level. After Tulane went undefeated in 1998, their head coach, Tommy Bowden left for Florida State. Scott Frost left UCF after the 2018 season for the head job at Nebraska, and Chris Peterson left Boise for the same position at Washington.
As soon as a coach reaches a certain degree of success at a smaller school, the big schools swoop in with the offer of more money and a chance to win the inadequately titled “National Championship”. If the playing field were even, this would be an existential threat to the Power 5, and the infrastructure put in place with television contracts that promote the same old schools playing in the same old playoff system.
So how can there be a paradigm shift? There is constant talk that the P5 wants to break away from the NCAA and form their own league. At this point, why not? They already operate on a different level, and with new rule changes on the horizon, will be able to pay players a higher stipend than the non-P5 universities will be able to afford.
Right now, the only obvious recourse is to vote with your eyeballs and watch something else. Netflix is premiering season 3 of Cobra Kai on January 1st, which promises to be way more entertaining, and if a sweet hit of ’80s nostalgia isn’t your thing, the Doctor Who special on BBC may be. Whatever you watch, just don’t tune in to the “Playoffs”. After all, someone has got to stick up for the little guy, because the powers that be sure aren’t.
Author’s note: I have been an Auburn Tiger football fan for 45 years, which doesn’t in any way influence or diminish my opinion on this subject.
(Thanks for reading. If you dug it, feel free to explore my other posts via the menu categories above. Please subscribe, leave a like, and comment below so we can continue the discussion.)