Knowing What Needs Fixing

By now you might have seen this piece in the New York Post suggesting that the conferences outside the “power 5” host their own 16-team playoff:

So here’s a thought for the Group of Five — the MAC and the independents, the Sun Belt and Conference USA, the Mountain West and the American Athletic Conference: Toss out from your tent those high ‘dolers’ and create your own 16-team college football playoff.

March Madness is the greatest three-week ride in American sports. December Delirium might be pretty thrilling as well.

No, it wouldn’t be.

I’m sort of picking an easy fight here, because it’s an absurd idea that nobody in any position to make such a decision would ever consider. The answer to college football’s problems is not to create their own NIT. You think teams lose money on lower-tier bowl games? Imagine how much they’d lose going to four rounds of lower-tier bowl games. Nobody would watch, it’d be a money drain, and the winner would claim the title of… meh. It’s a non-starter.

Columns like that one aren’t always meant to be taken seriously, though. Or at least not literally. Less important than the actual suggestion is the theme: that the little guys should take charge of their own destiny and do something proactive rather than let the richer, more powerful conferences walk all over them. This playoff idea might not be the right answer, but maybe it’ll spark a conversation that will lead to better, more realistic ideas… Like, say, this one suggesting a new bowl game between the champions of the American and the Mountain West conferences.

Well, the realistic part is accurate, but I’m not so sure I’d call it better. It sure seems like a good idea on the surface, doesn’t it? Mountain West fans are apparently insulted that the Pac-12 is sending a team from the depths of their league standings to meet the MWC’s champion. The American appears to be losing out on the Liberty Bowl and needs a home for its champion. Sounds like a perfect match, right? And as the blog post says, such a game “could easily compete with or surpass in national and network appeal many of the Power 5 bowls such as the Sun Bowl, Kraft Hunger Bowl, and Belk bowls.”

Unfortunately, this is the kind of short-term thinking I was lamenting last week. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the sentiment. Helplessness is the worst feeling in the world. Our teams are just as important to us as BCS conference teams are to their fans, and seeing our schools treated like they don’t matter is equal parts depressing and infuriating. We feel like something has to be done to keep our school from being left behind. That doesn’t mean, however, that anything done along those lines is a good idea. It matters what that “something” is. Having a more attractive bowl lineup is important, but it’s a short-term issue. The long-term goal is to either prevent a new top tier from developing, or (more likely) to ensure that you are included if there is indeed a new division for football. Our situation is not improved by creating a game that compares favorably to the Belk Bowl.

In fact, it might actually make things a little worse if you think about it. If the goal of the power conferences is to create a separate division, then acting like one already exists by having the American and Mountain West play bowl games against each other only makes their job easier. Let’s face it; if the power conferences want to break away, there’s nothing that the rest can do to stop them. The only recourse everyone else has is through public opinion.

Have you ever wondered why the power conferences give Notre Dame a seat at the table whenever these BCS-like arrangements are made? No matter how many times you’ve read someone say “they should just force Notre Dame to join a conference or shut them out,” it never happens. The reason is because of perception. The BCS and the College Football Playoff are little more than huge television contracts, and their value to television is derived from their perceived legitimacy as college football’s national championship. People can decry the supposed preferential treatment that Notre Dame receives all they want, but it won’t make a difference. A national championship framework that doesn’t include Notre Dame would never be viewed as legitimate. That’s what the smaller conferences need to achieve; they need to create an environment where something that doesn’t include them is viewed the same way. There’s only one way to do that: by playing power conference teams whenever possible and beating them.

That’s why a champions bowl between the American and the Mountain West isn’t a great idea. Beating up on each other doesn’t accomplish anything. You know how disappointed you are when you see two mid-major powers matched up against each other in the NCAA basketball tournament instead of against big-money programs? Or the Boise State-TCU Fiesta Bowl? This would be basically the same thing. Any pairing with a team from the power conferences does more for our cause than the best matchup of teams on the outside. If the #7 team in the Pac-12 is the best you can get, then play them and beat the piss out of them.

In the end, both conferences need bowls for their eligible teams, and if one or two of those bowls have Mountain West and American teams squaring off, so be it. If that’s the case, though, it should be something we settle for and not something we aspire to.

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One Response

  1. I agree. You can never prove that you belong with the big boys if you never play them, and therefore never beat them.

    The claim to fame for the winner of the NIT is “We’re number 65!” It would be the same way if these “lower tier” conferences had their own tournament. A non-starter if you want any credibility.

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