20 December 2009

Bowled over by Excess

The initial college football bowl games of the season have already been played. Thus, the deluge of 34 mostly meaningless matches has been unleashed. As a fan of Division 1-A college football, I must ask: WHY?!

I wonder if anyone else remembers when securing a bowl bid served as validation of a successful season. Am I the only one who still believes that if this nonsensical post-season arrangement will continue to exist, that at least it should be limited to fewer teams? A large number of this year’s bowl participants never even made a cameo appearance in any of the three most widely cited top 25 opinion polls. Since the expansion of the regular season to twelve games, teams with the same number of losses as wins annually qualify for bowl games. Some of those teams plus others with 7-5 records only achieved that modicum a success by defeating team from the Division 1-AA level.

The driving force behind the overstuffed schedule of irrelevant match-ups is conferences’ overblown views of their members. Conferences with automatic bids to Bowl Series Championship games delusionally believe that their fifth and sixth place teams deserve to play an extra game, usually against another distant also-ran from another major conference. Also pushing for the inflation of the bowl glut, the five non-automatic qualifying conferences are equally culpable. These five groups of defectors from Division 1-AA, remnants of formerly relevant conferences and long-time independents clamor for any nationally televised games, even their second and third place members. Sadly, in this era when even last place in children’s competitions merits a trophy, the once highly prized bowl game berth has degenerated into a de facto thirteenth game for more than half of teams in the top echelon of NCAA football.

Previous generations of fans of bowl-bound teams relished trips to bowls to touristic locations. People escaped wintry doldrums to ring in New Year’s Day in warm locales suited to entertaining visitors. Currently, the absurd array of bowl games includes such curiously undesirable destinations such as Boise, Detroit and Shreveport. Compounding this line-up of inappropriate vacation spots, a bowl game has been scheduled for Yankee Stadium after the 2010 season. What purpose would this serve other than to lure even more loud and tipsy spectators to pack Times Square further past the point of overflowing?

As the situation exists now, bowl games serve much less of a financial boon to either to bowls sites or participants. In some cases, universities actually lose money by sending their teams to post-season play. After the costs of transporting the players, coaches, support staff, marching band and university officials then paying for all those to stay at the location of the game for at least three days, little to none of the bowl payout remains. For fans of perennial top 25 programs, spending hundreds of dollars to travel and watch their underperforming teams play a glorified exhibition match before New Year’s Day often fails to motivate them to part with their money. Therefore, bowl committees deduct the value of hundreds, frequently thousands, of unsold tickets allotted to universities from the sum given to them for participating in the game.

Unfortunately, for the devotees of followers of the most popular amateur sport in the United States, we will have to settle for yet another year with three weeks of inconsequential contests concluded by one game purported to crown the national champion.


09 December 2009

Down the Stretch

As the National Football League enters the final quarter of its regular season, the contenders for championships have been distilled from the mash of 32 teams. The fans of the dregs must come to grips with their fate. Their only solace is to check out the college bowl games to see whom their teams might draft in April.

American Football Conference
East Division: New England has stumbled the past two weeks but still leads the division by one game over the Jets and Dolphins. The Patriots split the meetings with both contenders so their game at Buffalo will weigh heavily when the tie-breakers are applied. A loss to the Bills would give Miami the tie-breaking advantage over New England. The Jets could easily make up ground versus the putrid Buccaneers, injury-riddled Falcons then probably complacent Colts. This race looks to go down to the final game of the regular season.

North Division: Only four losses to close out the regular season would prevent Cincinnati from wrapping up the division. The Bengals swept their divisional games so just one win will secure the division. However, they cannot become lackadaisical if they want to beat out the winner of the AFC West for the second seed and a first round bye.

South Division: The only remaining question here is “How hard will the Colts pursue a perfect season?” Indianapolis has already claimed the divisional crown. Merely by splitting their final four games, the Colts can earn home-field advantage for the playoffs. Due to the Jaguars 6-2 conference record, they remain in the thick of wild-card contention.

West Division: San Diego resuscitated its season with infusions of AFC creampuffs during an impressive seven game winning streak. The Chargers will step up in class in the next two weeks versus playoff contenders. Denver only trails by one game with these two having split their match-ups. The Broncos absolutely must win their remaining divisional games at home to have a shot at wresting the AFC West away from San Diego.

National Football Conference
Eastern Division: This division has provided down-to-the-wire finishes on an annual basis for several years. This year projects as yet another exciting conclusion. The Giants trail by one game but hold the tie-breaking advantage over the Cowboys; a win at home versus the Eagles is vital to keep pace while avoiding conceding the tie-breaker to Philadelphia. The Eagles currently holds the tie-breaker factoring in NFC games which might end up settling the deadlock. Dallas already has two divisional losses, both to the Giants, so the Cowboys must win their final four games, especially those two NFC East games to avoid falling behind the Giants.

Northern Division:
Minnesota sits on the cusp of securing the division. Thanks to their sweep of Green Bay, the Vikings need only to win half of their scheduled matches to grab the divisional title and a first round bye. Minnesota has to hope that New Orleans stumbles twice in order to sneak into position for home-field advantage.

Southern Division: New Orleans has already wrapped up the NFC South. The Saints can even afford to throw in one clunker yet still receive the top seed in the NFC playoffs. One of the least successful franchises in NFL history has a realistic chance to become only the second team to finish 16-0. Atlanta and Carolina will require Herculean efforts along with some assistance from other teams to limp into the playoffs.

Western Division: Just like last season, Arizona is not playing in a consistently aesthetic fashion. However, the Cardinals will secure the division by splitting their remaining games. The Forty-Niners have teased their fans dreaming of a return to the glory years of the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately for them, San Francisco must win out and hope for Arizona to choke.

Conference Power Rankings

Now that the regular season of college football has concluded, college football fans need some topics to fill the conversational void until the bowl games start. Since all the awards were handed out last week, they have to find another issue. The never-ending debate over conference superiority always generates interest, if not heated discussions.

In an effort to determine the strength of conferences in relation to each other, I have devised a formula to calculate objectively how they rate. I have reviewed the non-conference match-ups of the eleven Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-A) conferences' members.

The formula consists of teams contributing points toward their conference's totals with each win against other teams outside their own conference. Teams receive no credit for defeating members of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-AA). However, conferences' members are penalized for losing to FCS/Division 1-AA teams. Wins on the road or at neutral sites carry more value than wins at home. Conferences earn bonus points if their members defeated other conferences' overall champions or divisional champions. The score of 1.000 is the highest possible score for a conference whose members played all of their non-conference games at home; in this case, the conference won all of them, beating only FBS opponents, none of whom won their conference or divisional championships.

After plugging in all of the numbers into my top secret formula, here are the results:

Southeastern: 48 .891
Big East: 40 .788
Pacific Ten: 30 .617
Big Twelve: 48 .578
Big Ten: 44 .574
Mountain West: 36 .535
Atlantic Coast: 48 .521
Western Athletic: 38 .434
Conference USA: 48 .250
Mid-American: 52 .231
Sun Belt: 36 .083

The Atlantic Coast Conference had monumental victories. Virginia Tech's wins over the Big Twelve Northern Division champion Nebraska and Conference USA's champion East Carolina earned some respect for the ACC. Additionally, North Carolina also defeated ECU. Boston College defeated the Mid-American Conference champion, Central Michigan.

On the flip side, the ACC suffered several embarrassing losses. Virginia lost to William & Mary and Duke lost to Richmond; both of those winning teams play at the FCS level. The ACC struggled mightily, 2-5, versus the SEC. The only two wins occurred against the only two SEC teams who finished with losing records. The fact that both teams in the ACC title game lost to SEC teams finishing 7-5 further tarnished the ACC's image. Finally, BC dropped a game to the imploded program in South Bend, Indiana.

The Southeastern Conference piled up notable wins yet could have easily earned a higher score. Florida and Arkansas rolled over Troy, the Sun Belt champion. Georgia’s win at Georgia Tech combined with South Carolina defeating Clemson bolstered the SEC's claim to superiority over the conference derisively regarded as "a basketball conference". Also, Tennessee beat Ohio, the Eastern Division winner of the Mid-American Conference. Had nine of the members played FBS instead of FCS opponents, including Mississippi beating two formerly labeled Division 1-AA programs, then the SEC's point total could have easily exceeded 0.9, even if not all of those games were wins for the SEC.

The Big Ten continued its cherished tradition of inviting Mid-American Conference members to serve as punching bags. Prior to starting intra-conference games or just filling in open dates later in the year, the Big 10 bullied the MAC in eleven of the thirteen head-to-head contests.

The Pacific Ten responded positively following last season's embarrassing regular season record of 1-6 versus the Mountain West Conference. This year, the PAC 10 won all three games against the MWC. Fans might wonder if the smaller number of match-up between these two conferences contributed to the reversal. However, the PAC 10 appears more balanced and improved than in 2008.

For those higher rated conferences, take pride in your rankings. As for the rest, redemption can always occur in winning bowl games.