Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bob Smizik: College presidents a greed apart

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Imagine this: After the Steelers and Seattle Seahawks won conference championship games Jan. 22 of this year, the NFL announced the Super Bowl would be played not in two weeks but March 13.

Crazy, right?

What about this? After the National League Championship Series ended Oct. 19, it was announced the St. Louis Cardinals would begin play in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers Dec. 9.

Idiotic, right?

Why would any sport on any level wait more than seven weeks after determining the participants to play its championship event?

That's a good question for the NCAA, which abdicates the responsibility it accepts in every other sport by allowing the championship of Division I-A football to be run by people who don't have the courage to buck an archaic and anti-educational system and whose primary interest is financial.

Would the NCAA allow its basketball tournament to have regional finals the last Saturday in March and begin the Final Four in mid-May?

Of course, it wouldn't. But it is allowing Ohio State and Michigan, one of which will play for the national football championship, to play its final game Saturday and then take off 51 days before playing for the title Jan. 8.

There is no logical explanation for this other than it always has been done that way before.

Apparently bent on getting every possible dollar out of football -- the better to fund other sports -- and every possible mention in the news -- the better to attract more student applicants -- the presidents of the Division I-A football universities have no intention of changing this irrational system.

The underlings of these presidents -- coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners -- never miss an opportunity to gush about what fine fellows these men are and how much their support means to college athletics. In reality, they're every bit as unscrupulous as the dozen or so coaches who face NCAA sanctions every year for cheating.

Let's not forget it was a segment of this group, the presidents of the member universities of the Atlantic Coast Conference, who didn't give a second thought in 2003 to an attempt to obliterate the Big East for no other reason than it might make them a few extra bucks.

Now they stand four square behind such unsound educational principles as a 12-game regular football season; a basketball season that opens around Nov. 1 instead of like it used to after Thanksgiving; a bowl season so expanded that what once occupied a few days at the end of the year now runs from Dec. 19 through Jan. 8.

They have no shame in adopting these professional practices, which is quite understandable considering the college game differs from the professional one only in the amount of money paid to the players. It doesn't bother these presidents that their football and basketball programs are not so much educational entities as they are minor-league systems for the NFL and NBA.

This year, there will be 32 bowl games, beginning Dec. 19 with the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia, and ending Jan. 8 with the title game. The minor bowls used to get out of the road before Jan. 1, but that's no longer the case. The International Bowl will be played Jan. 6 in Toronto and the GMAC Bowl Jan. 7 in Mobile, Ala.

There will be 64 teams participating in these game, which is more than half of the 119 colleges that are members of Division I-A. Whereas it once took an 8-3, maybe a 7-4, record to earn a bowl invitation, these days six losses will get you in.

These bowl games exist for one primary reason: To provide programming for ESPN. Twenty one of the 32 games will be carried by ESPN, which has an audience that never tires of college games, regardless of how meaningless. It is not too far-fetched to suggest that if ESPN can find the sites and the advertisers, in the not-too-distant future teams with losing records will be extending their seasons with a bowl game.

The upshot of this ridiculously overextended bowlmania is an extension of the season that takes away even more classroom time than the normal activities of a Division I-A athlete. There are more practices, more mental preparation, more toll on the body and less time for studies, less time to be a college student.

If the NCAA had the guts to take control of the football season, it could do away with much of this abuse. A 16-team playoff, beginning the first week in December, would have every team, or all but two, finished by the end of the month. Such a plan would end the season for 103 of the I-A teams in November, allowing those players to get back to their studies and have a chance to be a student.

It makes perfect sense to almost everyone but the ones who count: The greedy college presidents.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at )

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