Final Thoughts on the East Coast Bias

After I had my say on the East Coast bias, others chimed in with their most welcome responses, offering replies that were qualitative, quantitative, or both.

While I do not wish to give a dead horse any further flogging, I believe a few additional thoughts on the matter deserve to be aired, hopefully in a manner that helps bring the participants in this discussion to something resembling consensus and closure.

Believe it or not, Antonin Scalia's dissent from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey will prove to be relevant to this discussion. (Cover from The History Buff.)

I especially wish to clarify something I wrote about Pac-10 fans. As I tried to indicate, but may not have succeeded in stating as directly as I might have, I believe the fans who show up in Pac-10 stadiums on autumn Saturdays are as good as any fans in the country. I in no way wish to demean the folks who are attending games in Berkeley, Eugene, Los Angeles, or Seattle . . . especially since the 'Dawgs are playing at Autzen Stadium in 2015.

At the same time, not everyone who could show up does show up and my criticism was directed at the so-called fans who leave some seats empty in West Coast venues. Fans in the Pac-10 are not packed in, which raises some legitimate questions.

Why is it that, in the year in which the Pac-10 "set records for both overall and average attendance," the league ranked fifth among the six major conferences in attendance, with the conference's stadiums filled below 85 per cent capacity? Why did Stanford, a team that won the Pac-10 title in 1999 and finished fourth in the league last year, reduce its stadium capacity by 35,000 seats in the offseason? Why are the age-old criticisms about the Pac-10 being "soft" coming from columnists in California?

Sanford Stadium increased its capacity to 59,000 in 1967 and to 85,434 in 1991; Stanford Stadium reduced its capacity from 85,000 to 50,000 in 2006.

(By the way, since the inevitable criticism of Southeastern Conference scheduling has been raised, I should point out that I agree with Paul Westerdawg that the S.E.C.'s annual lead in attendance probably has a lot to do with the presence of lesser teams on the member institutions' slates. The league's athletic directors know that fans like me are going to show up anyway, regardless of whether the Bulldogs are playing Tennessee or Middle Tennessee. Since they don't have to schedule top-tier non-conference competition to attain a sell-out, they have less incentive to bring in quality opposition. That is no excuse, of course, but it is a perfectly reasonable explanation.)

As before, Bruins Nation's Nestor provided persuasive examples in support of his point, including an illustration of the manner in which East Coast media overlook West Coast teams. Directing his readers' attention to the obligatory preseason article listing "coaches on the hot seat," Nestor pointed out that no Pac-10 skippers made the list. Asks Nestor:

Is it because certain schools' fans are not concerned about the underachievements of their respective head coaches? Of course not. The stories are there to be written about how Mike Riley needs to prove himself at Oregon State to escape the shadow of Dennis Erickson, how [Tyrone] Willingham needs to prove that his Notre Dame fiasco was an aberration, and how almost two/third[s] of the Bruins Nation is still not sure about the direction UCLA is heading under Karl Dorrell.

Is he on the hot seat? For the benefit of those of you who don't follow Pac-10 football, that's Karl Dorrell, by the way. (Photograph from E.S.P.N.)

That is a valid point and a compelling example, but perhaps there is a possible partial explanation to be found in these words from Chris Fowler, which are taken from the E.S.P.N. College Football Encyclopedia:

It's an embarrassment to the sport that such an imbalance exists when, on the field, the majority of the players are African-American.

I think everybody in the sport would like to see the situation improve. Guys like Sylvester Croom and Tyrone Willingham have to succeed to open the minds of the people who make the hires. I mean college presidents, trustees, chancellors---this isn't a very diverse group either.


One of the causes regularly championed by the Worldwide Leader in Sports is the issue of introducing greater diversity into the head coaching ranks. Given the Bristol network's forthright sensitivity to considerations of race in sports, it may not be unreasonable to suppose a certain reluctance on E.S.P.N.'s part to place such prominent minority head coaches as Coach Dorrell and Coach Willingham on the hot seat.

Nevertheless, I will grant a large portion of Nestor's point. We in S.E.C. country make a big deal---and justifiably so---about how difficult it is for a Southeastern squad to go undefeated because the teams in our league regularly beat up on one another.

What gets overlooked, though, is the fact that exactly the same thing happens in the Pac-10. In 1998, Arizona went 12-1 but lost to U.C.L.A. In 2000, Washington went 11-1 but lost to Oregon. Also in 2000, Oregon State went 11-1 but lost to Washington. In 2001, Oregon went 11-1 but lost to Stanford. In 2003, U.S.C. went 12-1 but lost to Cal. In 2004, Cal went 10-1 through the regular season but lost to U.S.C. In 2005, Oregon went 10-1 through the regular season but lost to U.S.C. In each case, a lone conference loss kept a Pac-10 squad out of a B.C.S. bowl game or deprived it of a shot at the B.C.S. national championship.

Moreover, the Huskies' 2000 campaign was hardly the only time in school history that U.W. was given short shrift. Despite Washington's recent woes, 2004 marked the team's first losing season since 1976. In the interim, the Huskies attended seven Rose Bowls in the 24 seasons between 1977 and 2000.

Not that long ago, Husky Stadium was a tough place to play. No, seriously. (Photograph from Answers.com.)

Everyone knows about Oklahoma's 31- and 47-game winning streaks under Bud Wilkinson in the 1940s and '50s, but how many people know that Washington went 59-0-4 between 1907 and 1917, with all but two of those games coming under the direction of Gil Dobie?

Everyone remembers Miami's record-setting home winning streak in the 1980s and '90s, but how many fans remember that it was U.W. that snapped the streak with a 38-20 upset in the Orange Bowl in 1994?

We continue to hear about how Auburn was denied a shot at the national title in 2004, but what about what happened to Washington 20 years earlier? In 1984, the Huskies went 11-1, beating third-ranked Michigan on the road and defeating second-ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl but losing a close contest in Los Angeles against a Southern California squad that won the Rose Bowl and ended up ranked in the top 10. Despite U.W.'s impressive season, the national championship went to a B.Y.U. squad that went 13-0 against a notoriously weak schedule.

We should also recall the 1991 season, in which the focus of the college football world was on the Sunshine State, as Florida, Florida State, and Miami went a combined 33-4. Comparatively little attention was paid to the fact that the Huskies, the defending Rose Bowl champions, compiled a 12-0 ledger that included wins at Stanford, at Nebraska, at California, and over Michigan in Pasadena. Those Cardinal, Cornhusker, Golden Bear, and Wolverine squads finished the season ranked 22nd, 15th, eighth, and sixth, respectively . . . and the average final margin by which the Huskies beat them was 34-15. Nevertheless, a clearly more deserving Washington team had to share the national championship with a Miami team that benefited from "Wide Right I" in a game the Hurricanes should have lost.

Missed field goal? He didn't need no stinking missed field goal! (Photograph from Scout.com.)

The relative inattention paid to Washington, which boasts what is obviously among the top 25 college football programs in the history of the sport, provides solid evidence in support of Nestor's claim. After all, the drive from Husky Stadium to E.S.P.N. headquarters covers 44 hours and nearly 2,980 miles . . . which is as good an explanation as any for the lack of publicity the Huskies receive.

Likewise, Kirk Herbstreit did not help my case against the existence of an East Coast bias by stating that he was "pretty shocked to put a Pac-10 school on" the list of the top 10 "College GameDay" locations.

(It should be noted, however, that regional biases have existed in the past and been overcome before. In 1936, the first year of the Associated Press sportswriters' poll, the final rankings included 10 Midwestern and northeastern teams in the top 20. In order to earn legitimacy with the media establishment, Southern schools found it necessary to travel to take on the established powers of their day. Georgia football, for instance, was put on the map by the Bulldogs' willingness to take on Fordham in New York, Harvard in Cambridge, and Yale in New Haven in the 1920s and '30s. Ironically, in light of the Huskies' recent struggles to be given their due, the most storied Southern football program, Alabama, attained national stature by beating favored Washington in the 1926 Rose Bowl.)

So what does all this mean where the rubber meets the road? I would be lying if I said that my BlogPoll ballot would not be affected by the fact that Arizona State was tied with Northern Arizona heading into the fourth quarter on Thursday night or that Tennessee's 35-0 third quarter lead on the Golden Bears did not confirm my beliefs that Cal was overrated, the Berkeley Bears were nothing more than a West Coast version of Texas Tech, and Jeff Tedford has more than a little Ray Goff in his makeup.

 

If losing 34-31 is your thing, boy, do I have the coaches for you!

On the other hand, I give credit to Southern California for pulling away from Arkansas in Fayetteville and, to a lesser extent, to Washington State for showing some heart against an obviously superior Auburn squad. In the end, I suppose it isn't so much a question of whether I think a particular Pac-10 team is better than a particular S.E.C. team; it's a question of whether I give fair consideration to both.

In that regard, I believe there is as much of a West Coast bias among Pac-10 fans as there is an East Coast bias among S.E.C. fans . . . but individual prejudice is one thing and institutional bias is something else again. Ultimately, the happy medium may be for those of us on the East Coast to pay attention to teams from sea to shining sea, for West Coast fans to be a little less sensitive about the subject, and for all of us to give one another what Justice Scalia called "the satisfaction of a fair hearing and an honest fight" . . . just as the architects of the BlogPoll and the Maxwell Pundit intended.

Go 'Dawgs!

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