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The Bucking Broncos and the B.C.S. Elite: A Partial Reply to BCSBusters

After I cast my final BlogPoll ballot, a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion got underway, which I thought concerned issues of sufficient gravity that they warranted responses on the main page. The first installment of my reply appeared last night, and, to no one's surprise, my position already has been answered by BCSBusters, who detected signs of unconscious regional bias in some of my rankings.

(For whatever it might be worth, one of the teams supposedly suffering from my admitted Southeastern homerism was Oregon, a team I had ranked ahead of Georgia in mid-November. I ranked the Ducks tenth on my final ballot. Oregon ended up being ranked 24th in the coaches' poll, 23rd in the A.P. poll, and 19th in the BlogPoll.)

Since I give the Ducks credit for their quality as a football team, though, I still reserve the right to make fun of their uniforms.

The crux of BCSBusters's overarching criticism, though, was set forth in the following comment, to which I shall begin (but not end) my response in this posting:

Go Look at the final BCS Poll and then go look at your own poll. If Kansas can beat Virginia Tech on the field, yet you rank them 5 spots ahead? If Oregon can beat Michigan by 32 and yet the BCS rankings have the Wolverines 7 spots ahead of them in the final poll, even though they have the same record?

Whether intended, or unintended (which I believe your intentions are), this form of bias and social discrimination (as it relates to college football) is going to continue, like it has for the last decade, over and over again.

I agree with PMAC, why play the game in the first place?

And just like West Virginia, even though Oregon was a front runner, at the moment they don't beat a team by the required or expected spread, the questions will arise, just like California and Texas in 2004.

LSU can lose twice, to an 8-4 club (which West Virginia would obliterate 8 times out of 10 and lose twice due to turnovers and injuries), rising from #7 all the way to number two. Oregon wouldn't have been able to get away with beating UCLA by even 14, given that UCLA lost to both Utah and Notre Dame.

The very second Oregon doesn't blow out UCLA, they would be on the outside looking in. If you question this Kyle, you need to sharpen that pencil a little bit and start looking at this a little closer.

Or did you miss Lundquists comments regarding UCLA, questioning the strength of the PAC-10, occurring as many as three times on national television during the mid point of the season.

Did you miss Lunquist saying "My goodness, what is going on in the PAC-10? The same UCLA team that was blown out by Utah and beaten by Notre Dame is leading the PAC-10. That is a set up waiting to happen, via a loaded question, and this card would have been played on Oregon. They would have had to blow out Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State to make it stand up to LSU and the best conference in the universe.

Kyle, You and SMQ have the best blogs, led by the smartest, intelligent comments, on the web for college football. It really isn't even close. Your blog, like SMQ's is the best source of information on the Web, but you are guilty of this example of bias, whether it is intended or unintended.

If you can't see how your own unintended bias is yet a microcosm for the whole system, then no one can see it, but the reality is you just validated my whole entire book manuscript.

It is not a fair fight for nearly 100 of the 120 teams participating in Division I-A college football.

For example, if we are going to rank a team like Boise State, after beating Oklahoma on the field, below Oklahoma (last year of course), because when analyzing their entire schedule (resume ranking), which they can do very little about, because they don't play the juggernauts that abound in the Big-12, ACC, SEC or Big-10), then the system whether it be the BCS ranking system or your own resume ranking system is complete sham.

Boise State (like Fresno, Hawaii, Utah or BYU), would jump at the chance to become a member of the PAC-10, or even the Big-12. Do you think these conference members will let them in? They can now get to the BCS thanks to Dr. Cowen, but they will never play for the title, and Oregon, West Virginia or any other secondary (minor market) juggernaut will reep the same.

And I think you missed a little bit of the point.

USC is a part of the CFA, even though the conference vote back in the mid-1980's went against their hopes and vision to align with the CFA. They still benefit like LSU did this past year. My argument today is not that USC or the PAC-10 didn't get a chance to win or play in the championship.

My point is this system of placing poll votes is highly invalid and inaccurate, no matter who conducts it, is full of social bias and flat out discrimination, and can be manipulated to benefit the elite juggernauts to satisfy the television ratings.

This system of ranking conferences ahead or below each other is a complete sham, and quite frankly, it leads to the argument we are having today, because it sways pollsters who vote in the polls, again, whether it be the Blog-Poll, AP or the BCS.

I do not reward LSU anymore for this years mythical championship anymore than I did USC's in 2004, since Auburn was undefeated as well. I just get tired of the smear campaign against the PAC-10 or the Rose Bowl. The conference tie-ins to all the bowls is the problem, it isn't specific to the Rose Bowl itself, and I'm tired of our conference getting bashed because some greedy conferences want access to the second best ratings bowl, when they do not open up their own bowl tie-ins to other teams, like Boise State, Fresno State, Utah or BYU and PAC-10 teams like Oregon, Oregon State or California as well.

Obviously, there is quite a lot to address in that critique---hence, my need to break up my response into installments---but BCSBusters offers some keen insights and makes some good points, however much we might happen to view the college football landscape differently.

I believe I have already answered the Kansas/Virginia Tech question (to my satisfaction, if not to anyone else's) in the previous postings linked to above and the parenthetical aside in my second paragraph, supra, dealt to some degree with the Oregon issue. Obviously, when two teams finish with identical records and one beat the other head-to-head, the logical assumption is that the winner of the head-to-head meeting will be the higher ranked of the two. That isn't automatic---it does, after all, matter what the two teams did in their other twelve games, particularly if they play in different leagues and have no common opponents---but it is sensible.

If the Oregons of the world are being done dirty because they play in the Pacific Northwest, that is unfortunate and wrong (although at least some thoughtful Pac-10 fans seem to think the fault lies with the conference). For my part, I ranked the Ducks three spots above the Wolverines on my final ballot, had Oregon ranked fourth on November 18, and had Oregon ranked second in October 2006---if my approach to ranking teams is a "complete sham," at least it is not disadvantaging the team out of Eugene---but, if Verne Lundquist appears to BCSBusters to be demeaning the Pac-10 in order to bolster the S.E.C., that probably is because Lundquist works for a network that has a conference-specific contract with the S.E.C. (and, by the way, Bruins fans were similarly skeptical). If the Pac-10 lacks the positive publicity afforded the Southeastern Conference by the Columbia Broadcasting System or the Big Ten by the Big Ten Network, the West Coast B.C.S. league would do well to listen to what Dave had to allow in the story parenthetically linked to at the outset of this paragraph. The problem isn't the erroneous perception that Pac-10 football is inferior; the problem is the accurate perception that the Pac-10's television contracts and bowl tie-ins fail to take maximum advantage of the conference's actual quality.

However, the problem to which BCSBusters points is not primarily a Pac-10 matter, as it concerns the College Football Association, the group formed by the country's major college football powers in the 1970s. (Perhaps ironically, the C.F.A. addressed forcefully some of the same issues that presently hamstring the Pac-10; namely, the inadequacy of existing television contracts. Such C.F.A. members as the University of Georgia had to do what Tulane University threatened to do---file a lawsuit---to vindicate their broadcast rights, which were affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. If you enjoy watching college football on television, and particularly on channels other than the historic "big three" networks, you have the C.F.A. to thank for it and non-C.F.A. members would do well to emulate the model the C.F.A. established.)

We make fun of Lincoln Financial Sports now, but try going back and watching a network college football broadcast from the early 1980s . . . before the C.F.A., it was all on a par with Lincoln Financial!

BCSBusters's use of Boise State as an example of an excellent program hampered by an underprivileged pedigree is telling. He rightly criticizes the hypocrisy of ranking the undefeated Broncos below Oklahoma after B.S.U.'s Fiesta Bowl victory over the Sooners. (Once again, though, I ranked Boise State second on my final 2006 ballot---the same spot in which I ranked Georgia on my final 2007 ballot, as a matter of fact---and I made a case for the Broncos' claim to the national championship.)

However, I dispute the contention that the Broncos "can do very little about [their schedule], because they don't play the juggernauts that abound in the Big-12, ACC, SEC or Big-10." First of all, Boise State has a great deal to do with its own schedule, particularly now that its "feel good" Fiesta Bowl victory has made the Broncos a household (read: marketable) name with telegenic appeal to the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Secondly, and more to the point, since when does B.S.U. not "play the juggernauts" from the B.C.S. conferences? Since moving up to Division I-A status in 1996, the Broncos have played regular-season games against Arizona State (in 1996), Arkansas (in 2000 and 2002), Georgia (in 2005), Oregon State (in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006), South Carolina (in 2001), U.C.L.A. (in 1999), Washington (in 2007), Washington State (in 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2001), and Wisconsin (in 1997). Four of those games were played in Boise and those nine major conference opponents between them have attended five Capital One/Citrus Bowls, four Cotton Bowls, a Fiesta Bowl, seven Rose Bowls, and three Sugar Bowls (in addition to a slew of Holiday, Outback, and Sun Bowls) since the aforementioned 1996 season. Despite not scheduling the likes of L.S.U., Ohio State, or Southern California, Boise State has loaded its slate with juggernauts.

B.S.U. travels to Eugene next September 20. The Broncos have upcoming dates scheduled with Oregon in 2009 and with Oregon State in 2009 and 2010. Boise State will host two of those three meetings with Pac-10 opponents. Playing twenty games against B.C.S. conference opponents from the West Coast, the Midwest, and the South---six of which are home games in the Gem State---doesn't sound like a bad deal for the Broncos in their first fifteen seasons as a Division I-A program.

O.K., getting the crap kicked out of them in their big-time debut in Athens wasn't a good deal for the Broncos, but, otherwise, Boise State is in pretty good shape.

BCSBusters goes on to argue that "Boise State (like Fresno, Hawaii, Utah or BYU), would jump at the chance to become a member of the PAC-10, or even the Big-12. Do you think these conference members will let them in?" Although there certainly is opposition to Pac-10 expansion, that dislike for the notion comes from the rank and file fans, not from the conference commissioner, and the growth in revenue and prestige of other major conferences may force the Pac-10's hand.

College football affiliations are far from stagnant. Just in the last decade and a half, we have seen Arkansas and South Carolina added to the Southeastern Conference, Florida State added to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Penn State added to the Big Ten, the Southwest Conference disbanded, four Lone Star State teams added to the former Big Eight, three former Big East teams added to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the composition of the Big East, the Mountain West, the Western Athletic Conference, and Conference USA reshuffled multiple times.

The club is insular because the dues are high, but the doors are far from closed. In the last three decades, we have witnessed the addition of W.A.C. members Arizona and Arizona State to the Pac-10, the rise in the reputations of Florida State and Miami (Florida) from unimportant independent backwaters in the 1970s to major national powers in the 1980s to B.C.S. conference teams in the 1990s, the 1984 national championship being awarded to B.Y.U., the promotion of such programs as Louisville and South Florida to B.C.S. conference membership, and the invitation of Boise State, Hawaii, and Utah to major bowl games. (Bear in mind that, as recently as 2004, an undefeated conference champion B.S.U. squad was squaring off with a once-beaten conference champion Louisville unit in the Liberty Bowl. Times have changed and they have done so in a hurry.)

Furthermore, it isn't as though the upward mobility of previously downtrodden college football programs is a novel phenomenon. Southern schools encountered precisely the same prejudices in the 1920s and 1930s, when northeastern media elites looked down their noses at teams from below the Mason-Dixon line.

Alabama received no nationwide respect until the Crimson Tide defeated the Washington Huskies in the 1926 Rose Bowl. Harry Mehre helped to put Georgia football on the national map by tying Fordham in New York City in 1936.

Yes, that's right . . . when 'Bama went to Pasadena for the first time in the 1920s, the national news media gave all the affection and attention to the West Coast team and none to the Southeastern squad. Of course, that sort of thing could never happen today.

More recently, Nebraska and Oklahoma were joined in what was then the Big Six by Colorado in 1948 and by Oklahoma State in 1960, thereby forming what became known as the Big Eight. The Buffaloes came to the league from the Mountain States Conference, to which it belonged with Brigham Young, Colorado State, and Utah. The Southwest Conference similarly expanded from time to time, admitting to its ranks such schools as former Missouri Valley Conference program Houston.

The point should be clear by now that the history of college football is the heritage of seismic shifts in the landscape. The onetime powers of the Ivy League now are playing at the Division I-AA level and the service academies have gone from being national championship contenders to being quaint relics that make for occasional "feel good" stories. Tulane represented the Southeastern Conference in two of the first six Sugar Bowls, whereas Texas Christian, as a member of the Southwest Conference, won three major bowls and two national championships in a four-year period from 1935 to 1938 before beginning a vagabond existence of drifting from league to league in the 21st century, when the Horned Frogs' success yielded Liberty Bowl berths and the like.

Times change. Trends end. Continents drift. The mighty are brought low and afterthoughts become powerhouses. The parity brought about by scholarship limitations is undeniable and its effects are plain to see. Can Boise State attain major college status in the gridiron universe? If all the Hawaii-could-be-this-year's-Boise-State rhetoric I heard bandied about in the weeks leading up to the Sugar Bowl is any indication, the Broncos already are there, but, if not, there is no particular reason to believe the Boise States of the world cannot do in the 21st century what the Arizona States, Colorados, and Florida States of the world did in the 20th and the Louisvilles and South Floridas of the world have done right before our eyes.

As before, I solicit your input upon the foregoing points and I likely will allow the discussion to flow unimpeded by my interjections, so, while I am moving forward with the next segment of my response, I invite you to continue the conversation in the comments below.

Go 'Dawgs!