Football and the Final Four
by Jim Alderson, 3/27/02
A recent article in the Raleigh News and Observer caught my eye. The piece, lifted from the Philadelphia Inquirer, pointed out that all of the participants in this year’s Final Four are members of BCS conferences. Their football fortunes vary wildlyb to be sure, as Indiana’s recent high point in football came from being hammered by Tech in the 1993 Independence Bowl (we have done a little better in football since then), while Kansas is firmly on the round ball side of that football/basketball demarcation line that runs between them and Kansas State. They are members of BCS conferences, however, and that is what counts.
This was an NCAA Tournament that will be known for its upsets and the strong runs made by Southern Illinois (boy, wouldn’t it be great if Tech could recruit players like that Roberts kid? He’s in-state, too, as is Oklahoma’s Jason Detrick, and there sure seems to be a bunch of Maryland kids who missed those 460 West signs around Lynchburg as they drove up 29 from Hargrave) and Kent State (behind a lot of four-year seniors, a concept that has been alien to Tech for the last few years), but still, 14 of the 16 teams were from the big leagues.
This is not a new phenomenon. Over the last nine years, or since the power conferences began grouping themselves together in the Alliance/Coalition/BCS (the names change but the conferences remain the same), 34 of the 36 teams to play in the Final Four have been from those six leagues. You have to go back to 1990 to find a champion, UNLV, not from a power conference. The two Final Four teams not from a BCS league is only slightly better than the zero who have played in a BCS bowl game. The so-called football leagues are dominating basketball just as they are football.
The reason for this, of course, is money. The BCS leagues are raking it in, and those leagues whose bowls are mostly televised by the Deuce are not, and it is spilling over into basketball. The story claims SEC income for 2000 of over $94 million, compared to less than $2 extra large for the MAC.
Quoted is a Transylvania University (how did they do in football last year?) professor named Daniel Fulks, who pointed out that the average revenue from television and bowl deals for a BCS school was $5 million, compared to $1 million for the others. That buys a lot of quality and expensive coaches, plush locker rooms, player lounges, and other amenities desired by today’s top student-athlete.
The non-BCS schools are having an increasingly harder time keeping up, and it is showing up on the court as well as the field. It also shows up as coaches who prove their competence in the lower orders usually migrate to schools in the power conferences, although an exception seems to be Bob Huggins (look on the bright side, 'Eers: Huggins did save WVU the considerable expense of finding the money to pay that fat contract, not all of which could have been produced from savings garnered from no longer having to print diplomas for basketball players).
What the article does not delve into but I find interesting is why football is the cash cow that is driving this disparity between conferences. On the television surface, basketball should be worth more. The billions shelled out by CBS for exclusive telecast tights to the NCAA Tournament which have reduced play to sporadic jump shots between beer and SUV commercials (speaking of which, if WDBJ is going to interrupt the Tournament for coverage of the Roanoke tire fire, why not do it during commercials? It’s not like we will miss anything, since the same ads will air a few seconds later) dwarfs the millions paid by ABC for rights to the BCS, yet football is driving the engine which is enabling the BCS Big Six to also dominate in basketball.
Part of the reason, as I see it, is the lack of an NCAA football playoff. The NCAA controls the basketball playoff, and uses the loot derived from it for everything from financing the Division III women’s volleyball tournament to paying nice bonuses to top NCAA staff members. Money from the BCS, on the other hand, stays in the houses of the member institutions and is used to put distance between themselves and those not privy to the cash. Does anybody really think we will see an NCAA-run football playoff anytime soon?
It is not likely that the 64 members of the BCS are going to give that money up, especially in these Title IX days. We may one day see a playoff, but it will not likely be the egalitarian one (on the surface, at least) run in basketball that will provide the champions of the MAC or the Mountain Something Conference the same access to the cash currently enjoyed by the BCS.
What is more probable is the long-discussed super conference, a 64-team grouping that either becomes the exclusive top division of the NCAA or breaks away into their own association. The NCAA for all practical purposes has broken into a DI-A+ and DI-A-, and one day it will probably become official, with the 64 teams being:
I suspect if there ever is a football playoff, it will be among these teams.
In the Big East, this is trading UConn for Temple -- Huskies AD Lew Perkins has seen this clearly for some time and wasn’t shy about expressing it as he campaigned to get the Huskies into I-A+. I would give the 64th spot to BYU mostly because I enjoy watching Louisville squirm.
It should also be noted that the Big East Football Conference was formed specifically to be included in what became the BCS, and until UConn comes on board, Tech was the final choice for the league, and Tech is the last school to have been added to a power conference for basketball. For an athletic department that too often seemed intent on proving Murphy’s Law, things recently have gone very right.
Jim Alderson,who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports. While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1. For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.