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The CSN Way: Please, Mr. Brand, Don't Change the FBS
By Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist
To: Myles Brand, NCAA President
From: Chuck Burton, The CSN Way Columnist
Subject: Division I College Football Playoffs
You don’t know me, but my name is Chuck Burton from the College Sporting News, and I cover Division I Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS for short. I follow teams that pursue cost-containment football that crown their national champion through a sixteen-team playoff system - the highest level of football national champion that your organization, Mr. Brand, recognizes as an official NCAA championship.
Once again, many folks in the media are asking for you to implement a similar system in Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS for short. But as a fan of FCS football, I implore you: you cannot let this happen. As a fan of FCS football, I can say without reservation that the status quo is exactly what we want.
Mark your Calendars
As you know Mr. Brand, every year right after “Rivalry Week” national sportswriters start sharpening their pens. You can mark it on the calendar every January; the week after Thanksgiving will be called “rail against the BCS formula week", the week where sportswriters scribble columns criticizing the method used to determine who will be playing in what bowls this year.
With the FBS regular season at a close and several weeks to determine the winners of the multitude of conference championship games, writers start to look around at who the FBS national champion ought to be. And they always look at the Bowl Championship Series formula which determines two teams to play each other in the top FBS Bowl game - and find it lacking.
It’s such an easy target, Mr. Brand, that even president-elect Obama has gotten in on the act, challenging you to scrap the computers and “get it [a championship] done” for FBS.
The President-elect and the sportswriters look at the BCS, Mr. Brand, and see an institutionalized system that rewards certain conferences over others. Successful smaller schools like undefeated Ball State and Boise State are left to wonder why they are shut out from the big money bowls simply because they’re from smaller conferences.
Meanwhile, a one loss Oklahoma team in all likelihood will qualify for a shot at a BCS Bowl to determine a paper champion - simply because they’re from what was once considered a stronger conference.
Year in and year out these sportswriters see these inequalities and desperately search for a better way. And they don’t need to look far for a superior system: they just need to look over at the FCS.
As you probably know, Mr. Brand, the FCS Championship has a great way to determine a national champion. Eight worthy conferences get autobids, eight eligible at-large teams are chosen from the rest of the subdivision, and then the teams play fifteen games to determine a national champion, with fourteen played at home sites across the country.
It’s a true championship; shown off in an easy-to-read bracket leading up to one national champion. When it’s all done, there’s one undisputed champion that’s earned the title through four of the best teams in football. Paper champions don’t happen in FCS.
We FCSers are Show-Offs
As FCS fans, we’re always eager to show off our subdivision to the wider world. But we can only do that if you keep the current system in place.
Just imagine a world for a moment Mr. Brand where (shudder) a Boise State (a former FCS national champion, by the way) has a legitimate chance to play for a national championship in FBS - through a sixteen game bracket, similar to what the FCS uses.
The amount of attention it would get would be enormous. Sportswriters would stop writing about the injustice of the current FBS system. They’d stop talking about how a cadre of conferences has Bowl Subdivision hostage to a pseudo-championship where no other conferences can hope to achieve.
But most importantly - they’d also stop talking about how much better the FCS playoff system really is.
Mr. Brand, you cannot let that happen.
Think for a moment, Mr. Brand, what this might mean for FCS. No more debates during football broadcasts as to “what if FBS went to a playoff system, like they do in FCS?” No more columns coming up with mock 16-team brackets where the Sun Belt champion faces off against the No. 1 FBS team in the country. No more wondering “would James Madison be able to beat Ball State head-to-head?”
See Mr. Brand, FCS fans like to complain every now and again that their subdivision gets no respect. We complain when our championship game gets on ESPN and the announcers start talking about the obligatory “what if the FBS had the same playoff system as FCS?” topic. We complain that we’re called a minor league by most members of the mainstream college football media when FCS teams every year beat FBS teams - like Cal Poly upending San Diego State this year, for example, or New Hampshire throttling Army. (And I don’t need to tell you about Michigan two years ago, either.)
What’s hard to understand, Mr. Brand, is that secretly we love being the called best at something in college football. Our playoff system is the one thing that casual fans of Division I college football and those that follow the cult of FCS football can agree on: we have the best playoff system, hands down.
There’s not a single voice in the wilderness that advocates FCS using a mathematical formula to have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams play each other in a bowl game and calling the season over.
Please, Mr. Brand, don’t take that away from us by having FBS copy the way we determine our national champion.
It’s my view, Mr. Brand, that bowls are great for FCS football.
With their corporate tie-ins (sometimes with companies on the verge of Chapter 11 bankruptcy) and the games being played in half-empty pro stadiums, they sometimes seem like three-hour infomercials rather than competitive football games.
And most of the results simply get lost through history. Who remembers that Rutgers played in the Insight.Com bowl a few years ago, anyway? I mean, how can that compare to playoff football with a national championship at stake?
These games are played not at warm-weather locales simply for the money, but played at home venues for the fans that love the game.
This week in the playoffs, for example, Villanova gets another shot at James Madison after losing to them during the regular season on a fifty yard Hail Mary pass on the final play. You think James Madison is going to have any problem selling tickets in Bridgeforth stadium this weekend? Please.
You also have Weber State - who beat Montana for the first time in more than a decade during the regular season at home - facing off against the Grizzlies in Montana for the rematch. Think Grizzly fans are pumped up for that?
And it’s not just rematches of regular-season games. You get games like New Hampshire facing off against Northern Iowa, which is a rematch of last year’s playoff thriller in the exact same venue - the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
And Richmond? Appalachian State? A rematch of last year’s playoff semifinal game, where Mountaineer quarterback Armanti Edwards had probably the best game of his career? In Kidd Brewer Stadium? Are you kidding me?
Hyping those games are the easiest thing in the world, Mr. Brand. They come dripping with drama and history. They’re played with raucous home-field advantage. The storylines of all these games will in all likelihood eclipse any manufactured drama in any of the bowl games this year. (And yes, I’m including that crystal ball Bowl game as well.)
And Mr. Brand, that’s how we like it.
We’re perfectly OK with FBS teams playing exhibitions for money after the regular season. Give us the frost on the football? Maybe snow in Montana. A crazy, packed house of fans roaring about every play.
Just please, Mr. Brand, don’t give FBS the chance to taste the thrills and drama of our playoffs. Who knows where that might lead? Better off to leave the thrills and drama to us in the FCS. You don’t want that sort of excitement in FBS, right?
FCS Doesn’t Believe in Change
So Mr. Brand, please don’t give into the temptation for “change” in FBS football.
Many folks - including some powerful people - want change in the way the FBS champion is crowned. But doing so will take the light off of the FCS way of determining a champion.
It’s an earned championship. An honest championship. A championship that is easy to write about. One with genuine drama and surprising matchups and outcomes.
And it’s uniquely ours, owned by the Football Championship Subdivision.
Please, Mr. Brand, keep things the way they are.
- Chuck Burton
“The CSN Way” Columnist, The College Sporting News