Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Who's #1?

Kickoff in the Gaza Bowl

Here we are talking about unrest in the Middle East when the really important question is, "Who's #1 among America's college football teams?" A whole host of bowl games descended on us in the last couple of weeks in which our institutions of higher learning used the athletic prowess of their "student athletes" as a vehicle for advertising educational offerings in engineering, science, and technology, to say nothing (literally) of physical education (or, as such majors are now called, kinesiology), while pinning their hopes for success on gate receipts.

We've had the: "Brut Essence of Man" Sun Bowl in which Oregon State beat Pitt 3 to zilch (that was exciting); the "Citi Never Sleeps" Rose Bowl in which USC went ahead of Penn State 31 to 3 before half time, then everyone fell asleep (except apparently, Citi) during the 2nd half in an anticlimactic finish; the AT&T "Stay Connected" Cotton Bowl in which Ole Miss broke even more Texas hearts than George W. Bush by easily beating Texas Tech; and the Starwood Hotels "It's the Time to Travel" International Bowl in which two teams with 5 losses each traveled to Canada, where losing five games is apparently considered good sportsmanship. And while the Israelis pound Gaza into rubble, we wait with great anticipation for Florida and Oklahoma to pound each other in the FedEx BCS Enough-is-Enough Bowl to determine, "Who's #1?"

You might remember the film “We Are Marshall,” which depicted the rebuilding of the school’s football program after the 1970 plane crash that killed most of its football team and coaching staff. The trailer for the film had Matthew McConaughey, who played Marshall’s new coach, saying, “One day, we’re going to be like every other team, where winning is everything and nothing else matters.” I have the sense that many of those now calling for a college football playoff to replace the Bowl Championship Series ranking system feel the same way.

Well, I have a suggestion for determining the #1 college football team in the nation. My system would make one simple modification to the BCS system, which currently consists of three equally weighted components: USA Today Coaches Poll, Harris Interactive College Football Poll, and an average of six football computer rankings. My recommendation? Simply add one additional component and weight the four equally. What is the new component? Academics -- supposedly the mission of our institutions of higher learning. If this were done, Oklahoma, which graduated less than half of their football players, both white and black, wouldn’t be in the running for the National Championship, and neither would Florida, which matched Okalahoma’s 36% Federal Graduation Rate. Nor would my beloved alma mater, Southern Cal (51%), which doesn’t belong in the same library with Penn State (75%), let alone in a bowl game.

Let’s level the playing field. Don’t reward schools that recruit kids just because they can play football, or basketball, or run track. Make them give their student athletes an education -- one that serves them well when the vast majority of them don’t go on to professional sports (about 1.8% of college football players are drafted by the NFL). After all, there just aren’t that many positions out there for kinesiologists. And who knows, maybe with a few more educated people in the world we can figure out how to stop killing each other over who's #1.

Palestinian woman searches for her TV
so she can watch the BCS bowl game

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