Making College Football's Postseason Fair, Legal and Ethical While Preserving Its Unique Traditions

By Flanagan, Kelly E. | The Sport Journal, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Making College Football's Postseason Fair, Legal and Ethical While Preserving Its Unique Traditions


Flanagan, Kelly E., The Sport Journal


The Every Bowl Counts (EBC 1-2-3) Plan

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recognizes an official national champion and national championship event in every sport at every level except football in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of Division One, which is the association's marquis product, made up of 120 Division One athletic programs.

Bowl games are a college tradition dating back to 1902, ending college football's regular season long before the National Football League (NFL) existed. In fact, the NFL played its first 12 seasons before having a championship game.

However, in today's sport culture, fans expect to recognize a champion. An official national champion is recognized in all other levels of college football and every other NCAA sport.

But what has transpired in major college football is a tradition the brings exposure to various communities around the country, allows 34 teams to finish the season with a victory and allows coaches to take 3-4 extra weeks of practice to develop their younger players.

The fact that there is a national champion, albeit unofficial, is touted by those who defend the status quo. "Every week is a playoff," University of Georgia Head Football Coach Mark Richt once said. Defenders of the status quo say that college football's regular season is the most exciting in all of sports.

The popular demand for a national championship game was used as justification for the creation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which would allow the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 to play each other in a bowl game at the end of the season. The rankings system was based on a combination of the Associated Press (AP) media poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll and several computer-based ranking systems. Eventually, AP backed out of the process and the Harris Interactive poll was used in its place.

The ranking system and other aspects of the bowl culture have proven, over time, that conferences with larger, wealthier athletic programs and teams with a long tradition of successful football have an advantage in this system. Teams that have finished the season undefeated that are from smaller conferences do not have the option of changing conferences unless allowed by the conferences' current members. Such a system has brought about questions from public officials as to whether this situation is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Often used in cases involving football, the Sherman Anti-Trust act prohibits illegal monopolies that are used to suppress competition.

Bowl committees in the BCS (Rose, Allstate Sugar, FedEx Orange and Tostitos Fiesta) continue to host the "major" bowl games and make a lion's share of the bowl money, but they collectively award automatic bowl bids to teams that are in the BCS conferences, which could also be interpreted as an illegal trust.

Three teams finished the regular season undefeated in 2009 without getting to play in the BCS "National Championship" game. Two of those teams were not in the aforementioned "major" conferences. Two other teams from outside the "major" conferences finished the regular season undefeated without playing in the BCS Championship game. The participants in the first 12 BCS championship games were all from the "major" conferences: The Big 12, Big East, Big 10, Atlantic Coast, Pacific 10 and Southeastern.

Also, denying undefeated teams a chance to play in the BCS Championship game has led to some critics saying that to promote the event as a "National Championship Game" is actually false advertising.

Public officials as well as fans have been critical of college football in its current state. But the author believes that to preserve the bowl tradition, the significant regular season and the integrity of the national championship process would require some thinking "outside the box." College football is a unique sport genre and requires a unique approach to change. …

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