Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Four-Team College Football Playoff Won't Work and That's a Good Thing

Compromise can be a good thing – our nation was founded on it.

Compromise can be a bad thing – it’s about to ruin college football.

When the college football powers announced that there would be a four-team playoff, there was much rejoicing. "Yes," we cried. "Finally," we screamed.

But then, reality started to set in. And it continues, up through this week as ESPN reports that the so-called “7th Access Bowl” is reportedly on life support. Yes, we know ESPN hates the Big East. But what you really need to take away from that story is that they have been talking about a “7th Access Bowl.” Weren’t we supposed to be getting a playoff?

college football playoff funny
As of today, and after several months, we know absolutely nothing about what the college football postseason will look like other than there will be a four-team playoff. How will teams be selected? Unknown. Who will select these teams? Unknown. Where & when will the games be played? Unknown.

This is the 4-team playoff that is supposed to save college football?

The problems surrounding the playoff began almost immediately. Instead of creating a true compromise in which everyone agrees to aspects that are least objectionable, college football is trying to be everything to everyone. They want to keep the bowl games intact, they want New Year’s Day to remain a college football staple, they want to create a championship game and they want to make more money.

There is one indisputable fact that everyone seems to be missing – once the 4-team playoff starts, the bowl games become meaningless. I know what you’re thinking as you reading this: the bowl games are already meaningless. You’d be correct. Now imagine them being even more meaningless.

Before the BCS started in 1998, it could be argued that all but a select few bowl games were meaningless. That was true to a point, but there were also about 20 less games so it still meant something for a team to make it. Before the BCS started in 1998, New Year’s Day was the focal point for all college football teams. Since the double-hosting model debuted in 2006, the title game is now played at least a week after that date.

In short, college football has basically spent the past 14 years doing everything in their power – and sadly, succeeding – in reducing the importance of New Year’s Day and bowl games. Now they want to save them?

Even the number of teams in the playoff is a brutal compromise that only opens college football up to even more controversy. Since 1998, only one major college team – Auburn in 2004 – has won all of its games and not played for a national title. There is a lot of chatter right now about how we could possibly see 4 undefeated teams this year in the SEC champion, Oregon/Oregon State, Kansas State & Notre Dame. Guess what? That’s not going to happen.

For the majority of the BCS era, the problem has been we've had 3 worthy teams for 2 spots. When you drop it down to #4, you open up who could potentially make a case for that spot way open. You think the controversy was bad last year when we were choosing between Alabama & Oklahoma State? Look ahead at 2014 when there are several 1-loss teams. Instead of one team screwed over, there will be 3 to 4 teams screwed over. This is progress how?

You either have a playoff or you don’t. The BCS was, in essence, a 2-team playoff for 120 teams. Even if you limit it to current BCS conferences, that’s a 2-team playoff for 72 teams. Is a 4-team playoff for 72 teams any better?

The bottom line – and I hope I haven’t buried the lead too much – is that the next iteration of the BCS is going to fail. The five power conferences have tried to consolidate power without realizing that Boise State means more than Indiana, that Louisville resonates more than Washington State or that any undefeated team trumps Iowa State.

The bowls have been saying for years that a playoff of any kind will destroy them – and they’re right. The Rose Bowl can cling to its tradition but will eventually have to accept that the world is changing. Who is going to care about that game when a semifinal is scheduled to take place that night? The much ballyhooed Champions Bowl between the SEC and Big 12 will likely never match 2 champions. It will be what the Cotton Bowl will be this year – is that really worth $80 million per year?

What boggles my mind is how no one associated with college football, and that includes ESPN, can see this coming. The current BCS model devalued the bowl system. The future BCS model will finish it.

And why are we at this point? Because college football’s leaders foolishly believe that the bowl system somehow keeps the sport vibrant.

Does anyone really think people are going to stop watching Alabama or stop packing Ohio Stadium because of a playoff system? All we really know is that fans are sick and tired of footing the bill for the BCS by paying exorbitant prices for tickets.

Despite this, I’m excited. I’m looking forward to the 4-team playoff. The sooner it starts, the sooner it begins to fail, and the sooner college football gets to where it should have been 20 years – a real playoff.

Sooner or later, college football will have an expanded playoff. Each of the 10 conference champions will get a berth. There will be between 4 and 7 at-large spots. Games will be played through December, New Year’s Day will be the home of the semifinals and the title game will be played the following Monday.

We’re almost there. We just need to suffer a little bit longer. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Why Paul Pasqualoni Needs To Go To Save UConn Football

It’s unfair to pin all the blame on UConn football coach Paul Pasqualoni. It’s not really his fault. He should never have been hired in the first place.

I had the displeasure of making the trek up from Washington, D.C. to watch UConn sputter its way to a thoroughly uninspiring 24-17 win over a mediocre Buffalo team. I give all the credit to Buffalo for keeping the game close – they fought for 60 minutes and threw in a few razzle-dazzle plays that made it interesting.

UConn should beat this year’s version of Buffalo with ease. They did not.

pasqualoni meme
But I am not here to write about the on-field problems with UConn football, which have been well-documented. Any UConn fan can see that the play-calling is atrocious, the running game is non-existent, the game management is a joke and the defense is being asked to do way too much

I am here to write about the problem that is threatening to submarine everything the UConn football program and its players built up since the jump to I-A, now FBS, was made official in the late 1990’s.

The program-crippling problem is apathy. The crowd was announced at more than 34,000, but if there were north of 25,000 in the stadium at any given time, I’d be shocked.

Simply put, there is no buzz around UConn football. 

In 2003, I took my Dad to the opener for Rentscheler Field for his birthday – I had just graduated from college and, being out of touch from UConn for those 4 years, literally did not realize that UConn had become big-time. We went to all but 1 home game that year. By 2004, we had season tickets as did four of my friends. Our tailgating group ballooned to 10 regulars by 2007 and we were constantly scrounging around for more tickets for friends, family and co-workers who wanted to see what the buzz was about.

We made road trips to Charlotte, Boston and Philadelphia to follow the Huskies. We were at Notre Dame Stadium when UConn slayed Notre Dame and Randy Edsall’s post-game interview on the field was drowned out by thunderous “UCONN!” chants. We rushed the field after wins over South Florida in 2007 and West Virginia in 2010. We celebrated our Fiesta Bowl berth. We tried in vain to get Donald Brown a Heisman invite in 2008.

UConn football was our team and we were going to support them the same way that we did UConn basketball, versions men and women.

It is too easy to blame Randy Edsall for everything. Yes, he left in the most undignified manner possible. Yes, he put UConn’s 2011 season in an almost impossible spot. But yes, he also took a middle of the road I-AA team and turned into a program that could play in the Fiesta Bowl. He didn’t recruit like Nick Saban but he produced first-round NFL picks and NFL starters. 

In the aftermath, then-UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway made one of the worst coaching hires in the history of UConn athletics. That may sound like hyperbole but when the 3 previous hires in revenue sports were Jim Calhoun, Geno Auriemma and Randy Edsall (and we have the #2 men's soccer team in the country)  – the bar was set pretty high.

The best way to describe the hiring of Pasqualoni was “uninspiring.” He was moderately successful at Syracuse, but his best teams were led by a once-in-a-lifetime QB – you may have heard of Donovan McNabb. Other than that, Syracuse was a very average football team. And that was 10 years ago.

Pasqualoni has done nothing since coming on board to change anyone’s perception. The team has yet to win 2 straight games under his stewardship. They were dissected by Western Michigan in consecutive years. The best win came either against Rutgers last year, courtesy of roughly 12 Rutgers turnovers, or this year against Maryland – a Maryland team that is 4-12 since Edsall took over.

Almost overnight, UConn went from a plucky program with potential to one that lacks juice. We've become the Kentucky of the Big East. The Rent wasn’t sold out for every home game under Edsall but it never felt empty like it did Saturday.

The sad descent was crystallized on Saturday when the new UConn DJ (and yikes could that be its own blog post in the future) played music and tried to get the crowd to dance. No one did.

Instantly, the 2 people I went to Saturday’s game with – the tailgating crowd has thinned out – started talking wistfully about the past.

“I remember when they played this song when we played West Virginia in 2010, the place went bonkers!”

“Yeah, but not like against Louisville on that Friday night in 2007.”

“Nothing will top the crowd for South Florida in the snow in '09.”

After a few happy memories, we settled into silence. What else was there to say? We were sitting in a half-empty stadium on a dreary fall afternoon watching Buffalo cut a 24-7 lead down to a one score game.

The crowd exited en masse during the fourth quarter. It wasn’t because they believed the game was in hand. It was because they knew it wasn’t and they didn’t want to see them blow it. The insults rained down on Pasqualoni and the play calling. The atmosphere grew angry and unhappy. And we were winning!

I have never walked out of the Rent feeling so miserable after a win. It didn’t feel like a loss. It felt like the program had been lost.

The excitement is gone. The thrill has vanished. We are left trying to decipher why UConn ran yet another 1st down run up the middle. We are forced to comprehend why we ran a naked QB bootleg with a slow-footed QB – you know, instead of using the Wildcat-only QB who can run the option.

Coach Pasqualoni must go. They say coaches deserve at least three years to implement their system and their players. With the landscape of major college football changing rapidly every day, UConn in 2012 does not have that luxury.

UConn cannot sit pat and hope this works out. We know it’s not going to work out, so why delay the inevitable?

UConn needs a new football coach. UConn does not need another retread or former NFL coach. We need to take the same approach as we did when hiring Randy Edsall or Jim Calhoun – give a respected assistant or lower-level coach the opportunity to prove himself.

On Saturday night, still stewing from the win, I watched Towson put up a fight against LSU led by former UConn assistant Rob Ambrose. Towson showed more poise, more determination and more moxie in a hopeless situation against one of the best teams in America than UConn has at any point under Paul Pasqualoni.

No matter what ESPN says about the Big East, UConn can be great at football. UConn can win the Big East. UConn can play in the new version of the BCS. UConn can win a BCS-level bowl game. UConn can do all of those things.

Except we can’t right now and that’s why it’s time for a change. 

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