The WAC In The BCS Championship Game Debate Verdict

September 8, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

Nowhere is the story of the underdog better displayed than in college athletics. Basketball makes the underdog bit seem almost routine, but in college football there is a mark stark contrast between the haves and the have nots, thanks to the BCS. With the BCS, your favorite program is either in the club, or it isn’t. The benefits of being in the club are many, but the cost of entry is high and the pathway toward inclusion difficult.

The majority of that pathway is now in the review mirror of the Boise State Broncos. With a win on Monday night over a nationally respected and highly ranked team, the Broncos legitimized their presence on the national stage. But a single win does not prove a team belongs in the discussion about the national championship game. Other factors come into play, which is where the debate about including a team from the WAC in the BCS national championship game really picks up steam.

Babe Ruthless is correct that the WAC doesn’t get a lot of national exposure – a vital factor necessary to prove worth. But, six of Boise State’s final regular season games are on one of the ESPN networks, often on Tuesday or Friday nights – days when there are few competing games on television. If a team or a matchup doesn’t automatically draw ESPN’s College Gameday each week, another time and channel must be found. Boise State has been effective at getting enough national exposure with its schedule through creative means. With quarterback Kellen Moore under center also – a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender after the first week of games – the team will draw a lot of eyeballs and intrigue. While Babe Ruthless makes solid points about a seeming lack of exposure, the program has been effective at mitigating those issues that do at times plague the conference. Thus, a team in the WAC has proven its ability to break the mold, therefore others can follow if they so choose.

Babe Ruthless lost his convincing hold on me when talking about the Smurf Turf as a gimmick only, reducing a very talented team that has won major bowl games in recent seasons to a small team with a gimmick begging for attention. The truth is that the Boise State program has been building for the last ten years, and is just now finally beginning to reap national rewards for a whole lot of hard work.

I also believe that while Alabama’s pathway to the title game last season is obviously effective, As Babe Ruthless noted, it is not the only way to skin the national championship game cat. A stroll down memory lane reveals some very good programs – like Florida State, for example – that were not always on the national stage. It took time and talent to build the program, but it happened. And plenty of national title appearances came along that journey. It was a journey that is not dissimilar from Boise State’s recent sojourn.

I completely agree with Babe Ruthless that style points matter. And Boise State is no stranger to style. However, that point alone isn’t enough to convince me that a WAC team does not deserve a shot at the national title game. The basic conditions for BCS title inclusion are known. It is up to a team and program if they choose to meet those conditions.

Optimist Prime’s selection to argue in favor of a WAC team was a challenge, no doubt. The challenge, however, was apparently perfect for our newest contributor.

The best point on either side of this debate, and consequently the victory, is awarded to Optimist Prime for pointing out that television timeslot is no longer a truly important metric for evaluating how well a team can be judged and voted on. DVR, ESPN3, and myriad other online sports media outlets provide voters with a ton of information on demand. Although the voting tallies are due soon after the games are complete, there still is no excuse for not being able to view a team and cast an educated vote.

Despite Babe Ruthless’ entertaining and hilarious points about the WAC’s general incompetence, it was clear to me watching the game on Monday night that talent and great football is not specific to any conference. As Optimist Prime points out, ask Ole Miss.

It is strange that in this age of conference reshuffling and jockeying, conferences seem to matter less and less. It is possible to build a great football program the right way and not be in a major conference. I liken it to beginning a startup business versus managing an existing one. Some entrepreneurs are really good at building companies and poor at managing them, just as some coaches are good at building programs but not managing them. Some coaches, like Boise State’s Chris Peterson, have shown the rare ability to do both. That coaching ability isn’t conference specific, so why should title opportunities be?

Sure, Boise State is in the WAC. But, Boise State deserves to be on the national stage. The program only proves that point every single time it gets an opportunity. Boise State makes the WAC legitimate because of the path the program and its leaders have chosen. Sure the WAC doesn’t have the toughest schedule. But it has one of the best teams. That alone makes the WAC worthwhile.

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The WAC In The BCS Championship Game Debate

September 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Babe Ruthless.

Here at The Sports Debate, we truly dislike hype. For us – educated sports fans – hype is just gap filler. It’s a waste of time. And it’s often insulting. Not EVERY game is the best and biggest and mostest important game.

Though the hype machines were in overdrive from ESPN and its affiliates, last night’s Boise State-Virginia Tech matchup really was an important game for Boise State. A win over a top ten team is a huge win for what has been a program mired in BCS championship afterthought. Boise State will have one more non-conference matchup against a nationally regarded opponent on September 25 when the team hosts Oregon State.

BUT, Boise State is in the WAC. While the Mountain West is at least taking strides toward BCS inclusion, the WAC is not even on the radar, despite Boise State’s excellence. Therefore, the question begs: Does a team from the WAC – even though it is a talented team – deserve a shot at the national title?

Optimist Prime will argue in favor of WAC’s worthiness and possible inclusion in the BCS national championship game. Babe Ruthless will argue for the continued supremacy of major conferences in college football.

May the best argument win.

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The WAC In The BCS Championship Game Debate… Talent Isn’t Program Specific

September 7, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Despite my generally optimistic outlook, it seems bizarre that I have been tasked with arguing that Boise State deserves a place in the national championship game based off last night’s thrilling 33-30 victory over Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium Part Deux, er, neutral site, er, FedEx Field. Given the fact that the third-ranked team in the country defeated a top 15 opponent on the road last night, you would think their ranking would be beyond debate at this point, even if said ranking puts them on the precipice of competing for a national championship… provided they take care of business the rest of the season. Of course, thanks to the college football pundits, their ranking is not beyond debate. It will be, however, after I finish smoothly winning this debate, just like Kellen Moore smoothly drove Boise State down the field last night for the game-winning touchdown.

Let me don my populist hat for a minute and remind you of the difficult position in which the BCS conferences and their television partners (mainly ESPN and its affiliates) have placed non-traditional, non-BCS conference football teams and how that position feeds into the two most traditional arguments against a non-AQ school playing for the BCS national championship.

First, pundits and fans argue that these teams do not have the exposure that major conference teams do, and that fact provides excuse to rank them lower. The exposure argument doesn’t hold water with me because the television networks (again, mainly of ESPN) have direct control of which teams play in which time slots. Now, I understand the economics of ratings and advertising and know that there are a lot more Michigan fans than TCU fans. And I know that Columbus, Ohio is a heck of a lot bigger than Boise, Idaho. If I were in ESPN’s shoes, I would make many of same broadcast decisions for the good of the company and its bottom line. But don’t pretend that the broadcast time for a team’s football games is any kind of a reliable metric for that team’s relative “competitive value.” The time slot decision is an economic one, pure and simple. Also, in these days of DVR and ESPN3, there is no excuse for a poll voter to rank a team lower because they didn’t get a chance to see the game. If you hold the fate of a team’s season in your hands, take some time to watch each team a couple times throughout the year or pass your vote along to someone with the time to study and vote more carefully.

Second, a popular argument against non-AQ schools playing for the national title is that their strength of schedule simply doesn’t measure up to the “big boys.” While it is an interesting point to consider, this is in large part because the BCS schools do not want to play the powerful non-AQ schools. While VT gets full marks for playing Boise State last night, you have to figure that most of the BCS conference athletic directors watched that game last night and felt vindicated that they had chosen instead to schedule Northeastern Interpretative Dance Polytechnic Institute for their week one tilt.

It seems to me that non-AQ schools such as Utah, TCU, and Boise State have regularly stepped up to defeat major conference teams when the opportunity arises. Is it really fair to judge a football team largely on the conference affiliation patch sewn onto the front of their jersey? If you think conference affiliation and its associated purported schedule strength is so significant, consider one last thought. Ole Miss, a member of the biggest, baddest conference on the block (the SEC), blew a three-touchdown lead and lost to Jacksonville State (an FCS team) this weekend. At home. Down the road, is it really fair that somebody gets a computer bump for beating Ole Miss just because it says SEC on the front of their jerseys?

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The WAC In The BCS Championship Game Debate… Boise’s Delusions of Grandeur

September 7, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

With Boise State’s dramatic last minute come from behind victory over Virginia Tech last night fans of the Western Athletic Conference may be entertaining big dreams of a WAC team playing for a BCS national championship at the end of this season. I’m here to tell them, “Sorry boys, it’s time to wake up and smell the artificial blue Astroturf.” No matter how great Kellen Moore and Boise State may have looked last night, there is no way the team is national title bound.

Life isn’t a fairy tale or a Hollywood movie. In the real world if you kiss a frog you wake up with warts, and when the shy nerdy girl takes off her glasses and lets her hair down all you notice is her astigmatism, bald spots, and unibrow. A magical ending for a standout team in an underdog conference is simply not in the cards and there are plenty of reasons why.

First of all, the biggest knock against any WAC team is that they play in the WAC. The conference is comprised of Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State, and of course this season’s claim to national relevance, Boise State. That is not exactly a Who’s Who of college football powerhouses, thus undermining the accomplishment of any conference wins. Historically the WAC has proven to be a second tier conference that occasionally boasts a standout team or stud player that contends for a big award or two. But that is about it. The conference simply isn’t a murders’ row lineup of nationally ranked teams. It is because of the WAC’s inherent drawbacks that above average teams, such as Boise State, are held back from being taken seriously as legitimate national contenders.

Another major roadblock for a WAC team on the road to BCS success is the conference’s lack of national recognition and exposure. Outside of the conference’s comprising school’s home markets the WAC is largely marginalized by their lack of notoriety. Probably the two most recognizable schools, Hawaii and Boise State, are recognizable for their novelty aspects as much if not more than their football. Hawaii’s football team has a certain allure and aura, which stems from the rich culture the team represents, but aside from the Hawaiian war dance and Colt Brennan, there is hasn’t been a whole lot to talk about the program on the national stage in recent years. Similarly, until this season, Boise State is probably best known nationally as the school with the crazy blue field. It is time to face the facts, gimmicks just aren’t going to get the job done.

With the rest of the conference playing the role of national afterthought, it will be hard to keep Boise State in the middle of national contention talk for long, especially considering they are only scheduled to play one more ranked team – #25 Oregon State – this season. Last season Alabama beat six ranked programs on their journey to the national title. That type of rigorous schedule and high profile matchups create the exposure a team needs to be taken seriously in the hunt for a championship. While the college football season is young and it may seem like everyone has a chance, they don’t. Boise State fans have to remember it is a long season and continually beating teams like the Toledo Rockets probably isn’t going to get them enough BCS love, no matter how good they look doing it.

For those who think this criticism is unfair, I am willing to give credit where credit is due. Boise State currently fields a strong team which stands on the shoulders of teams that have put together a couple of undefeated season. But even if the team does deserve some BCS respect, they don’t deserve a national title shot. Take Boise State’s Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma in 2007. While it proves that they can hang with the big boys, it does not validate the team’s ability to remain dominant over a season of challenging play. Furthermore, the Fiesta Bowl was a crowning achievement for Boise State, and a letdown for Oklahoma. It just goes to show that WAC fans and other BCS conferences are not comparing apples to apples.

I should point out that I am not alone in thinking that Boise State does not belong. Even ESPN post game analysis mentioned that “style points” matter more for Boise State than perhaps any other program in contention for the BCS championship. I interpret this to mean that not only will Boise State have to beat every team it plays this season, it will have to win in dominating fashion. If they have close victories against weak divisional teams it simply won’t compare favorably with other teams losses to more competitive, nationally ranked programs. Obviously beating a team like #10 Virginia Tech is a feather in the cap of Boise State, but they simply cannot afford to squeak out a victory like that in a scenario where they will have limited other opportunities to prove their worth to the BCS. Boise State is the poster child of lesser divisions like the Moutain West and WAC that deserve more national credit, but they clearly aren’t ready for BCS title until they can improve the overall quality of opponents.

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The 2010 NCAAB Tournament Selection Surprise Debate – Bulldogs Howl At The Moon Too

March 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

These tournament debate topics, though we are actually beginning our first tournament season here at TSD (can you believe we’re not even a year old yet??), are fairly formulaic. That does not, however, mean they are bland. Today’s “surprise” debate encompasses anything from whether a team should have earned a bid and did not to which teams were mis-seeded to a surprising amount of love for a particular conference.

I am choosing a snub here because of one so egregious that it almost seems impossible for the tournament Selection Committee to miss. Nevertheless, the exhausted Mississippi State Bulldogs came within one tenth of a second of defeating the number two team in the nation and earning an SEC conference tournament win and an automatic bid. Instead, an intentionally missed free throw turned into a lucky bounce for Kentucky, then into an extension of the game into overtime which prevented a physically and emotionally spent Bulldogs team from receiving an earned ticket to the Big Dance.

And it all happened with a mere one tenth of a second left on the clock. Mississippi State had their ticket to the Big Dance signed and sealed before Kentucky’s SEC freshman of the year DaMarcus Cousins delivered a game-tying layup. One-tenth of a second, after leading Kentucky for a substantial amount of the second half and notching big shot after big shot to keep the Wildcats at arm’s length, Cousins found himself in the right place at the right time (in front of the rim to catch an air ball three point attempt from player of the year candidate John Wall) and lived up to the moment by making a big play.

The problem with Mississippi’s State snub is that they were not expected to win. They greatly surpassed what appear to be incorrect expectations. Sure, the team took Kentucky to overtime in the regular season too – another notch in the team’s belt, proving how talented they are – but here they were a tenth of a second away from certain tournament berth.

Through all of the analysis and boring interviews of committee chairman who had plenty of non-answers in his memory bank, it all boils down to how a team finishes a season. I know of no basketball team that is exactly the same at the beginning of the season as it is at the end. The ups and downs of a team matter a great deal, and character of a team is determined throughout the course of the season, and then defined when the pressure is at its highest point. The journey to excellence took longer than expected, apparently, for Mississippi State. While the Bulldogs ended the regular season with two straight losses, the nothing-less-than-impressive performance in the SEC tournament should have been enough to earn a place in the NCAA tournament.

If the Selection Committee uses the tried and true fallback of claiming to have reviewed a team’s “entire body of work” – even though the committee talks specifically about the importance of how a team ends the season – Mississippi State gets a passing grade. First, Mississippi State is one of the few teams in the country to beat another conference winner, Old Dominion, from the Colonial conference, in regular season play. Also, unlike Florida, for example, the Bulldogs won their conference division in the regular season. They beat a supposed tournament team in Florida in the first round of the conference tournament and then defeated a team in the second round, 20th ranked Vanderbilt, by ten to advance to the championship game.

And what a championship game. An exhausted and admittedly lacking in depth Bulldog team – which also happens to feature the conference defensive player of the year in center Jarvis Varnado – refused to give in to second-ranked Kentucky’s up tempo game. Varnado delivered a typical superb performance by grabbing nine rebounds, blocking five shots, putting in 18 points, and holding Kentucky star DaMarcus Cousins to just 10 points. Dee Bost, MSU’s point guard LITERALLY had no backup to spell him during the game – or the entire tournament – and ended up cramping badly at the end of regulation and in overtime. Through all of that he still managed to pour in 16 points, six assists, and five rebounds. Guard Ravern Johnson connected on four of eight three point shot attempts to lead the team with 20 points. Despite a great effort and wonderful defense, Kentucky’s Cousins connected on a layup with one tenth of a second left in the game.

Surprisingly, MSU’s near victory and excellent tournament performance did not convince the Selection Committee. I can easily rundown the several other teams that I believe should not be in the tournament but are (Minnesota and Florida come quickly to mind), the fact is that the Bulldogs were snubbed despite a solid resumé. Perhaps Starkville, Mississippi simply is not a big enough media market to warrant inclusion in the tournament.

The SEC was one of the strongest conferences in college basketball this season, and Mississippi State – a division champion in the regular season – was one of its strongest teams. While other teams have a legitimate beef with the Selection Committee for being excluded (Virginia Tech loses out to Wake Forest… REALLY????), it is Mississippi State that has the biggest gripe. But, the best way to prove the team was snubbed is to win the NIT beginning Tuesday night.

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The Big East in the BCS Debate – What Have You Done For Me Lately? A Lot, Actually…

July 14, 2009

Read the debate intro and Loyal Homer’s argument that the Big East is not good enough to warrant an automatic BCS bowl big.

Let me clear the air right now with a very definitive statement – The Big East is one of the six best conferences in college football.

First, a note to Loyal Homer: One team does not a conference make! As an SEC fan, you should have known better than to argue otherwise. The SEC is not considered a conference favorite because of just one team. Instead, the success of LSU, Florida, and a cheating Alabama have propelled the SEC into the recent limelight.

To place the worth of the entire Big East on the shoulders of their preseason favorite, who just didn’t live up to expectations last season, is a misguided argument (although West Virginia still finished the season at 9-4 and ranked in the top 25 – not exactly a disappointment).

By your standards, I guess you would also argue that the SEC should not be allowed an automatic BCS bid. Their top preseason team last year, the Georgia Bulldogs, was ranked number one in the nation, but did not live up to expectations. Instead, they finished outside of the top 10 with a meager 10-3 record, only one game better than the “pitiful” Mountaineers (who, by the way, had a new head coach and lost star running back Steve Slaton).

The question today is not about the preseason favorite within the Big East. It is about whether or not the Big East is still one of college football’s top SIX conferences, and whether or not it still deserves an automatic BCS bid every year.

Sports Geek, in raising the question, brings up several interesting points, and claims they point to a “fall from grace” for the Big East. Those points include the departures of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College to the ACC, only to be replaced by the University of South Florida, Cincinnati, and Louisville.

With all due respect to our esteemed judge for this debate… Sports Geek could not be more wrong.

To begin, it is laughable to say that the Big East misses Miami right now! Consider that ‘The U’ (since leaving the Big East) has not finished better than 7-6 since 2005, actually posted a losing record in 2007, and lost to the only top 25 team they played last year (a blow-out against the Florida Gators). That is not exactly a boast-worthy performance, and I’m sure the ACC isn’t hanging any Hurricane performances on their refrigerator right now.

As for the Big East’s replacements, let’s consider what they’ve done which actually ADDS to the Big East’s credibility:

  • South Florida – In 2008, they defeated #13 Kansas, and were undefeated in inter-conference play. They finished the season at 8-5, which is a better record than Miami and is just slightly less impressive than the results of Boston College (9-5) and Virginia Tech (10-4).
  • Louisville – In 2006, Louisville finished the season ranked in the top 10 with a record of 12-1, their only loss coming by way of a then-undefeated Rutgers, also a Big East team.
  • Cincinnati – Finished in the top 25 in 2007 AND 2008, posting records of 10-3 and 11-3 respectively.

I would consider each of those performances upgrades over Miami!

As for the rest of the Big East, here are some other points to consider:

  • Bowl Eligibility – Out of the eight teams in the conference, six of them were bowl eligible in 2008! That’s 75% of the conference! No other BCS-conference can make that statement, as the Pac-10 (50% made bowl appearances), Big XII (58%), Big Ten (63%), SEC (67%), and ACC (67%) all had much lower participation rates!
  • Bowl Performances – The Big East turned in a very impressive bowl record of 4-2 last year! That’s a greater win percentage than the ACC (2-6), the Big Ten (1-6), and the Big XII (4-3). In fact, only the Pac-10 (5-0) and SEC (6-2) turned in better bowl performances than the Big East last year.

The fact remains that the Big East produced a greater percentage of winning records than any other conference in college football, and performed better than all but two conferences in bowl play.

Based on those statements, a non-BCS conference in college football cannot argue they are more deserving of an automatic BCS bid than the Big East.

On the other hand, perhaps the ACC should be a little worried!!!

The Big East in the BCS Debate – No Guarantees for the Big East

July 14, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher’s Fan’s argument that the Big East still deserves an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game.

This is sure to be a popular topic with our friends in the Northeast!

Sports Geek poses the question in today’s debate about whether or not the Big East is still deserving of its guaranteed BCS bid. I most definitely say NO!

Let’s take a look at last year (2008).

West Virginia came into the season as the team to beat, despite the fact that head coach Rich Rodriguez left for the supposedly greener pastures in Michigan. However, with the momentum from the 48-28 trouncing of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, and the return of Pat White, things were still looking up in Morgantown. (On a side note, does a victory over Oklahoma in a BCS game really mean anything these days?)

But the Mountaineers struggled all season, and limped to a 9-4 record with a loss to an 8-5 North Carolina team in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

I will give Cincinnati credit. They won the Big East by going 11-3 – even with a loss to an average Virginia Tech team in the Orange Bowl – and finished the season ranked in the top 20. Head coach Brian Kelly has that team on the rise, and Sports Geek and I can stake claim to witnessing Kelly dominate Division II football earlier this decade when he was coaching Grand Valley State. But, winning the Big East in football is like Memphis winning Conference USA in basketball or like beating your two-year-old sister in a game of Madden on PlayStation 3. What have you really accomplished?

I would discuss Pittsburgh some, but year in and year out – especially since Dave Wannstedt came back to “save” the program – they have been inconsistent showing they are not yet ready for the big stage. They couldn’t even fill up Heinz Field for the season opener against Bowling Green (who they lost to, by the way). Only 45,063 showed up for the season opener. For the record, “Ketchup Field” has a capacity of 65,050.

Truth be told, I think the Big East is still living off of just one good performance this entire decade, the 2006 Sugar Bowl. West Virginia knocked off heavy favorite Georgia 38-35 in Atlanta (it wasn’t in New Orleans that year due to Hurricane Katrina) behind outstanding performances from White and running back Steve Slaton.

In 2007, West Virginia actually had a shot to play for the national championship. All the Mountaineers had to do was beat rival Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, at home in Morgantown, and it was likely they would play in the BCS Championship game. But, with all the pressure on them, West Virginia folded and lost 13-9. If WVU wins that game, and was able to win the championship that year, we would not be debating this issue.

The fact is that the Big East isn’t ready for prime time and that’s obvious from their recent history. I’m not even sure enough people in Big East country even care, outside of Morgantown. As far as attendance goes for the entire conference, the numbers don’t lie. The average attendance at a Big East game in 2008 was 42,995, with West Virginia averaging 58,085 to lead the conference. Four schools (Louisville, Connecticut, Syracuse, and Cincinnati) averaged less than 40,000 fans at each game. Folks, that’s terrible, and borderline embarrassing.

The Big East is undeserving of a BCS bid, and I think everyone outside of the Northeast agrees with me.


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