Bowls losing grip on younger fans; more mailbag (cont.)
With a sixth straight SEC champion guaranteed, why do Pac-12 schools (among other conferences) continue to hire offensive-minded coaches like Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach as opposed to bringing in guys with a defensive mantra? That old "defense wins championships" adage sure seems to be true.
-- Bradley, Boulder, Colo.
It is staggering that three of the most respected offensive gurus in the sport -- Rodriguez, Leach and Chip Kelly -- will be competing in the same conference next fall. Throw in Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, David Shaw and the like and, all told, nine of the league's 11 coaches (Arizona State doesn't have one yet) come from an offensive background. While it might not be the recipe for winning national championships, that's not realistically on the radar for schools like Arizona and Washington State. They're just trying to make their programs relevant again, get fans in the stands and, hopefully, one day, get to the Rose Bowl. Thanks to the influx of new Pac-12 television money they were able to step up and hire guys with the pedigree to do just that. The one school that bucked the trend, albeit seemingly by accident, was UCLA with Jim Mora, a respected defensive coach. Unfortunately, the fact that Mora has never recruited a player in his life and is utterly unqualified for the job may offset his blitz schemes.
But it is surprising to me as you look at the hires so far not just in the Pac-12, but nationally, just how few come from a defensive background, because the SEC has indeed shown that defense is king. Who would have guessed that Alabama's offensive coordinator (Jim McElwain) would get a head coaching job (Colorado State) before its defensive coordinator (Kirby Smart)? With that in mind, it may be that the conference best poised to eventually end the SEC's run is not the Big 12 or Pac-12 but the oft-maligned Big Ten, where Michigan is taking a defense-first approach with Brady Hoke and Ohio State just hired a guy, Urban Meyer, that has an offensive background but knows well how to construct a dominant defense. The team that eventually beats the SEC champ in a BCS bowl is probably not going to do it by winning 45-42.
Stewart, in the Nov. 6 edition of your bowl projections, you have Virginia Tech playing in the Sugar Bowl as an at-large selection. It appears as if you were the only one to see it coming. You my friend, have a gift.
-- Tony Hiserman, Waynesboro, Va.
Unfortunately I changed it just a week later, mostly because it seemed unfathomable even then that the bowl would take the ACC runner-up. It appears I gave the Sugar Bowl far too much credit.
Stewart, I am a self-proclaimed BCS hater, and prefer a playoff. I'll accept a plus-one, but after the novelty of a plus-one wears off, won't people just begin to complain about team No. 5 being more deserving than team No. 4? I know you can always make that argument, but do you think something is out there that would be universally accepted by all fans?
-- Stuart, Raleigh, N.C.
Of course they'll complain. There would be controversy even this year between Stanford (ranked fourth and 11-1) and Oregon (ranked fifth, 10-2 but beat the Cardinal) for that fourth spot. But the same would be true no matter how much you expand it. If there are two teams in line for the fourth spot, there will be four for the eighth spot, eight for the 16th spot, etc. The NCAA basketball tournament has 37 at-large spots, and still, what's the first thing that happens after the bracket gets announced? Dick Vitale lambastes the committee for leaving out some 19-13 ACC team.
As much as fans love to lament that, "Every other sport has a playoff," you're never going to have a clean, controversy-free system like they do in the pros. In the NFL, NBA and MLB there are a finite number of teams and a straightforward metric for getting in: The division champions and the wild-card teams with the best records go. In college football, you have 120 FBS teams playing just 12-13 games apiece, against varying schedule formats. Oftentimes a two- or three-loss team may be more deserving than a one-loss team. No matter the size of the field, determining the participants is always going to be subjective, whether you're using polls or a selection committee. Therefore there is always going to be disagreement over the choices. Personally, I'll just be comfortable when the debate no longer involves the actual national championship matchup.
Stewart -- So you've covered college football from both coasts now. Do you prefer West Coast or East Coast football in terms of talent, travel and television viewing? Also, is there such a thing as "East Coast Bias?"
--Shane Johnston, Omaha
For Saturdays, you can't beat West Coast time. I love waking up and getting right into the games, and most of all, the night games end at a reasonable hour. The couple Saturdays I didn't cover a game in October and November I saw more football than I would have in the past. Travel is not ideal for anything east of Texas, but in New York, everywhere was at least a two-hour flight. Here I got to cover three Stanford games in my backyard, and the rest of the Pac-12 is a quick jaunt on Southwest. Soon I'll even have the Big East in my state.
But how on earth does anyone in California follow college basketball during the week? Seriously. I get an earlier start than I used to, but I'm still rarely done working by 4 p.m., when the first games tip-off, and if I go out to dinner with my wife at 6:30, most of the night games are over by the time we get back. I saw more college basketball last weekend in New York (including the Xavier-Cincinnati brawl and Indiana-Kentucky classic) than I had the first month of the season just because it was the first weekend without football. All of which is a long answer to the question that yes, there most definitely is East Coast bias. It's not some sinister thing on the part of the media, but as I've come to learn, everything in this country (sports, news, television, etc.) revolves around East Coast time, and while we in the Pacific time zone have no choice but to adjust accordingly, East Coasters are forgiven for sleeping through those 10:15 ET games. As a big fan of sleep myself, I can't say I blame them.
Speaking of sleeping through games ...
Right Stewart ... keep trying to convince yourself and the rest of the sheep that the national championship game won't be a total snoozer. I'll be curious to see how much of America doesn't tune in!
-- Peter Bondy, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
I'm curious myself, because based on my inbox and Twitter, you would think no one outside of the South is going to watch LSU-Alabama II. And yet, I find that very hard to believe, considering the three highest-rated network TV games this year all featured LSU (vs. Alabama on Nov. 5, vs. Arkansas on Nov. 25 and vs. Georgia on Dec. 3). People may say they're tired of the SEC, may think the first game was boring (I disagree), but at the end of the day, we like to see greatness, and no can deny these teams aren't exceptional at what they do. Whether you're tuning in to watch all the future Pro Bowlers running around out there, or because you love watching the Honey Badger, or you just want to pat yourself on the back when it's 9-6 again or, you know, because it's the national freaking championship game, my guess is the game will draw an exceptionally high TV rating.
Are Jim Delany's comments about getting rid of automatic qualifier bids to the BCS, but retaining an unofficial auto bid to the Rose Bowl for the Big Ten, the most silly thing you have ever heard? He is literally stating, it's OK if everybody else losses an auto bid as long as we don't.
-- Alan Bushell, Belleville, Ontario
He's just stating the obvious: If you take away the formal, regulated system we have now for selecting which teams play in the five major bowls, and go back to individual, free-market arrangements, the Rose Bowl will still want to do business with the Big Ten and Pac-12; the Sugar Bowl the SEC; the Fiesta Bowl the Big 12. In fact it's amazing this movement didn't come about sooner. All the conferences ever wanted out of this thing was to stage a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in a bowl. By accentuating it with automatic bids and guaranteed at-large berths, they set themselves up for all the backlash and antitrust scrutiny that ensued. By eliminating AQ berths and stripping all that other stuff away, they wash their hands of it. The bowls themselves take the blame for controversial decisions.
Yet despite the obvious consequence this would create -- that the smaller conferences, no longer guaranteed access to the big-money bowls, will see their appearances evaporate, as evidenced by Boise State's exclusion this year -- many of them still favor eliminating the AQ/non-AQ distinction. It's simply too stigmatizing. Delany hinted at this possibility a year ago, right after TCU earned its bid to the Rose Bowl due to one of many concessions the major conferences made in the last contract.
"The notion that over time, by putting political pressure on, [the non-BCS leagues] are just going to get greater access, more financial reward and more access to the Rose Bowl ... I think you're really testing," he said in response to a comment by WAC commissioner Karl Benson. "I think people who have contributed a lot have, what I call, 'BCS defense fatigue.' ... I'm not sure how much more give there is in the system."
Here we are a year later, and that's exactly what's happening. The big boys are done giving. On the contrary, they're realigning and consolidating and putting faith that the bowls will take care of them, with or without automatic provisions.
Are you as disappointed as I am that the Big East isn't going for the obvious candidate in Hawaii?
-- John Koenig, Austin, Texas
That does seem like the next logical move. It would give the conference members in five different time zones. After that, it's on to Greenwich Mean Time. Has Hogwarts gone FBS yet?
The Mailbag will take next week off but come back strong the week after Christmas. So, happy holidays everybody. And enjoy the Famous Potato Bowl.
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