Dropping the ball on college bowls

Les Robinson, former head basketball coach and athletic director at North Carolina State University, is athletic director at The Citadel.

EVERY YEAR, there seems to be a major controversy over which college football team should play in the BCS Championship game. The BCS rankings were supposed to reduce controversy. But that hasn’t been the case. Any Division I-A football player could justifiably write the following letter:


Dear BCS President:

I am a junior linebacker at Cal. I am writing to ask you to consider the possibility of a Division IA football playoff.


I am both humbled and proud to be a student-athlete at our NCAA-member institution. But I often wonder why my classmates in all the sports offered at Cal -- baseball, volleyball, basketball, tennis and golf, among others -- have the opportunity to decide their national champion on the field of play and we in football do not. Fact is, the NCAA sponsors a tournament/playoff format to determine a champion in all its 88 men’s and women’s sports.

I’ve read that a football playoff system would result in more missed classes for players and a longer season. This is curious. Players on a Division IA football team miss fewer classes than any of their fellow competitors in other sports. Most football teams do not leave campus until after the last class on Friday and return immediately following the Saturday game. The number of times a game is played on a day other than Saturday is negligible. Additionally, teams play only five or six games away from home each year. In fact, football players would likely miss fewer classes over a 10-year period than college athletes in other sports miss in a single year. Some of the other sports are actually in-season from Halloween through Easter, which makes up a good portion of both semesters.

As for length of season, please consider the following:

Football teams are really two teams in one. Defensive players are on the field approximately half the game, and the offensive team the other half (about 30 minutes each). No other team sport has this makeup. Many years ago, football players played both ways, some logging as many as 50 to 55 minutes a game (and have lived to tell about it).


Most bowl games take place during the holiday break. The playoffs would occur during the same holiday/semester break.

Division I-AA football programs, which are classified Division I-A in all other sports, already have a playoff system. The primary difference between these schools and I-A football schools is that they award fewer football scholarships and their fan-attendance figures are not as large as those at I-A games. Nonetheless, I-AA football players put on their pads, practice, study and play games every Saturday just like Cal.

Most important, many of the perennial top teams in the I-AA football playoffs -- Furman, Delaware, William & Mary, Lehigh, Richmond, Cal-Poly -- have glowing graduation rates. The additional playoff games do not affect these teams’ classroom performance. Indeed, player graduation rates of the top 10-to-15 I-AA football schools are significantly higher than similarly successful IA football colleges. This fact alone debunks the contention that a, say, 16-team playoff would hurt players’ academic success. In terms of class time missed, time spent practicing and playing games, we are comparing apples and apples here.

And as you know, it is well documented that there is no correlation between additional injuries and participation in the I-AA playoffs.

I’ve read that a playoff system would result in fewer bowl games. Whether it’s an eight- or 16-team playoff format, there would be a minimum of seven major-bowl opportunities, with the championship game rotated among these bowls, similar to what the BCS is already doing. In a playoff system, a bowl game would actually be more important because the winner could go on to become champion.

I’d like to mention one last important consideration. It is an established fact that the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, held in March, is a huge success. As the NCAA expanded the field of its basketball playoff tournament, both TV ratings and revenue soared. In 1999, the NCAA negotiated an 11-year, $6.2-billion contract for its basketball tournament. It’s reasonable to conclude that an orderly football championship playoff could produce rights fees that would dwarf those for basketball. This additional revenue could greatly benefit all NCAA sports.

The experiences and memories that intercollegiate athletics offer me and my peers are priceless. But if intercollegiate athletics are about the student-athlete, isn’t it appropriate that a championship playoff format be established for the one remaining -- and, ironically, most popular -- sport of all, Division I-A college football?

I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with you and your colleagues at any time. Thank you for your consideration in advance.