Widgets Magazine

Sawhney: BCS not conducive to academic success

Like any self-respecting college football fan, I loathe the Bowl Championship Series. I could probably spend an eternity going off on the system’s many, many faults, including its abominable “Every Game Counts” slogan—I would love to see BCS executive director Bill Hancock go to Fort Worth, Texas and explain to TCU how all of its 13 victories and zero losses counted when it got frozen out of a chance to win a national title.

The flaw to which I would like to bring attention today concerns academics—specifically, how the BCS contributes to undermining the “student” part of “student-athlete.” Hancock and the BCS even go one step further, claiming that the BCS actually benefits the academic lives of students, while a proposed eight- or 16-team playoff would do a great deal of harm by cutting into the academic calendar. Yet, despite all of this, I am fairly confident that the BCS does just as much harm to the academic missions of its member universities as any playoff would.

Let’s start with this year’s BCS National Championship Game, held on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz. One of the participants, Oregon, had classes start a week before the game, meaning that players had to miss an entire week of class while they practiced and prepared for the title game (which they lost to Auburn, 22-19). Forcing players to miss an entire week of classes at the start of a semester doesn’t really appear to serve the academic mission of the University of Oregon in any discernable way, especially when the reasons for the game’s late date are purely commercial.

In fact, if given one question to ask Bill Hancock, I would ask him to point out exactly how playing the game a week after the start of the semester helps to preserve the integrity of the academic calendar. After all, the game could have been played on or around New Year’s Day, which falls squarely inside the winter break of virtually every university in the FBS. Blathering on about preserving “traditions”, as Hancock is wont to do, wouldn’t cut it either, since the BCS title game is a fairly new creation with no history or tradition to speak of. Of course, he could point to the early January bowl games, but excuse me if I don’t find it especially necessary to uphold the grand traditions of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Indeed, playing the game that late automatically knocks out the BCS’s own argument against a playoff: that it would disrupt athletes’ class schedules. In a playoff, most of the games would be played over winter break, with perhaps one game intruding into the first week of January, precisely when every BCS game is played.

The BCS also causes intrusions during the regular season, when smaller schools routinely play games on weeknights to get exposure on national television. In the BCS’s system of selecting schools for games by their poll position, it helps if as many voters as possible can see a team play. For schools that aren’t name brands, the only way to make this happen is to play on a weeknight.

Earlier this year at the University of Washington, a controversy erupted over whether afternoon classes and assignments would be dismissed to accommodate a Thursday game on campus. The school chose to continue academics as usual, but professors saw empty classrooms and lecture halls as a large number of students chose to attend the game instead of class. Of course, playing games during the week has a disproportionate effect on the athletes as well, since they have to cram in more practice time during the short week, miss class on game day and have to go to class the very next morning.

If nothing else, academic concerns should prompt university presidents and chancellors to push the BCS to make changes to the system. At a minimum, the national title game and all other BCS bowls should be played when every NCAA school is on winter break. However, only a playoff can truly eliminate all of the academic problems the BCS brings on by diminishing the influence of polls on the selection process and allowing teams to prove their merits on the field.

Kabir Sawhney wants you to believe that he’s never prioritized football over school. Call his bluff at ksawhney “at” stanford.edu.

About Kabir Sawhney

Kabir Sawhney is currently a desk editor for the News section. He served as the Managing Editor of Sports last volume.