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An open letter from BTN's Mike Hall on the BCS and NCAA tournament

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Hall.Mike_twitter.jpgHere at Sports Pros(e) we welcome and encourage people who aren't Kevin and Kyle to weigh in on the sporting issues of the day. This week, we welcome Mike Hall, winner of season one of ESPN Dream Job, and current anchor for the Big Ten Network. 'Tis the season for college basketball, and Mike knows a thing or two about the process. In his open letter below, he compares the controversial football BCS and NCAA basketball tournament. When he's not on-air or furiously punching out posts for Sports Pros(e), you can find Mike on Twitter. Also, his blog is a must-read for any Big Ten sports fan. Mike writes:

Dear Kevin, Kyle, and all other sports fans,

My name is Mike Hall and I'm here to recruit you. Drink a glass of my sports milk, if you would... and tell me where I'm crazy. With less than a week until Selection Sunday I'd like to compare the NCAA Tournament to the BCS... in hopes of proving that the BCS really isn't Satan's greatest success afterall.

I happen to be one of the rare sports fans who actually loves the BCS. You never hear our side of the story because people never seem to have those of us in the sports media who enjoy the BCS (my BTN partner Dave Revsine, Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein, ESPN's John Saunders, CBS' Dennis Dodd, etc) involved in forums to discuss the topic.

Now there are a bevy of reasons I have as to why the BCS is fine, if not very good. But instead of taking up space by going into detail on things like the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it TV ratings and attendance figures, the amazing intensity and importance of the regular season, the stupidity of comparing it to Division II football's playoff, the stupidity of comparing it to the NFL's playoff, and more ... I'll instead throw out there 3 points:
Point #1-- One of the things I hear is how basketball is decided on the court. And in March, anything can happen in one single game. And that's what makes it great.

On the one hand, I agree. The amazing upsets provide the drama that makes March Madness and sports so wonderful. But on the other hand... is that really the best way to determine who is the champion? I mean ... When we look back at the 1985 basketball season ... we look back at the winners that year, Villanova. But is that really an accurate depiction of who was the best team that season? Or does that more precisely say which team was the best for 3 weeks in March that year? The Cats were a Nol. 8 seed. Should they really have even legitimately been a part of the fight for the national championship?

Think of it in this microcosm. Look how the conferences pick who gets to go to the NCAA Tournament. They pick the winner of their league tournament in March. For a big conference like the ACC, it doesn't matter if Duke won the regular season but loses the tournament--they're still getting in. But what about the smaller conferences. They completely ignore the entire 3 months of the regular season and which team truly was the champion of the conference. But they reward the team that happened to play the best 4 games in a 4 day span. Is that really right? Does that really show which team was the best in that conference that year? Is that team truly representative of the best that conference had that year?

Point #2 -- When I get in debates with people about the BCS, they always say if you made it a 4 team playoff, or an 8 team playoff... the arguments who was left out will go away. When I protest that, I hear, "well, it will be so minuscule in comparison to those we have when debating how unfair it was that the third team in the country got left out of the BCS national title game." To that I say nay.

Wait until this upcoming Sunday. Watch TV all day Sunday, all day Monday ... listen to sports radio all week long. What will you hear? Passionate arguments about how ridiculous and unfair it is that team X was left out of the NCAA tournament. And which team is team X? Why that would be the 66th best team in the country. 66! And you'll hear words thrown around as if this is a crime of national importance. Its "shocking ... appalling ... grotesque... disgusting... unforgivable..." that the 66th best team in the country didn't make the tournament. Let me summon my Seth Myers here... "Really!?"

My question to you is this... what on earth makes anyone think that if we went to an 8 team college football playoff, that the outcry over the 9th best team in the country being left out would be small?! It'd be just as loud, if not louder, than the pessimistic and annoying rants you'll hear about bubble teams getting left out next week.

Point #3-- In fact let's put that into practice based on this past season. If you do the conventional idea people have of getting to the 8 playoff teams ... you have the winners of the BCS conferences, and 2 at large teams. Ok, so who would be our two at large teams then? Texas has to be one. They beat Big 12 champ Oklahoma head to head and their only loss came to a top ten team on the road in the final seconds. Course that loss came to Texas Tech... a team with also only one regular season loss on the road to Oklahoma. They have to be in. Same goes with Utah, I mean they were undefeated. And if that's true... then Boise State must make it as well since they also had no losses in the regular season. Now USC, there's a team that has to be in. They had only one loss which came on the road to a good team back in September and most considered the Trojans the best team in the country come December. Shoot, I forgot Alabama. They had only one loss in the regular season, sorta. It came to Florida in their conference's title game. They really have to be in.

So lets see where this perfect 8 team playoff system got us. Texas, Texas Tech, Utah, Boise State, USC and Alabama all deserve to be in. That's six teams fighting for two spots. How do you think that would go over? If we did that, did we really get rid of the controversy that people claim only exists with the BCS?

Let me end by saying this... I've had this argument for almost half a decade now. And when I get in debates with people all it does is make both sides feel stronger in their own opinions. Its basically like putting a democrat and a republican together and having one try to convince the other about their point of view. So I know I won't convince those who already hate the BCS.... But hopefully you can at least see where I'm comin from. And also, maybe instead of spending next week arguing about which teams that weren't good enough to place in the top half of their conference didn't make the NCAA Tournament ... we can spend time focusing on those who DID.

Sincerely,

Mike Hall
Big Ten Network

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6 Comments

Decent artice. However, USC won the Pac-10 so they would be getting an automatic bid, correct? Probably should have figured that one out.

Also, I understand the point on the 66th best team, but when you think about it, the bubble teams are probably much better than that if you were to rank them solely on strength. I would guess that a bubble team would be ranked higher than some of the conference champions in the smaller mid-major groups that receive automatic bids. Not a huge issue, but teams that are left out clearly aren't the 66th best team.

Dude, USC won the PAC-10. So they'd get an automatic bid.

And I fail to see how picking between Utah, Texas, Tech Boise State and Alabama could give us anything worse than the current system.

Which is the point.

Oh, and it's microcosm, not microchosm.

Point #1 - I agree to a certain extent, but to crown a champion is to award the team that plays the best under pressure (in a one-and-done situation). You can't have a playoff similar to the NBA or NHL because it would take too long so you are left to a one-and-done system. I believe it was in 2003-2004 that Auburn went undefeated and was not able to play in the championship. How can you say they would not have beaten USC? My opinion would be that USC would have won, but because the game was nver played on the field we'll never know. Villanova beat #1 Michigan, #2 Memphis (who beat #1 Oklahoma), and #1 Georgetown (who beat #1 St. John's). They beat everyone they played and had to beat everyone #1 or the team that beat the #1 seed. They had to get through all of the top teams in the nation and no one disputes they were the national champion.
Point #2 - First of all, you should be able to identify the top 8 teams through the standard system. I can see your point of arguments for bubble teams in an 8-team playoff because there is quite a bit of parity from #1 to #8. In a 16-team playoff there should be no complaints from bubble teams because all of the one-loss teams should be included. The bubble teams in that group will cry, but there is quite a difference in football between the 1 and 16 spot.
Point #3 - In an 8-team playoff for a champion are you really going to give a spot to the ACC and Big East champion? With your argument of putting the best teams for the entire season in the system, why would you include Cincinnati and Va Tech? Leaving them out would have allowed four of the five listed above into the playoff (USC was the pac-10 champ). Your logic is ridiculous. So the bubble team would have been Boise State. I'm sure some would have complained because Boise State was undefeated, but if the rules are firm, defined, and fair to all teams no one should complain.

How can you count USC as being one of six teams fighting for two spots when they should have earned an automatic bid as a result of winning the PAC-10 Championship? You seem to be arguing against yourself.

The teams battling for the two at-large spaces would have been Texas, Texas Tech, Utah, Boise State & Alabama with Utah and Boise State being the favorite since they were conference champions. Stick to the formula. There will probably be some years when a second place BCS conference school gets a shot at the tournament but not when you have one or two undefeated schools from non-BCS conferences.

The six BCS Conference Champs plus two at-large teams. That sounds like a decent field.

I might be reiterating a few points made above, but just in case...

In regards to #1:

It's a conference's choice to hold a tournament. If they want their regular season conference champion to get that bid, it's their choice. Instead they hold a conference tournament, probably as a grab at more money, and if someone other than the regular season conference champion wins, it's that conference's problem, not that of the selection committee. If that team that was defeated has enough merit, they will then make it into the tournament anyway. So if you carried that over to say...ACC football in a 16 team playoff era, and they held a conference championship game and by losing that game the team with the best regular season record missed out on the tournament, well that is an issue they need to take up with their conference. If they were good enough, they'd get a bid as an at large. If not, they had their chance and blew it anyways.

#2:

Arguements for who was left out will exist in any way, shape, or form and will never cease to exist. It is a lot easier to tell someone "win your conference, win your games and you'll be in" than to tell someone like Utah "undefeated on the season? oh, well you didn't play a hard enough schedule to make it into the championship game. You needed to impress more voters." At least Utah didn't play something called "The Citadel" and get credit for it, like our National Champions did. Oh, and that other team in the championship game(OU), they played Chattanooga. My point, any team should have the ability to play their way to a championship in any given season. Boise State and Utah are prime examples that even an undefeated(btw, the SOLE undefeated team in their respective years) isn't able to win the national championship. What good is it to have 119 teams in the "FBS" if only 66 would ever even have a chance at winning the national championship? Open the door or send them back to DI-AA(FCS).

#3:

Make it a 16 team playoff. All conference champions, 5 at large. Nobody can argue they didn't have a chance. When you include all the conference champions, the sole answer is "Win your conference". Provisions for independents would be made, like 9-10 wins for Notre Dame, etc. Maybe the first round games wouldn't all be great matchups, but people still watch #1 seed UNC paste #16 seed Eastern Middle North City College of Springfield-Illinois every year in basketball.

Your error has been noted, but since you bring up USC...In the current system, they should be in the championship game every year. If the AP and Coaches voting were truly for the best team, it's USC. Period. Nobody performs better(Since 2002 that is), nobody has better players, nobody in Vegas would bet against them. And they make an effort to play real non-conference schedules. When is the last time they scheduled a I-AA for another home game slaughtering?

FYI, I am not a USC fan, actually am an OSU fan(THE original OSU, Oregon State.)

Yeah, to points #2 and #3: you don't need automatic conference bids. Take the top 8 teams (Point #3). In order to halt arguments on #8 vs. #9 make a 2 team per conference rule (Point #2). Building off the MWC proposal:

1. Oklahoma vs. 9. Boise State (Fiesta Bowl)
2. Florida vs. 6. Utah (Sugar Bowl)
3. Texas vs. 4. Alabama (Orange Bowl)
5. USC vs. 7. Penn State (Rose Bowl)
12. Cincy vs. 19. Va Tech (5th BCS Bowl)

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This page contains a single entry by Kevin Allen published on March 9, 2009 11:50 AM.

Chicago Sports Week in Review: March 9, 2009 was the previous entry in this blog.

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