Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bring on the cupcakes

Schedules, schedules. This is the biggest complaint about football teams every year. Every team's partisans makes the case that it's team is better, regardless of who they play. But as reported by Charles Rich of Fanhouse a while back, the cupcakery is becoming not just a nasty trend, but a strategic plan. What I think we are seeing is coaches and athletic departments noticing that despite Hawai'i's ludicrously weak schedule, anyone who can manage an undefeated or one-loss record has a chance at a BCS bowl and the big bucks that go along with it.

We have already seen this tendency even among the elite of the most topheavy conferences like the Big 10. Ohio State had either the 53rd or 54th toughest schedule in the land, depending on who's numbers you use, while Hawai'i clocked in at either 112th or 132nd. Kansas clocked in at either 74th or 80th. All these teams wound up in BCS bowls (OSU in the BCS championship). What is the lesson here?

True, LSU was a 2-loss team and wound up in the BCS championship, so we can't say that schedule strength isn't a factor -- it clearly is. But the lesson here appears to be that unless you really are the best football team in the land, you'd be better off to schedule like Hawai'i and Kansas than LSU. Having the toughest schedule in the land didn't really help Ole Miss or UCLA.

Quinton McDawg of Georgia Sports Blog suggests that teams aren't holding up their end in scheduling, and proposes a solution:

Many teams have done their part simply because they have a rival they hate. Florida has Florida State. Florida State has Miami. Georgia has Georgia Tech. South Carolina has Clemson. Meanwhile, teams like Texas, LSU, and Penn State can pick and choose when they want to play these games and when they want to sit out a year. (By the way, I'm not picking on those teams because they typically do a decent job of nonconference scheduling, but they don't have a team out of conference that they have to play. They have a choice.) It seems unfair to have one power team with the option to play a big nonconference game while others do so as a matter of course.
I would respectfully suggest to Quinton that this is not by accident, but by design. These days, teams are looking harder for I-AA opponents than they are BCS opponents. Could the NCAA enforce a scheme where all BCS teams were required to schedule at least one BCS out-of-conference opponent? I don't think Duke could handle the load, they'd be getting calls from every team in the nation.

The tendency these days seems to be "schedule easy, go to a bowl." Let's face it, no matter how much derision weak schedules draw from bloggers like Quinton and I, the bottom line is, going to a bowl means the big, sweet dollars and exposure for recruiting. Given the choice between having a few journalists and bloggers laugh at your schedule and a visit to the Orange Bowl, I think most coaches and AD's would say "I'll take the Orange Blowl, keep your praise."

Until there is a true and enforceable penalty for scheduling pastries, this problem is bound to get worse before it gets better.