If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you

, Friday, February 6, 2009 at 2:45 AM Comments (1)

If you have ever listened to sports talk radio or watched ESPN for more than five minutes, you have probably heard the reasons that college football can’t create a playoff system. It goes something like this: 1) The BCS exists to make the rich football conferences richer. 2) The bowl system can’t be changed because there is too much money involved. 3) Extending the season would dramatically affect the ability of student athletes to complete their classes.

I think we can all agree that the last item is ridiculous as most powerhouse schools have miserable graduation rates. But the last time I heard someone mention their deep concern about student athletes, it got me thinking about another college sport that never gets criticized but is ten times as destructive to student athletes and wrapped up in the pursuit of money as college football.

College basketball.

You may be thinking, but Joe, they have that wonderful tournament every year where they let the champions of all the leagues have a chance. It is so democratic and fair. Even bad teams can beat a great team every once and a while. College football has none of that, how is basketball worse?

Well, I am glad you asked, and I will be happy to tell you in the form of a list:

1) Power Conferences
The Big East has 16 teams. Let that sink in, 16 different teams. It is called the Big East, but it really is just a collection of 16 teams trying to make some money. They represent 13 different states. The 16 teams each play about 30 games a year with 18 of those games in the conference (not counting the conference tournament). Of those 18 games, 9 are on the road. To illustrate the point, let’s take a look at Notre Dame’s conference away games with some other information thrown in:

Opponent

Day of the Game

Miles to travel

DePaul

Wednesday

75

St. Johns

Saturday

650

Lousiville

Monday

256

Syracuse

Saturday

588

Pittsburgh

Saturday

336

Cincinnati

Wednesday

245

West Virginia

Wednesday

440

Providence

Saturday

888

UCONN

Saturday

720

The weekday games require at least one, if not 1 ½ days away from campus and possibly missed classes. Many of those weekend games require at least 1, of not 2 full days away from campus. Throw in the probable 3 days for the UCLA trip and these guys are gone for about 8 days of classes. (and lets not even discuss the travel requirements of the “student athletes” at USF)

2) Conference Tournaments
This year, the Big East tournament is 5 days long. It starts on a Tuesday, so that means that Notre Dame is there by Monday afternoon (unless they secure a double bye) and could easily be expected to be there until at least Thursday night for what will most likely be a televised night game. They most likely don’t get back to conference in time for Friday classes, so now the student athletes at Notre Dame (with its great academic reputation) have missed about 13 days of classes.

3) NCAA Tournament
Lets say Notre Dame rallies a bit and makes the tournament with the approximately 14 other teams that will probably make it from the Big East. As we know, the tournament starts on a Thursday, so the “student athletes” will have to be at their regional site by Wednesday morning at the latest. Should Notre Dame win just one game, they will miss 3 days of classes. If they win two, it’s probably 6 days of classes. So let’s assume that Notre Dame wins two games. That makes the total roughly 19 days of classes.

So where does that leave us? Well, a moderately successful team from a power conference has its student athletes miss roughly 19 days of classes. That is nearly four full class weeks missed. If the season only covered one semester at Notre Dame, that would be roughly 28% of the semester. Who is going to look me in the eye and tell me that any student could be successful while missing that much time?

At least power college football conferences play their games mostly on Saturdays. That only has their players away for about 5 or 6 days (since most power conference teams play very few away games). Add the conference championship and college football teams probably miss about 7 days of classes, far less than college basketball.

All this is a roundabout way of saying this simple thing: Concern for student athletes has nothing to do with not having a college football playoff. It’s about money. If it wasn’t, then all the high and mighty folks should be focusing a lot more attention on basketball.

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