Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Saturday in December

Saturday, December 11, 2010, won't go down as a particularly noteworthy day in college football.  There were no conference championship games, no signature matchups between top 10 teams vying for a chance to play in a BCS bowl, or for the BCS championship.  There were no classic in-state rivalry games, and not much drama.  In fact, there was on major story line, and two other stories that didn't get very much attention. 

First to the minor stories.  The Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-AA) continued their playoff tournament with the quarterfinals round.  Defending champion Villanova ousted three-time champion Appalachian State, and Georgia Southern, Delaware, and Eastern Washington all advanced to the semifinal round.  A true champion will be crowned at the January 7 championship game to be held in Frisco, Texas.

In Philadelphia, Army and Navy renewed their storied rivalry.  But the significance of this game has paled in recent decades, as the service academy teams have faded into insignificance as any kind of national power on the college football scene.  Sure, there are the obligatory sappy stories about true "student-athletes," all of whom will "turn pro in something other than sports" in the words of the commercials promoting the NCAA.

The big sports story of the day, around which coverage on the four-letter network and the radio sports talk shows revolved, was the crowning of Auburn's Cam Newton as college football's "most outstanding player."  Cam Newton's entire college career has been surrounded with controversy and intrigue.  He left the University of Florida as a backup to Heisman winner Tim Tebow amid allegations of cheating.  He went to a junior college in Texas, and wound up at Auburn University after his father had allegedly shopped his services to Mississippi State University, and perhaps to other schools in the Southeastern Conference and other BCS schools.

The major networks, including ESPN and CBS (which has contractural ties to the SEC) barely had room on their "crawl" for the FCS quarterfinal round scores, let alone any kind of highlights, analysis, or other coverage.  With their vested interest in the BCS, they certainly don't want to give credence to the possibility of a playoff to crown a true champion in major college football.  And while CBS broadcast the Army-Navy game, the coverage was shoehorned between college basketball on the front end and local news or other programming after the game, with barely enough time for even a small glimpse of the pageantry that surrounds the Army-Navy classic.   I wonder what CBS would have done if the Duke basketball game had gone into overtime?

TCU goes undefeated, but they are on the outside of the BCS looking in.   The NCAA declared Cam Newton "eligible" to play in the SEC championship game against the University of South Carolina, and did we expect anything else?  These decisions are not about "student athletes," but about TV ratings, and a Cam Newton-less championship game just can't happen in the eyes of CBS.  The "elite" teams simply can't allow an unworthy team like TCU to get a chance to play for a championship -- the Horned Frogs or the Utes or some other lesser team from a lesser conference might actually win!  And a true playoff is simply unthinkable -- an elite team like Florida might have to travel to someplace like Bowling Green or Annapolis or Lafayette for a first round game.

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