Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

College football needs reform; woe betide he who tries

Arizona is the 13th best college football team in the country, according to one of the computer rankings used to determine the supposed national champion.

That’s 11 spots higher than California, a team that beat the Wildcats.

Another computer ranking system used by the NCAA’s Bowl Championship Series said Arizona was the 27th best team in the country, eight spots below Oregon State, a team that lost to Arizona.

But if you don’t trust computers to determine the top college football teams, there’s always the experts – actual big-time college football coaches whose poll accounts for one-third of the BCS ranking system.

The coaches are sure to get the rankings right. Right?

Well, no.

As TucsonCitizen.com sports blogger Anthony Gimino reported last week, nine of the 59 coaches tasked by USA Today to participate in its coaches poll didn’t think Arizona was among the 25 best teams in the country. Among those was Texas Tech’s Mike Leach, who has lost several assistant coaches to Arizona in the past few years, Gimino reported.

Contrast that to Washington State’s Paul Wulff, who ranked the Wildcats No. 12, the highest of any coach in the poll. Fellow Pac-10 coach Jim Harbaugh, of Stanford, also ranked the Wildcats well, at No. 14. Of course, that’s two spots below his own team. That Arizona 43-38 victory over Stanford in October must have been a fluke.

Welcome to the wacky world of college football where math nerds using complicated algorithms and coaches with vendettas and vested interests in the outcome determine which teams get to play for the “national championship.”

It would be funny if so much money were not at stake.

The 68 teams playing in 34 bowl games between Dec. 19 and Jan. 7 will divide up about $240 million in team appearance payouts.

College football generates about $3 billion a year for universities and billions more for broadcast and cable TV corporations. That’s as lucrative as the NBA.

It could make billions more if it were administered properly and didn’t have to use goofy team rankings or be saddled with a bowl system more beholden to Sun Belt cities’ chambers of commerce than good football.

Strangely, the greed that pervades college football and the bowl system is the major impediment to reform that could result in even more money. A true football national championship playoff would generate even more billions in TV and other revenue.

But reform that realizes greater revenue is not the type of reform many college presidents are after.

There is a national movement afoot to rein in college football.

The Knight Commission, a higher-education think tank, in October released a report in which university presidents were surveyed about the spiraling costs of college football.

The majority said they believe “sweeping change” was necessary but all were stumped about how to do it. Or afraid to. Numerous college presidents have lost their jobs after attempting to monkey with athletics, the report noted.

That has some turning to Congress. A Congressional Budget Office report in May examined ways Congress could eliminate the tax-exempt status of college athletic programs and tax those billions in football revenues, and another Congressional committee is examining whether to give college athletics an anti-trust exemption so universities can regulate coaching salaries.

The reform bug also has landed in Arizona. Arizona Board of Regents President Ernesto Calderon has formed a blue ribbon committee to examine university athletic budgets and coaching salaries. And last month on KUAT’s Arizona Illustrated, he suggested some of the millions athletics take in could be funneled to academics rather than used solely for sports.

Calderon, though, should step lightly. Arizona fans might not be able to do anything about screwy BCS rankings, but they can do something about bureaucrats who meddle with their beloved Wildcats.

As the Knight report shows, if he messes with athletics, he could soon be the ex-president of the Arizona Board of Regents.

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