Dienhart: Let's drop cupcakes from football schedules

On Tuesday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany suggested the notion of not having victories over Football Championship Subdivision opponents count toward a Football Bowl Subdivision team’s bowl eligibility, and that sounds good to me. A team needs six wins to be eligible for a bowl, but the NCAA currently allows one of those wins to be a victory over a FCS team. Without that “cupcake win,” there would be schools that don’t reach that six-victory minimum.

In fact, if such a rule was in place this season, neither Minnesota (winners over New Hampshire) nor Purdue (winners over Eastern Kentucky) would have been bowl eligible.

In the Big Ten this season, there were eight games against  FCS foes, who essentially are “blood donors” who get a large payday for going on the road and taking a likely beating to support their FCS school budgets. How lucrative can it be? Idaho got a $600,000 guarantee for agreeing to get pummeled at Nebraska this season. That’s a handsome sum for two black eyes.

[RELATED: Rose, Sugar bowls will host first playoff semifinals ]

In addition to Minnesota playing New Hampshire, Purdue playing Eastern Kentucky and Nebraska playing Idaho, Illinois played Charleston Southern, Northwestern played South Dakota, Iowa played Northern Iowa, Wisconsin played Northern Iowa and Indiana played Indiana State. Yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn and yawn.

The only Big Ten schools that didn’t play a FCS opponent were Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan. Take a bow for not “buying” a win, fellas. I appreciate it, and so do your fans.

If these games couldn’t be used toward bowl eligibility, it may mean some of the schools would dump the FCS foes and “schedule up” to give fans better matchups instead of lopsided games that few are interested in attending or watching.

While on the subject of eliminating some things with some tweaks, why not deep six some bowls? With 35 bowls, it’s hardly a special occasion. Consider this: 70 out of 120 FBS schools go to bowls. That’s 58 percent of the schools!

Scan the bowl crowds. Empty seats were rampant. Bowls have become about creating TV content, and it never was the intention of the bowl system to exist so TV networks could fill a noon ET time slot on a Monday in late December. Or, am I missing something?

Instead of a meaningless glut of bowls, why not just let every team schedule a 13th game? It makes more sense than sending schools across the country to play games in neutral sites that hardly anyone wants to see.

How utterly absurd is the current bowl system? Consider the outcry if you tried to install a similar system for the NCAA basketball postseason. Try selling this:

“Let’s take the top two schools in the nation and have them play a ‘championship game’ on a neutral site. Then, we will take the other 68 schools and match them up in a semi-random fashion and have them play a single game at neutral sites scattered across the nation.”

It sounds ridiculous just typing it, but that’s the bowl system. These bowls build toward nothing. Many times, schools seem disinterested in playing, or the teams are playing with an interim coach. And THIS is the apex of the season?

Do you think teams in the NCAA hoops tourney are “disinterested” or don’t want to be there? And how many NCAA tourney teams fire their coach and then qualify to play in March Madness?

So, anything to make bowl eligibility more difficult—or anything to eliminate most of the bowls—is good in my book.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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2 Comments

Your Opinion?
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Tom A. on 1/9/2013 @ 3:33pm EDT Said:

oops – I meant that message to be a comment at the end of the post…sorry. Here it is:

THE NCAA FOOTBALL Div.I-A (FBS) HAS NEVER HAD A NATIONAL CHAMPION. It never ceases to amaze me that people who call themselves sportsmen, or sports afficionados, or whatever, can contradict that sentence with a straight face. The ignorance and audacity are staggering.

All other college football NCAA divisions have playoffs (FCS has a 20-team bracket, for example). All organized sports, at the high school, collegiate and professional levels in the US, have playoffs to determine champions.

Voting a team as champion? Voting two teams to play each other and crowning the winner a champion? Seriously? Out of 120+ teams? Alabama was probably the best team in FBS this season, but that is merely conjecture – we’ll never know.

By contrast, college football conferences do not need playoffs (if they have only two divisions) – you play everyone in your division, and almost everyone in the other division, and the winners of each division play each other for the championship.

Nobody denies that Alabama is the SEC champion, or that Stanford is the Pac-12 champion, or that Northern Illinois is the MAC champion, etc. But in a division of 124+ teams, there is too much diversity for a single-game playoff (or even two rounds, like the new system in 2014).

Conference champions should be the top priority for the new selection committee. The best (only 10-pt spread and most competitive) BCS bowl this year was the Sugar Bowl, where #21 Louisville (Big East co-champs) embarrased #3 Florida (SEC runner up), and the next-best was the Rose Bowl (only 6-pt spread and very competitive) involving unranked Wisconsin (B1G champ) hanging with #6 Stanford (Pac-12 champ) until the end.

The rankings don’t seem to have all that much bearing on how well the teams match up in bowls. The simple and logical solution is for the Conference champions to play each other to determine the national champ. Highly-ranked non-champs can be used for at-large berths to fill out a playoff bracket.

The bowl game concept is kind of cool and somewhat unique. The bowl system could be used to host the first round of a playoff system, sort of the way they will be in 2014, without losing the essence as well as the trappings of the tradition or prestige of a bowl game. Some of the remaining bowl games can still be held, such as for teams that have winning records but didn’t make the playoffs.

With a little common sense, the bowl system can be seamlessly integrated into a playoff system, thus preserving the traditions and providing, for the first time, a legitimate FBS national champion, all while making more money than the existing bowl system ever will.

ncaa2014playoff on 3/3/2014 @ 3:24pm EDT Said:

Let’s clarify our terminology.
A Patsy is from the FCS
A Cupcake is from the Mid-Major Conferences.
Both are problems borne of the root defect, an unfair and unequal FBS.
Every team in the FBS should be treated fairly, that is every team should be in a Football Conference that has equal status, size and strength of programs.
See the Perfect Playoff Plan 16 that Reforms, Restructures and Realigns the FBS into a new Major College Football Division. http://ncaa2014.us/theperfectplan.pdf
An 11 game season with 9 Conference games to qualify the Champion for the 16 team Playoff, with only 6-5 or better records to get into a Bowl Game.
The 16 Team Playoff with 12 Football Only Conference Champions and 4 second place teams with the most wins in 8 Round 1 home games then the next 3 Rounds in 7 Bowl Games.
The Big Traditional Bowls, Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Gator and Fiesta have ties to the 12 Conferences for their Champion that has been eliminated in the Round 1 & 2 games or second place team eliminated from the Playoff.
There is an answer for every complaint or question any Fan would have.