Before last week's BCS Title Game, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post offered her suggestions on how to reform the game of college football. While she points out some of the issues and hypocricy in college football today, some of her solutions show a lack of understanding of the sport and seem to be more based on a popluist political perspective than in an actual concern for the sport. Some of that has led to predictable sexist reaction to women covering a men's sport, but that criticism is just as wrong-headed. I know women who understand football better than many men, and gender isn't the problem here.
Jenkins lack of understanding of the game of football starts with her very first point: reducing scholarships from 85 to just 70 players, pointing out that's three players for every position on the field, which is more than in most other sports. The problem with that is that the game of football has evolved into a much different sport than any other. In baseball, you see players who can play nearly any and every position on the field if necessary. In basketball, Doc Sadler filled out his Husker lineup his first couple of years with four guards and Aleks Maric. But football? The days of players play both ways, and playing multiple positions disappeared fourty years ago. Now, when we talk about changing positions, we talk about shifting a receiver from the X to the Y, or a tackle from the left to the right side.
And let's be honest: football is far more violent than any other sport we play. Injuries are a very real issue in the game. Against Iowa State, Nebraska was forced to run the "Wildcat" formation for a play after Cody Green got dinged following a helmet-to-helmet hit due to a lack of available quarterbacks. Some critics point out the NFL's 53 player roster as proof teams don't need that depth, but the NFL operates in a different world where players can be waived, traded, or signed as a free-agent as situations warrant. There is no "player acquisition" available to college football once the semester begins to address depth issues. One of the painful lessons from the Pederson/Callahan Reign of Error was that restricting roster sizes limits the availability of depth and the ability to develop players. Does reducing roster sizes even further really help there?
Jenkins' takes a populist perspective on coaching salaries. It's hard to defend multi-million dollar salaries for college coaches in comparison to what teachers, police officers, firefighters, and our military earn... but that's not the point. Like Hollywood actors, CEO's, and pro athletes, these people earn what they earn because that's what the free market says they are worth...whether we like it or not. It's not like we can stop it without unfortunate side effects. (I could go off on a tangent on high salaried individuals, but that's a topic for a non-sports related blog...)
Jenkins finally makes a realistic point when she observes that the NCAA doesn't really hold coaches accountable for following the rules. Schools get punished, but coaches get fired and move elsewhere. It really isn't until a coach flagrantly breaks the rules that he becomes too toxic to hold a job. (See John Blake at North Carolina, for example.) Likewise, athletes who accept money should also have to repay their scholarship money, even after their eligibility is exhausted by making it part of their scholarship agreement. Many times these cases aren't discovered until after players have left school (see Bush, Reggie) and therefore escape facing any consequences. That being said, some of the NCAA's rules about players and money make no sense with the revenues that athletes generate for their programs. (That's another debate as well.)
Reduce the length of the football schedule from 12 games to 10? Good luck with that one. Less football isn't the answer, and if the schedule were ever reduced, it wouldn't be games such as Nebraska vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga that would be dropped. Those are the games that pay the bills in football, whether fans like them or not. Likewise, eliminating the BCS is a pipe dream at best. The SEC and Big Ten have secured favorable bowl agreements that give those two conferences an advantage over other conferences, and have made it clear they have no interest in a playoff system, even if there is more money in it overall.
In the end, Jenkins overreacts to the issues facing college football with polyanna solutions. Yes, the bowl season was filled with bad matchups, and the pressures on football to produce revenue continue to grow, but Jenkins is throwing out the baby with the bathwater with these proposals.