IT’S ALL HAPPENING! Tuesday, October 29

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The Lottery Game

The Ducks’ Nicholls package: a 66-3 ambush of an FCS foe.

Exactly 125 member schools currently exist in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), and yet the three programs that most everyone agrees are at the top of the class this season after two months –Alabama, Florida State and Oregon–chose to look beyond this membership to fill out their 2013 schedules.

On August 31 the Ducks hosted Nicholls State of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), which resulted in a 66-3 wildfire.

On September 21 the Seminoles welcomed FCS member Bethune-Cookman and then promptly shooed them out after a 54-6 pink belly.

And on November 23 the Crimson Tide, the vanguard of the Deep South and winners of three of the past four national championships, will play T-Rex to the chained goat that is Chattanooga, also an FCS program, in Tuscaloosa.

Have you seen that JetBlue ad where the cabbie tries to charge the female passenger $25 to put her luggage in the trunk? The tagline is, “You wouldn’t take it on the ground; why do you put up with it when you fly?”

Well, can you imagine if every NFL team were allowed to schedule its own non-divisional games? Worse, can you imagine if the league’s premier teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers or the Denver Broncos, added the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to their schedules? You would think that’s crazy for the NFL to allow. So why do we blithely ignore the even grosser mismatch of Alabama versus Chattanooga?

There’s a reason the 49ers are not allowed to schedule the Blue Bombers of Winnipeg: mutual schedule integrity.

Every sport, but particularly a sport that you and I revere as much as college football, needs schedule integrity. This year, and even when it goes to a playoff system next year, it is unfair for schools to literally schedule below their level just so that they may have the double benefit of the revenue that another home game brings plus an easy, injury-free win. Will it cost the leviathans a little money to forfeit a home game in front of 95,000 in favor of a potential road trip to Akron? Doesn’t everything that ultimately benefits society as a whole cost the robber barons a dollar or two?

There is a better way. First of all, no FBS team that aspires to a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) berth should be permitted to schedule an FCS school. ‘nuf said.

However, what if there were a way to add suspense and, dare I say, a sense of fairness that would extend no more favor to Georgia than it does to Georgia State? What if, for at least one Saturday each season, we pretended that no FBS team could use the leverage of its stadium size and hence, potential visitors’ check, to schedule the so-called “body bag game?”

The Lottery Game selection show would be every bit as huge as the NCAA Tournament Selection show, and Rece Davis can host it.

 

I give you…. (da da-da da) The Lottery Game, an idea that would draw enthusiasm from at least 90% of the fan bases, would provide a shot of adrenaline to what has become mostly moribund non-conference scheduling by the sport’s aristocratic powers, and would be a TV bonanza.

Here’s how it works. The first Saturday of every November would remain open on every team’s schedule. At some point in early August, say, a day or two before fall camps may begin, a network hosts The Lottery Game Selection Show. Every FBS school puts it name into a hat. And we would proceed thusly:

THE PROCESS

Jimmy Johnson (and Dennis Erickson) took the Canes to Norman, Tallahassee, Ann Arbor, South Bend, Little Rock, Baton Rouge, Madison, East Lansing, Provo, Berkeley, Morgantown, Iowa City, State College…those Canes scheduled like a BOSS and still won three national titles.

1) Begin either at the top or the bottom of the list of FBS schools, in alphabetical order. I ran this experiment myself last night and, being a “W”, I chose to start at the bottom: Wyoming.

2) Pull a name out of the hat. I yanked out University of Texas-San Antonio (yes, they are an actual FBS school).

3) Lather, rinse, repeat.

Of course, there are potential problems. So allow me to address them here:

A) You pull out the name of your own school.

B) You pull out the name of a school that is already on your schedule.

C) You pull out the name of a school that is in your conference.

In the case of all of the above, you simply return that name to the hat. But here is what makes for more compelling television. Say this happens for Western Michigan, which was the third school on the list in my draft. Instead of just selecting another school for the Broncos, you  move on to the next school (West Virginia). Western Michigan must now wait until every other school has chosen, during which time the Broncos may be selected by another school, until its spot in the draft comes up again. If the Broncos have already been selected by another school as their Lottery Game foe by then, so be it.

What makes this more compelling is that  the first 62 schools, or half, to draw a foe will be the home team. So whereas Western Michigan picked third –after Wyoming and Wisconsin –and seemed a sure bet to host a Lottery Game, now the Broncos are vulnerable to being chosen by someone else and being the visitor.

The odds of an SEC, Big 12 or Big Ten school, or Notre Dame visiting the Smurf Turf increase from current 0% with the Lottery Game.

It all adds to the suspense of The Lottery Game Selection Show, most likely hosted by Rece Davis.

The beauty of the idea, of course, is that no school controls its destiny — unlike what transpires now, as schools such as Alabama, Florida State and Oregon (and they’re not the only ones) use one of their 12 games as a glorified scrimmage. No doubt that the Tide have a difficult SEC schedule, but so what? Plenty of other schools choose to play quality intersectional games each season and the sport is better for it. For a decade, from 1983 to 1993, the Miami Hurricanes were the most fearless team in college football –out of necessity, mind you, The U was an independent — but during this era they also won four national championships. Fortune often favors the bold.

I’m sorry if this doesn’t fly with Betty from Bessemer (“Pawwwwwwwl!”), but my interest is the welfare of the sport, not the continued hegemony of a Crimson Tide (or Gator…or Tiger…or Gamecock…or Ole Miss) program that confines itself to one quadrant of the country

The results of my selection process yielded 17 matchups between Automatic Qualifier schools:

North Carolina State at Wisconsin

Nebraska at Washington

Ohio State at Southern California

The Trojans and Buckeyes have actually had a Pryor engagement or two.

Rutgers at Texas Tech

Indiana at Texas A&M

Michigan at Syracuse

Iowa at North Carolina

Colorado at Kansas State

Mississippi State at Iowa State

Minnesota at Georgia

Arkansas at Clemson

Arizona at Baylor

Miami at Arizona State

Oklahoma at Temple

South Florida at Stanford

Memphis at Oregon State

Florida State at Brigham Young

 

Some of the more prominent schools not featured above:

Buffalo at Oregon; Notre Dame at San Jose State; Auburn at Nevada; Alabama at Fresno State; Florida at Central Michigan. ( I have all 62 games recorded. If you really want to know what my draft yielded, or whom your favorite team drew, ask in the Comments).

Of course, because there are 125 FBS schools, one school would be left out. In my draft that was Navy. The Midshipmen could take a bye week, or they could choose to schedule an FCS opponent.

Coaches, you say, would never go for this idea. You’re right. But maybe TV executives could see the $$$ potential, and that message is passed on to school presidents and athletic directors, who would influence their coaches. Would the oligarchs of the game, would Alabama and Oregon and Texas be in favor of this? Maybe not, but a majority of the schools would be.

One school, one vote? Or Jim Delany, one vote? How should college football be run?

And you do not get to schedule your Lottery Game at Jerry World or the Georgia Dome. Home venues only.

Another item: if forced into this, most coaches would prefer this game be played in September. Sorry. You play it in November, once records are established and once the stakes for the unbeatens are higher. An undefeated Alabama knows what to expect from fellow SEC teams it plays annually. But a visit to Fresno State in November might throw the Tide out of their comfort zone.

Exactly.

Wouldn’t this be terrific for fans? If Alabama purports to be national champions, would it be so terrible for the Tide to actually venture out to the Rocky Mountains or beyond once every quarter-century? Wouldn’t San Jose State’s football program get a shot in the arm by adding the Fighting Irish to its season ticket package?

Of course, in a given year some teams will draw the short straw (Ohio State at Southern Cal is a bowl game, not a breather) while others get an easy “W.” That’s why it’s called The Lottery Game.

Finally, one thing for everyone to remember: Have you seriously studied the gallery of member schools in the FBS? There are a lot of, well, subpar ones. Look at the bottom of the Top 25, for example. The last three or four schools on that list every week are good but not necessarily dominant teams. Then remember that the Top 25 is composed of the top 20% of the FBS. Every school has 4:1 odds of NOT FACING a Top 25 opponent and a lot of those Not Top 25s, especially the bottom half of the FBS, well, if your school aspires to a BCS bowl, they should present no problem.

In other words, while The Lottery Game poses the potential for great risk –Florida State at Oregon, WHAT!?! — for every program, the majority of the Haves are going to be paired with an opponent they can live with. Just not one that they are necessarily familiar with. Which is what would make it fun for us fans.

If this could happen –and if the Irish could play for the national championship five years later–anything is possible.

Could this ever happen? You’re going to tell someone who covered Charlie Weis’ final season at Notre Dame in 2009 only to see the Fighting Irish play for the national championship three years later that something in college football is impossible? Not a chance. I’d rather dream big.

 

4 thoughts on “IT’S ALL HAPPENING! Tuesday, October 29

  1. Suspending my disbelief for a paragraph, I like it. It takes a morsel of control away from the powers that be, it adds a truly random and unpredictable aspect to every season and brings the haves and have-nots closer, once a year.

    Now the reasons it would be shot down by any group of schools or school leaders invited to vote on it:

    — Elite programs never give up home games without huge paychecks to offset the lost revenue. They’d be doing this every other year, statistically, with nothing to show for it but the whimsy of playing a random opponent.

    — It would be perceived as college football socialism: Giving the Sun Belt and the SEC equal footing in a game of chance is noble, and the bottom half of I-A would embrace it for that alone. The upper half, wielding considerable power, would not.

    — Logistically, it would have the schedule star power of a mid-September Saturday in the throes of November. Normally, you have either significant conference implications or the joy of rivalry games in that window, but now you just have a digression.

    — Attendance would be spread nicely to smaller schools, but would suffer as a whole. Moving outside your accepted strata is a good thing, moving outside your normal travel circle is less so. For fans that can afford it, it’s a nice chance to see a part of the country they may barely be aware of, but casual fans would punt the weekend. Smaller schools (with smaller stadiums) would be more likely to fill their seats, but bigger stadiums would see smaller actual crowds.

    — The knee-jerk institutional response would be that longer travel demands mean more time for student-athletes away from studies blah blah blah blah.

    — Who gets the TV rights to this? You’d either have to take TV money out of every package (which would be tough) or require everyone to gamble on taking what games their schools land, which would level out on balance over years but would vary from year to year.

    — Again, I like it. I think, out of 62 games, it would yield less than 10 with real national wow factor, but I’d love to see 10 games a year that have no creation from power conferences or their TV counterparts.

    Trying not to randomize a weekend to see what games you get …

  2. USF at Stanford is a great unintended pairing. Willie Taggart and David Shaw coached together at Stanford, both polished their coaching under Harbaugh. USF goes west of Texas like once a decade, so their fans get a trip to the West coast. This year, Stanford wins by 28 points if not more, and USF sends about 800 fans west, but it’s no worse than one of Stanford’s pay-for-play nonconference home games.

  3. I like it. Even if you don’t dedicate it to the late Shirley Jackson.

    Anyway, I read something yesterday that made me laugh as much as you. You know how Deitsch has been tweaking Fox Sports the past few months, especially by comparing the weekly TV ratings of ESPN’s College GameDay & the CF show on Fox Sports? So, yesterday he ends his Media Circus article on SI.com with the following :

    “Fox College Saturday drew 69,000 viewers last week (Oct.19). At the same time, ‘My Little Pony Friendship is Magic’ on Hub Network drew 280,000 viewers.”

    Game. Set. Match.

  4. Interesting idea. What does it for me is the unconventional matchup potential. The opportunity for cross-country matchups like “Penn State at California” or “Oregon State at Ole Miss” or stylistic clashes of a “Fresno State at Georgia Tech” would be a welcome change to the stagnancy of the schedule each year.

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