The Lottery Game
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?
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?”
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:
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.