Monday, December 01, 2008

Football Playoffs and College Education

Among my guilty pleasures are big time college athletics. I prefer both college football and basketball to their professional counterparts, and when at Wisconsin, I enjoyed having varsity athletes in class (I begin teaching USC classes this spring, and I assume I will have a similar experience here).

I am also sympathetic this morning to the football players at Texas, who must be upset that a computer formula has placed them behind a team that they have beaten on a neutral field. All that said, I think a playoff system for college football is a bad idea.

The reason is varsity athletes already sacrifice enough for their schools, and seasons have already been extended well beyond what they once were. Forty years ago, a typical college team played nine games a season, and there were many fewer bowl games. Now the typical season lasts 11 to 12 games, and BCS teams with 6-6 records are eligible to go to bowls.

The upshot of this is that it is very difficult for players to actually go to college. Going to college means more than showing up to class and doing homework; it also means interacting with other students (some of whom might not even be athletes!), faculty and staff; it means hearing from outside lecturers, and attending musical performances and plays; it means growing intellectually and learning how to think independently. As it is, varsity athletes have what amount to difficult full-time jobs along with their class obligations, and I think it remarkable when they can just meet their class obligations. Of course, very few college athletes, even at a place like USC, will be able to go on to make a living as professional athletes.

I tell employers that they should jump at any opportunity to hire a varsity athlete who graduated in four years with a B average and a real major. The time management skills of these young women and men is remarkable. They needn't be tested any further.

7 comments:

Uncle Billy said...

I went a-googling to see how many basketball players were awarded Rhodes scholarships and ran across this lady.

http://www.nwba.org/news_index400.html

And speaking of examplary human beings -- Tanta. Let the Tanta's of the world run our economy and we'll do just fine.

slowfo said...

Under logical standards, Texas deserved better than what they received regarding the Big XII Championship. What should be lamented most however, is not Oklahoma's entry into the game, but the Big XII officials decision that this was the best way to break a three-way tie. Although I can say that I do follow their logic - they want the team with the best possible chance to go to the national championship (according to the BCS rankings) to play in their conference championship. Living in Big XII country, I can tell you that I keep hearing that the likelihood is slim that this tie-breaker system will be changed.

Scott Schaefer said...

Then let's scrap the NCAA basketball tournament too. And the College World Series. And the FCS playoffs.



I've been around big time college athletics too, and I agree with your point that it's hard to be a real student-athlete.



But three points:



(1) A college football playoff would happen at least in part over the winter break. So the cost in terms of lost class time would be small.



(2) The student-athlete ship sailed a long time ago. You're at USC, for crying out loud --- how many of your football players have a real major? Again, this means the cost in terms of lost class time is small.



(3) College football is the only sport I can think of where there are teams that literally cannot win the championship regardless of what they do. Utah and Boise State could win every game they play for the next ten years... and still never be named national champ. This violates basic fairness, which is a value that the NCAA purports to share.



The real reason we don't have a playoff can be found in the work of last year's Nobel Prize winner, Roger Myerson. The bargaining between the BCS and non-BCS conferences features asymmetric information. Even though there are obvious gains from trade, the bargaining fails.

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