Hey ESPN, NCAA. Be Honest With Yourselves
Preston Adams - FCS Fans Nation Contributor
I was watching the halftime show for the Celebration Bowl, and I am smart enough to know that even for a great FCS contest, ESPN, or any other network, isn’t likely to provide us with quality analysis of FCS football. To be honest, we can’t really blame them. It pays the bills to regurgitate the same takes about the same two playoff games between Alabama/Oklahoma and Notre Dame/Clemson for the next two weeks, and sprinkle in a take on a somewhat interesting bowl game here and there. What absolutely floored me about this particular clip, however, was how they tried to “argue” that there’s a reason the FBS playoffs work in FBS, and an FCS playoff would not work in the FBS. Well, thankfully some of us are willing to do the research on both FBS and FCS, and so I’d like to give the “experts” a crash course in what actually goes on in the FCS.
First of all, I’d like to address the comment about teams practicing and playing during finals. Please, cry me a river. I think most of us fans and the parents of players genuinely care about the players getting an education because they are going to school on scholarship, but let’s not pretend like TV pundits and the corporation of the NCAA really care about that, especially in sports like football and basketball. This is all about money, and nothing else for them. FCS athletes prepare for, and compete in games all the way up to, and through finals. The same goes for the FBS programs participating in early bowl games and conference championships. And, even if they have later bowl games, the kids are still practicing. So please, spare us the line of “oh but what about their education?” These kids are already practicing and playing through their hell weeks/finals weeks. The FCS games just happen to matter a little more at the time.
Secondly, I’d like to get into the debate of playing more games. As it stands now if you play in your conference championship and also play in the FBS championship, you’ll be playing a total of 15 games. Let’s take a look at the FCS. if you have a first round bye as a national seed and make it to the championship game, you are playing a total of...oh my goodness...15 games?!?! Funny how that works out. Now of course there are other variables in FCS, such as playing in the first round not as a national seed, or seasons like next year where the subdivision has 12 regular season games. But even still, are we REALLY going to quibble about one or two more games for a handful of teams? Trust me I am someone that genuinely cares about the health and safety of all athletes, especially those that are not being monetarily compensated, but I’m willing to bet that almost all college football players would do anything to play one more game with their teammates, especially for the chance to win a national championship. I say all of that to say, if you’re going to expand the playoffs in FBS to 8 (what I would like to see), you’re really adding one more game potentially for two schools, and even if you went to 12 or 16, it’s not that big of a difference. Besides, FBS schools have 20 plus more scholarship players than the FCS, and they’re apparently the “superior” athletes, and certainly have the superior facilities and support at the Power 5 level. The argument of too many games, is also a shallow one, at best.
Finally, I’d like to address a claim I heard during this segment about how what the FCS does is kind of a moot point because a team ranked lower than the 4 seed never wins the championship. For this, I kind of understand the ignorance, because it happens among some FCS fans as well. According to some parishes in the church of NDSU, the FCS playoffs and subdivision didn’t exist until the holy bison descended upon it, and thus started the reign of the almighty. Apparently, ESPN worships at the same parishes, because they forgot about some very recent history of teams NOT ranked in the top 4 winning the FCS/1-AA championship. As a JMU fan, I immediately thought of the first championship my Dukes won in 2004, a run which they played all of their games on the road. There was also App State in 2007, Richmond in 2008, and Eastern Washington in 2010, all unseeded teams eventually hoisting the championship trophy. Now since then, I think an argument can be made that there has been a separation of a few programs (NDSU obviously) that has cut down on this parity, but let’s not pretend like there isn’t the possibility for an unseeded team to make that kind of run. Youngstown State almost did it in 2016 but were upended by JMU. So, again, saying they shouldn’t expand the playoffs because we already know how the tournament will end up, is not only false, but it’s bad advertising. Then again, maybe it pays the bills and gets the eyeballs to the TV if you wave the Alabama flag every 3 minutes.
Now, I want to make something perfectly clear while I’m closing here. I love ESPN, and almost everything they do for exposure for lesser programs and other sports. Without entities like ESPN 3 and ESPN + there’s a lot of college sports fans that would either be watching their teams on crappy streaming services, or not at all. Because of these services I was able to completely immerse myself in FCS football on Saturdays. I’m a firm believer that if you love something/someone, you ought to be critical of it/them because you hold them to a higher standard. As such, I am doing this for ESPN. If you’re going to cover the FCS on your bigger networks, get people that actually know about the history and programs to talk about these programs at halftime of these games. I promise your ratings won’t take a massive hit if you don’t mention Alabama or Clemson for a whole 20 minutes. Heck, take the bigger step and put more of these teams on the national networks. Even with a 24 team playoff, games in each and every conference matter week in and week out. If you promote more FCS games, you’ll get more viewers for your cable networks. Invest in these markets, and you’ll see the returns. Heck, you might even learn a thing or two about what actually goes on in the FCS as well. As for the NCAA? Another article, another time.