During bowl season, there was controversy over some very high-profile college athletes not playing in their bowl games. Two of the biggest names were Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette. Two camps emerged from the controversy: one saying the players were in the right to protect their NFL futures, and another saying they were wrong because they were disrespecting the competitive spirit of college athletics.
Yesterday, Sports Pickle, a satirical sports news source that you should indulge in, tweeted that Lonzo Ball would “skip NCAA tournament to prepare for NBA Draft. Of course, since it was Sports Pickle, all followers knew this was simply for comedy and not at all serious. Still, even if a source that wasn’t known for being satirical would have said something like that, no one would believe it. The NCAA Tournament is too important. Too many people care. Some would even say that hoisting the trophy at the end of March Madness is the ultimate prize in all of college sports.
In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, this is just another article about how the bowl system is downright stupid. Say what you want about football being rougher and the athletes being more susceptible to injury, but there is a level of pride that comes with taking the field, or the court. If a player ever stayed out of the NCAA basketball tournament, his character would be questioned. Say the story about Lonzo Ball worrying about his future was true. Although he is one of the most NBA-ready players in a long time in college hoops, his draft stock would almost definitely fall because of that decision. That would be a huge red flag for any NBA GM because where is the heart? Where is the will to win? Where is the desire to be at the top of your sport?
Although not entirely true, at first glance every team in the 68-team field has a chance at the title. Especially on the first three or four seeding lines, there are many teams that have a chance at a title. Even after thinking logically, that is still 10-15 teams that have a legitimate chance at the NCAA crown. The other teams have the goal of knocking those teams out of March and trying to fulfill their own dreams. Low seeds want to put their programs on the map by winning a game against a power-conference team on national TV. Everyone has something to play for.
With the bowl system there are only a maximum of four teams that can win the National Championship. Last year, no one gave Washington a chance to beat Alabama, so that left only three teams as title contenders. Maybe your rebuttal is that a college football tournament would not provide the upsets that March Madness does. That may be true, but the gap between the twenty best teams in college football team isn’t that wide. Of course, the tournament would be much different than March Madness. There would not be any Cinderella teams from low-major conferences, or 64 teams, or three games being played at once during the first weekend, but the competitiveness will be there. As sports fans, that’s all we can really ask for.
In no way is this an indictment of Fournette, McCaffrey, or any other college football player that decided to forego his respective bowl game to prepare for his NFL future. Instead, it is an indictment of the bowl system and the lack of true competition in the majority of college football’s postseason. It doesn’t matter that people watch the bowl games. People watch college spring games between the starters and the practice squad. No matter what football the NCAA puts on TV, it will be consumed at absurd levels. What does matter is keeping college sports competitive and making sure games matter, whether they are in November or January.