When I think of Jim Harbaugh, I think of two things. (1) The 1996 AFC Championship game when he very nearly engineered an incredible upset over the Steelers and almost completed one of the greatest Hail Mary passes of all time, and (2) his brief tenure as the head coach at Stanford. Now, I might be ready to add a third bullet point to his legacy after seeing his recent comments on college football scheduling: the conscience of college football!!
Here's what Harbaugh had to say about nonconference schedules at the PAC 10 media day courtesy of Bruce Feldman's blog on ESPN.com:
"Somebody really ought to take notice of this stuff," Harbaugh said. "You have eight or nine wins and so you're a great football team? Well, what if you played four patsies in your non-conference and then you only won half your conference games and so you get to go play in the Alamo Bowl and everyone says you're a great team. That's what happens … There's no question that the Pac-10 doesn't get that respect for playing teams out of conference of like caliber."
"There's gotta be some serious thinking, brainstorming and good decision-making by the leaders of this conference," he said. "If that is the way the game is set up now about it's all going off of computer rankings and all won-loss record, maybe we should be playing five non-conference games, so everybody is 9-2 and then the strength of schedule numbers look really good. Then, the BCS ranking spits out two Pac-10 teams for BCS bowls."
"To me, college football is not one team drubbing another team, because this team needs a lot of money and this team knows it can get a win to increase their BCS standings. Drub. Drub. Drub. Drub. Then, you still have that fan base who think it's enough of an experience, but they're getting cheated and we're kinda cheating the game."
AMEN!! I've been waiting for about ten years for a coach or administrator or conference commisioner to say something along those lines, and Harbaugh ends up being the Jackie Robinson on this issue. Who would have guessed it?? Actually, seeing that Harbaugh called out the sham of academics in the major college football factories last year, it probably shouldn't surprise me that Harbaugh would see how silly college football scheduling has become.
I mentioned something similar a couple weeks ago in the post about Penn State's schedules, but Harbaugh's point about an 8-9 win season where you whip up on four nonconference patsies couldn't be more dead-on. Is it really that satisfying to win 9 games against a pathetic schedule?? How is that a "great" year?? More importantly, how rewarding is it for your fans when you win half your games against MAC schools and I-AA teams?? Wouldn't you rather play quality competition and prove that you are a good team instead of scheduling your way to 9 wins?? To me, it's a no-brainer. Give me a legit nine win team that has actually beaten somebody over some fraud that beats no one and artificially inflates its ranking.
I also love what Harbaugh has to say at the end. I know programs need money to survive, but college football should not just be about the money. Too many programs are driven solely by the dollar signs without any regard for the competition of the sport. These schools know that they can just schedule any MAC team, and that fans will show up en masse just to see live college football and hear the band and soak up the pomp and circumstances. They get their sellout, and the team doesn't risk a loss. Unfortunately, it ultimately cheats the fans. There are fewer and fewer quality games on the schedule each year for the fans to attend.
Harbaugh jokingly suggests that the Pac 10 should just go to seven league games and schedule five patsies out of conference (sound familiar Big Ten fans??) to boost their BCS rankings, but I think he should be proud of what the Pac 10 has done with their schedules. They are the only BCS conference that plays nine league games, and every team in the league seems to play at least one or two quality nonconference games every year. Stanford plays Notre Dame and Wake Forest. Oregon opens at Boise State and also plays Purdue and Utah. USC plays Ohio State and Notre Dame. UCLA plays Tennessee and Kansas State. ASU plays at Georgia. Washington plays LSU and Notre Dame. Bottom line, no one in the PAC 10 is opening up with 3 D-IAA teams. In a 12 game season, the PAC 10 schools are playing 10-11 BCS type teams every year and sometimes even 12 like USC did in 2008 when they played Virginia, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. Think about that. USC is the marquee program in college football, and they opened with Virginia and Ohio State last year. And people wonder why every recruit in America wants to play for USC.
And you know what, it pays off!! The Pac 10 went 5-0 in bowl games last year. Why?? I'd be willing to bet it's because those teams were battle tested during the year. Oregon ran a good Oklahoma State team off the field in the Holiday Bowl, and of course you had the annual USC beatdown of a hapless Big Ten team that had spent the year snacking on MAC schools. If I was the Big Ten, I would be following the lead of the Pac 10 by moving to 9 league games and mandating that league members play two quality nonconference games a year. Maybe it hurts them financially a little bit in the short term, but it's worth it in the long run. And I'd be willing to bet that they go better than 1-6 in bowl games like they did last year.
So congratulations to Jim Harbaugh for being the first coach to call attention to this issue. If more people speak out on this and follow the lead of the PAC 10, we could maybe start turning the momentum away from the 8-4 scheduling models and bring back the weekly competition to college football.