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Another Loss for the Little Man

I used to believe that athletics was the place for the little guy. Figuratively speaking, of course. A place for the smaller schools to have an opportunity to compete with some of the larger schools and prove that for a specific period of time, maybe, just maybe, a Cinderella story could occur in front of our very eyes. Blame it on my Indiana childhood and watching Hoosiers too many times.

Isn’t that a sports fan’s dream? To be the Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl? To be the Appalachian State that beats Michigan in the Big House? That, among other things, is the distinguishing characteristic between a fan of a non-traditional program and those who don the colors of a national powerhouse. You celebrate the little things, revel in the achievement of a team that may not have actually crested the hill, and you aren’t disappointed (for long) when a season doesn’t end as magical as you once thought. You don’t consider it your birthright to compete for national championships. You only want the same opportunity as everyone else. You don’t want to be seen as some midmajor freak show not worthy of inclusion because of a smaller fanbase or the inability of your team’s supporters to travel to the Far Away Bowl. You want nothing handed to you, you just don’t want things taken away.

This week, the NCAA Legislative Council has done just that, with their change in bowl eligibility rules paving the way for the larger BCS automatic qualifying conferences to grab an even bigger slice of an already ridiculously distributed pie. Under the current system, the one that apparently is on its way out the door, all 7-5 (or better) teams have to be selected for postseason play before a 6-6 team can be. In other words, it doesn’t matter the size of your budget or the size of the school. If Tulsa, with an undergraduate enrollment of 2,756 made it to 7-5, while 55,552 student behemoth Arizona State limped home at 6-6, the Golden Hurricanes were bound to be selected before ASU, no matter what the networks, travel agents, or power conferences wanted. With the proposal passed yesterday, that goes out the window.

This plan that now rests at the feet of the Division 1 Board of Directors says that any team, once they reach 6-6, would be bowl eligible. In other words, a 9-3 team from a conference without multiple bowl tie ins, who must rely on an at-large berth to play in the bowl season, could very easily (and definitely would) be passed over for a 6-6 Big 10 team. Or a 6-6 Pac 10 team. Or, and it pains me to say this, a 6-6 ACC team.

If you’re a fan of a power conference, this news should thrill you. If you’re not, and find yourself supporting a team in one of the SunBelts/MACs/MWCs of the world, then here is example #4,356 of how the larger programs and conferences continue to stick it to you.

Say goodbye to any bowl bids outside of the locked in contracts for conferences not at the BCS automatic qualifying table. Forget about Cinderella storylines or David versus Goliath. Best case scenario? There are more bowl berths than 6-6 or better BCS conference teams. At that point, little brother has to be invited to the party. Worst case, and exceptionally more likely, is there will be teams left behind. And those left behind won’t be from the power conferences.

It’s another in an exceptionally long and always growing list of nonsensical, territorial, money-hoarding decisions by the powers that be. It’s as if we’re in the middle of Football Civil Rights, but this one gets no referendum, no voice outside of the little man, and certainly and without question no hint whatsoever of “fairness”, “equity”, or “honor” which the NCAA has lauded itself for possessing in spades. In the college football world, there is no storybook ending to David and Goliath. Goliath knows better than to tempt fate with the little man.

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