April 30, 2009
Backing up California Golden Blogs' suggestion that the Pac-10 should drop its experiment with round-robin conference scheduling, the Worldwide Leader's Ted Miller delivered a persuasive argument against the ninth league game Wednesday, on the grounds that nobody outside the West Coast is noticing:
So the Pac-10 should end round-robin scheduling, a practice that only insures the conference suffers five additional losses a season, which hurts national rankings and strength of schedule ratings, which then combines to hurt the conference in the BCS standings.
If the Pac-10 tossed away a ninth conference game, then it could add another nonconference game, like other BCS conferences do. And, of course, that game, per the nearly uniform example set by other BCS conferences, should be against a directional school patsy.
In a purely realistic, cynical way, it's true: As a whole, the Pac-10 shoots for tougher schedules than any other major conference, but its rewards have been nil: Borderline teams in the middle of the pack miss bowl games, and the BCS games haven't extended an at-large bid to the conference runner-up since 2002. SEC fans, in particular, continue to regard the Pac-10 as weak or "overrated," if they bother to acknowledge that it's "rated" to begin with. And Miller is absolutely right that teams like Kentucky -- which lost six of eight in the SEC (and won its only two conference games by one point apiece) but earned a bowl bid, anyway, without beating any team with a better record than 5-7 -- and, say, Texas Tech -- which hasn't played a "Big Six" conference team out-of-conference since 2003 -- are rewarded for essentially building in a 4-0 record against weaklings, while every single Pac-10 team consistently uses at least one of its three non-conference dates for a serious game with another BCS league.
Look at poor Washington: It's a lot easier to languish in the cellar with games against Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Ohio State, not to mention non-BCS heavies Boise State, BCS-bound Hawaii and BYU (and Syracuse, too, presumably agreed to when both programs were still respectable) than against the Pacific equivalent of UL-Monroe. Freeing up a date for a directional patsy would mean more money from an extra home game every year, too.
And, maybe most convincingly, even a handful of extra wins at the bottom of the conference would help boost USC's resumé when the Trojans find themselves in the annual BCS tangle in December.
Yes, the tangible rewards of cupcaking are obvious, and that's exactly why the Pac-10 should hold its ground against the slow deterioration of non-conference schedules, the glue of the game in September and the one of the most useful (if flawed, due to sample size) ways we have to compare teams across conferences. New conference commissioner Larry Scott should be attempting to enhance the Pac-10's profile with a better TV deal and better bowl tie-ins at the end of the year; to the extent that there still is an "East Coast" bias, these are probably the main culprits. But he should uphold the admirable commitment to the round-robin format, the best argument the league has going against its critics. The Pac-10 format should be the example for other conferences to hold their heads a little higher, not an albatross because it costs a 6-6 team a spot in the Poinsettia Bowl. Y'all stick to your guns out there.