Multi-sport Monday

Another tough weekend for many of the teams followed with particularity here. Results were mixed, and it gets complicated now that college basketball is in full swing, but it’s somewhat remarkable how losses hurt more than wins feel good.

In the win column, MSU avenged last year’s embarrassing loss with a solid win at Iowa, and Vanderbilt demolished Kentucky at home. Clemson bounced back with a narrow win against Wake Forest, while other notable top 25 teams took their first losses of the season. Oregon was all over Stanford in Palo Alto, and Boise State fell at home to TCU on a missed last-second field goal, which sounds familiar. That leaves LSU and Oklahoma State atop the BCS rankings at 10-0. Houston, also 10-0, comes in at eleventh.

This morning, the eponymous hosts of ESPN Radio’s morning show, Mike & Mike, were discussing Kirk Herbstreit’s assessment of the final few games of the season, which, to Herbstreit, set up much like a playoff this year. The would-be national championship contenders, LSU and Oklahoma State, each face difficult tests over this final stretch. The former still must face Arkansas and probably Georgia in the SEC championship game, while the latter has to play Iowa State in Ames before taking on rival Oklahoma at home. Waiting in the wings should either team lose are Alabama and Oregon. Greenberg pointed out that the only thing Alabama and Oregon have in common this year is a loss to LSU (the Tigers beat Alabama last week in Tuscaloosa, and they beat Oregon on a neutral field to start the season), and both Mikes then roundly rejected as undesirable any scenarios in which these two teams would leap over a one-loss LSU team to play for the national championship, exclaiming that this is why college football needs a playoff system.

The problem is that that sort of result is exactly what happens in a playoff system. In the NFL, it doesn’t matter when you lose, or how badly you lose, and to the extent it matters to whom you lose, predetermined, objective organizational and tie-breaking rules determine the consequences. For many reasons, the analogy isn’t perfect, but those wishing for a college football playoff must abandon certain mentalities of the current system, including the way we think about losses. If we take Herbstreit’s conceptual approach to these last few games of the season and consider them “like a playoff,” then we shouldn’t reject an outcome the way the Mikes did today. In a playoff system, once you’re in the playoffs, what happened before doesn’t matter (seeding and byes and such aside). Once you meet the qualifications to get into the playoffs, all that matters is that you “survive and advance,” to use Tom Izzo’s words. And the NCAA basketball tournament provides a ready analogy. Although they made it interesting early and didn’t give up late, Michigan State fell to UNC by a decent margin in a majestically set game on Friday night. If UNC also beats Duke this season, but MSU and Duke ended up facing each other in the tournament finals, no one would have a complaint about the legitimacy of that pairing. Similarly, if these last few college football games are seen as “the playoffs,” we shouldn’t care exactly how LSU, Alabama, and Oregon got to this point; rather, all that matters is what they do now and going forward.

On the topic of not caring, Vandy basketball embarrassed themselves at home in a 71-58 loss to Cleveland State, and the Lions looked abysmal in a 37-13 loss at Soldier Field that wasn’t even that close.

The de facto national championship

One of college football’s biggest challenges, from an institutional perspective, has been its ability to crown a consensus national champion at year’s end. The first memory I have of controversy in this regard was the 1997 split championship between Michigan and Nebraska that precipitated the implementation of the BCS in 1998. (I don’t know if that decision actually precipitated the BCS, because that system may have been in the works already, but it felt that way at the time.) The BCS did not bring peace and happiness across the land, however, and the criticism that started then– I recall writing an editorial on the arbitrariness of BCS outcomes as sports editor of a newspaper in the early 2000s– has only grown in scope and volume, even reaching the halls of the U.S. Senate and the Department of Justice, and the favors it grants upon certain athletic conferences certainly has been part of the fuel for the conference realignment conflagration that burns to this day.

By some magic mix of scheduling, on-field performance, coaching, recruiting, and everything else that goes into making one particular football game happen the way it happens and mean what it means, though, we have been gifted a national championship game this year that really is as free from controversy as one could imagine, a matchup of two undefeated teams, either of which could be ranked #1, playing in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the country, and largely dominating their opponents to this point. On Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, #1 LSU will meet #2 Alabama for what many see as the de facto national championship. The BCS’ noncomical Rube Goldberg machine may churn out a pairing at season’s end that will garner national consensus, but this Saturday’s game is a guarantee; it provides certainty and assurance, things the BCS largely has failed to give teams and fans since its inception.

In anticipation of this game, plan on daily coverage this week* from ALDLAND to get you ready for it.

* Disclosure: This is likely to severely decrease our unplanned coverage of the Breeders’ Cup. In our stead, I recommend the sports page of the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Monday Monday

Dan Wheldon, a two-time Daytona 500 champion and one-time overall IndyCar champion, died yesterday in a 15-car, 230 mph crash in the early laps of a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He had agreed to start the race from the back of the pack as part of a $5 million contest that would award half the prize to him and half to a fan if he won the race. He was 33 years old.

In the world of college football, ALDLAND’s rivalry games both were exciting, as Michigan State held off late pushes by Michigan to make it four straight over the Wolverines, and Georgia avoided three game-winning opportunities for Vanderbilt, escaping Nashville with a five-point win. (More on the latter game later.) Elsewhere in the top 25, Clemson came from behind to beat Maryland 56-45, and Virginia upset Georgia Tech. And the first set of BCS rankings are out: 1) LSU; 2) Alabama; 3) Oklahoma; 4) Oklahoma State; 5) Boise State.

On Sunday, one streak ended (the 49ers handed the Lions their first loss), while another continues (the Colts fell to 0-6).

The Word Series matchup is set as of last night, and it will start in St. Louis, where the late-surging Cardinals host the Texas Rangers, who finished off the ailing Tigers in a blowout on Saturday night. Although I was hoping for a different ALCS outcome, I knew Detroit likely was outmatched after watching the first game of the series, and when the injuries to starters continued to mount, it seemed only a matter of time before the Tigers ran out of gas, which they did in spectacular fashion on Saturday. Still, they made competitive a series I did not think would be, and they pushed Texas to extra innings in many of the games and otherwise played them close. It leaves to the imagination and the off season what that team could have accomplished had it been healthier.

Report on college athletic director pay

USA Today reports:

Following the lead of the $5 million football coach, athletics directors may be next to hit the college sports salary jackpot.

ADs average about $450,000 at the NCAA’s top-tier schools, according to a USA TODAY analysis, rivaling the pay of many university presidents. But at least five ADs make more than $1 million, and since August 2010, at least 10 public schools have given their AD’s pay raises of $75,000 or more.

USA Today’s cover story on the topic is here. The paper also provided a breakdown of the top 120 schools’ ADs. The top ten, ranked in descending order by total pay:

School Athletics Director Conf. University pay Other pay Total pay Max Bonus
Vanderbilt David Williams SEC $2,560,505 $0 $2,560,505 $0
Florida Jeremy Foley SEC $1,545,250 $0 $1,545,250 $50,000
Louisville Tom Jurich Big East $1,422,204 $5,500 $1,427,704 $344,000
Texas DeLoss Dodds Big 12 $1,093,391 $2,365 $1,095,756 $125,000
Ohio State Gene Smith Big Ten $1,074,546 $0 $1,074,546 $250,000
Wisconsin Barry Alvarez Big Ten $1,000,000 $40,800 $1,040,800 $0
Oklahoma Joe Castiglione Big 12 $975,000 $0 $975,000 $510,000
Notre Dame Jack Swarbrick Indep. $932,232 $0 $932,232 $0
Duke Kevin White ACC $908,659 $0 $908,659 $0
Tennessee Dave Hart Jr. SEC $750,000 $0 $750,000 $0

(HT: @AndrewBrink)

Why is USC ranked?

As the University of Southern California serves the second year of a two-year bowl ban, the AP Poll currently has them ranked 23rd, and they were a preseason top-25 team if memory serves. Due to the NCAA sanctions, the coaches’ poll won’t rank USC, and this seems right.

What I don’t understand is why the writers bother to rank a team that cannot appear in the postseason. If they are competitive and compelling despite their NCAA-imposed sanctions, I don’t have any problem with sports networks covering their games, but why rank them? What if they were number one? The AP wouldn’t name a team its national champion if they didn’t play in a bowl game, to say nothing of the BCS national championship game, so why do they rank a team at all that is guaranteed not to play in any bowl whatsoever?

The purpose of a ranking system, it would seem, is to determine which team is the best. If a rule prohibits a team from winning the championship, what’s the point of including it in the ranking system?

College football preseason coaches’ poll now available

USA Today has it, and Oklahoma is #1.

Team (first-place votes)
2010 record
Final 2010 ranking
Oklahoma (42)
Alabama (13)
Oregon (2)
LSU (2)
Florida State

See the rest of the top twenty-five at