National Collegiate Athletic Association
May 19, 1997
Student-athlete view -- Bowl selection process may be anti-athlete
BY RICHARD PEACE
At the end of the 1996 football season, our University of Wyoming Cowboys finished with one of the best records in the country.
With a regular-season record of 10 wins and only one loss, the Cowboys were the first Western Athletic Conference team to capture the Pacific Division title. Heading into the WAC championship game, there were rumors that if we did not beat fifth-ranked Brigham Young University, we would not be invited to a postseason bowl.
As a team, we decided that we would just play our style of Wyoming football and not worry about the factors that were beyond our control. We felt that if we competed the way we had all year, we would prove our merit as a team.
We ended up losing the game by a field goal in overtime, but many spectators (including players on the Brigham Young team) felt that Wyoming had outplayed the Cougars. Although we lost the game, we felt like we earned the right to a postseason appearance. Those positioned in the bowl selection committees, however, did not agree.
When the bowl invitations were issued for the 1996 season, the University of Wyoming was systematically eliminated from play, with low season attendance cited as a factor. Considering that we had a higher winning percentage than three-quarters of the teams in postseason play and that we were the only nationally ranked team that did not receive an invitation to a bowl (the University of Notre Dame received an invitation but declined), we feel immediate changes in the process are necessary.
The bowl system was established originally as a reward for the teams that finished the season with the best records. However, somewhere along the line, the focus shifted from rewarding successful teams to lining the pockets of successful corporations. Interest was taken away from the student-athletes who dedicated themselves to excellence and focused toward the marketability of programs that make the most money.
Located in a state that is populated by fewer than 500,000 people, there is little we can do to increase the attendance at Wyoming football games. What we can control, however, is our performance on the field of play. Our football team worked very hard all year long and ultimately was penalized for having a small fan base. Although there is nothing we can do about this now, the NCAA must do something to ensure no other programs are mistreated in this manner in the future.
Wyoming's snub from postseason play was an indirect result of another impropriety involving the Western Athletic Conference. Brigham Young was not invited to participate in one of the alliance bowls even though it had earned the right to be there. The alliance was established to match up the top teams in the nation in an attempt to better determine a national champion. Instead of having the fifth-ranked team in the nation playing in one of those games, lower-ranked teams were taken on an at-large basis.
Brigham Young was left out of the championship bowls because certain conferences were given automatic berths while others (such as the WAC) were not. In fact, the University of Texas at Austin, which received an automatic bid to an alliance bowl, was ranked No. 23 in the final poll by both national media and the college coaches while Wyoming was ranked No. 22 in both polls.
The WAC was ignored by the bowl alliance because it is a conference that seldom receives the respect it deserves. The fact that BYU was left out of the alliance and that Wyoming did not receive any bowl invitations at all demonstrates the blatantly unfair and unequal treatment received by the Western Athletic Conference.
The biggest injustice, however, was not to the University of Wyoming or to the Western Athletic Conference but to the senior class of 1996. Even though the whole team was left out by the alliance, the seniors will never have another chance to play in a bowl game.
It is widely believed in college football that you are only as good as your senior class, and the class of '96 was one of the best in school history. When I think of some of the things we accomplished in 1996 -- the longest winning streak in the nation (12 games), the winner of the Biletnikoff Award (Marcus Harris) and the first Pacific Division championship -- I am even more convinced that the Wyoming Cowboys senior class deserved the chance to play in the postseason.
Every Saturday, we left our hearts on the field and our souls in the hands of our classmates as we persevered through an extremely emotional season. We played football not for ourselves, not for our coaches, but for each other. Unfortunately, we were robbed of the opportunity to wear the Wyoming Brown and Gold one final time because some corporation didn't feel we were marketable enough. The current bowl system took away not only part of our season, but part of our lives -- a part that can never be replaced.
Although nothing can be done to change what happened this year, it is imperative that the NCAA do something to ensure fair and equitable access to championship opportunities for all its member schools in the future. The NCAA is an organization that promotes fairness and the pursuit of excellence by all participating student-athletes.
We at the University of Wyoming, especially our seniors, hope the NCAA does what is necessary to make sure that fairness and the pursuit of excellence is maintained for all student-athletes, regardless of race, gender, sport, school, division or conference.
Richard Peace is president of the University of Wyoming Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He was a senior on the 1996 Wyoming football team.
Letter to the Editor -- Validity on online media can be evaluated
Essentially, I believe the notion of exclusivity for nonlive (that is, print-like) content is like restricting credentials for magazines to only Sports Illustrated. And any policy that would ban online journalism as a group is shortsighted, unnecessary, most likely illegal and, ultimately, counter-productive for all parties.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
Those responsible for distributing credentials, including the NCAA, have legitimate concerns when they mention the need to differentiate between legitimate information sources and mom-and-pop-type operations. In reference to the recent NCAA News cover story, "Credentials Crunch," I understand what (NCAA Division I Baseball Championship media coordinator) Jim Wright means when he says, "How do you draw the line between a very good service ... and one that Jim Wright might have created?"
But the ability to make that determination does exist, even if the standards for doing so aren't set in stone. It doesn't need to be rocket science. And making a groupwide ban for something that so often entertains and informs as well or better than "conventional" media is irrational.
I'll use my ventures as an example.
This year, I created "Around the Rinks," a half-hour weekly college hockey talk show. To reach as many people as this show potentially does would be impossible on the radio. I can't blame a national network for not wanting to carry a show that will get just a few thousand listeners a week.
But on the Internet, it doesn't matter. "Airtime" isn't limited, and distribution costs are next to nothing -- and we get the added advantage of being accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and from anywhere in the world.
These advantages were obvious when we became the first media organization to do large-scale, original live sports programming over the Internet when we broadcast all 11 games of the NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship, as well as the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament semifinals and final from Lake Placid. College hockey games can't be seen on TV as easily as some other sports, but with these broadcasts, family, alumni and fans literally from around the world were able to hear live broadcasts of their favorite team's games. More than 17,000 listeners accessed the broadcasts.
Likewise, I work for US College Hockey Online, which in one year has become the source for stats, standings, schedules, history, and also hard news and features.
In the past year, we at USCHO and "Around the Rinks" covered the University of Maine, Orono, sanctions; did special reports on the state of college hockey; and broke stories on new commissioners, new leagues, players going pro, and coaches being hired.
College hockey has never had it better.
If this isn't journalism, what is?
The same qualities that make the Internet so great -- the potential ability to reach the whole world, instantly and cheaply -- can also make it chaotic. There are many fans who have Web sites devoted to their favorite teams that are very well done. Then there are fly-by-night Web sites acting in a journalistic disguise.
But then there are others, even those beyond the realm of big-name places like ESPNet, that are trying to establish themselves as viable media sources just like any independent start-up magazine or syndicated cable TV show.
Does "Around the Rinks" and an organization like US College Hockey Online, cease to become a legitimate media source once its content is distributed via the telephone (modem), instead of cable wires, airwaves, or mailboxes?
I'd put our coverage of this college hockey season up against anyone in the world, including ESPN. And I don't think most fans would disagree. Plus we can do things that the conventional media cannot -- like allow people in Hong Kong to listen to their alma mater play in the championship game, live!
But quality isn't even the entire point. Let's remember: Anyone with a laser printer can produce a magazine these days; anyone with spare time can do a local cable access TV talk show.
If the people in the NCAA who are responsible for each sport simply pay attention to what a particular on-line media source does during the course of the season, it should be relatively simple to determine its legitimacy.
Fortunately, my experience was a positive one. When it came time for the NCAA hockey tournament, Mr. Wright's hockey counterpart, John Painter, didn't blink in credentialing me because he knew my show and recognized it as a legitimate media source.
But if I were doing the exact same thing for basketball, with quality and listeners/ readers equal to or better than many other sources, I'd have been turned away simply because of the method through which my content is delivered. Thankfully, because I cover a sport that gets little coverage, there wasn't as much competition for credentials. And since I am providing features and information that you can't get anywhere else, it was more obvious, I suppose, that I should be credentialed.
But these shouldn't be determining factors.
I ask the NCAA and others to think of the same questions I ask myself: Does the media source cover stories in a newspaper-like fashion? Does it solicit advertising and attempt to be a money-making venture? Does it offer its market information that can't be easily obtained anywhere else? Is it credentialed at local venues during the season, and do its people always behave responsibly when there? Do they have set rules of conduct, ethics and style?
Sometimes I wish those in the conventional media would ask themselves the same questions.
If the NCAA and member conferences are that concerned about awarding credentials to fly-by-night operations, maybe the entire credentialing process should be reviewed, for online and conventional media.
In a sheer numbers game, "circulation" can absolutely be counted on the Internet. In fact, circulation numbers in daily newspapers are far more misleading than the methods for counting visitors to a Web site. For a newspaper with a circulation of, say, 100,000, how many of those people read the sports section every day? Perhaps 40,000, being generous. Then how many of those people read the college sports articles every day? And more specifically, college basketball? Does anyone really know? It's a lot less than 40,000.
A place like US College Hockey Online knows exactly how many people came to its site to find out college hockey information, and where they came from.
Getting into the technical issues about where this technology is headed is for another time, but suffice to say that the convergence of radio and television with the Internet is happening every day, and in the not-too-distant future, it will be next to impossible to tell them apart.
This is headed in directions no one is quite sure of -- but the opportunity is there to make these online ventures a win-win situation for all sides involved, including the NCAA, its member institutions and its fans.
How can anyone say no to that?
Adam Wodon, AC Productions
Opinions -- I-A football grant-in-aid limit: Is it as low as it can go?
Edward T. Foote, president
"I think the number of scholarships throughout big time intercollegiate athletics bears careful scrutiny. And it will get more scrutiny. I believe intercollegiate athletics is out of proportion in terms of its importance and visibility with the rest of the enterprise.
"Intercollegiate athletics are too big, the temptations too great and the money too much and hype too intense to be an ideal balance. That's not to say that people don't resist temptations and terrible things are going on all over, because that's not the case. Most universities are doing a good job most of the time. But virtually all of us have had problems, including the University of Miami. And a big part of that is things are out of proportion."
Mike Hamrick, athletics director
"Technically, I-A football could be played without any scholarships as long as everyone has to abide by the same numbers rules, not just on scholarships but also on squad limits.
"Would that be a good idea? Not in my opinion. I think 85 is about where the scholarship limit should be. If it's cut any more, I think you'd seriously have to start thinking about putting a low cap on squad sizes, too. The schools with the best walk-on programs would dominate so much there wouldn't be any parity."
Chris Kennedy, assistant athletics director (compliance)
"My idea would be to limit the number of scholarships to 70, but let the coach at each school determine how he wants to use those 70. The way the rule works right now, if you give a guy a nickel in football it counts as a full scholarship.
"I think it may be worth exploring to see which way the numbers would go if a coach could divide scholarship money among different players. That way, the coach would be left to determine how many players he thinks he needs. One coach might use his 70 scholarships on 70 players. Another might have 50 players on full scholarship and 40 other players sharing the other 20 scholarships."
Bobby Robinson, athletics director
"It's already reached the point that most programs don't have spring scrimmage games. Most coaches say there aren't enough numbers because with the freshmen having not arrived yet and the seniors from the previous season gone, there's not enough depth to field two teams. Plus, they're afraid of injuries.
"The scholarship numbers for football are never going to go up again, that's for sure. And you've got two forces -- Title IX and finances -- working in the opposite direction, so you never say something's impossible. A lot of people probably never thought the limit would be down to 85. But to go lower would be something I wouldn't want see done."
Turning pro early
Douglas A. Dickey, athletics director
On permitting players to retain eligibility if they are drafted by the National Football League:
"What are coaches supposed to do -- hold out 10 or 12 scholarships while they wait to see if kids get drafted? (Players) have an option. If they don't get drafted or they're academically ineligible, they can go play in that Spanish league or whatever."
Ferdinand A. Geiger, athletics director
"The college community needs to get off its high horse and deal with these things. Athletes ought to be allowed to test the water. We're just flat wrong to not let these kids give it a whirl."