The Wiz of Odds: Cutting scholarships would limit Week 1 humdrum

Sep 1, 2010 |
Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog

Professional wrestler Tyson Tomko goes by the moniker “The Problem Solver.”

He plays the villainous role of enforcer for hire and when his guy gets into a jam, The Problem Solver is there to commit a nefarious act, be it a steel chair to the back or brass knuckles to the head of an opponent. If the ref doesn’t see it — most of the time he doesn’t — Tomko’s guy wins.

And you thought refereeing in the Southeastern Conference was bad.

All of this is scripted, of course, and in many ways no different than the opening week schedule in college football.

There are 78 games in Week 1, a stunning 39 of which (50 percent) are matchups between Division I-A and I-AA teams. Of the 768 regular season games involving I-A teams, 90 of them (11.7 percent) are against I-AA opponents. You could say the fix is in.

Any reputable sportsbook won’t book action between I-A and I-AA teams. If you’re lucky, maybe Vinny, the neighborhood bookie, will post a number. Vinny’s friend, Vito, will also break your kneecaps if you lose and don’t pay up, but that’s a topic for another column.

This begs the question: Why play these games?

The answer is simple - money.

Imagine having a job that paid you millions a year. You would do anything to hold on to it as long as possible, outside of bashing a steel chair to the boss’ back, of course.

Big-time college coaches are no different. They schedule I-AA opponents because it’s the easy thing to do. An automatic victory that counts toward the magical 6-6 record needed to gain entrance into one of 35 bowl games. That’s mediocrity by most standards, but in college football, it’s job security. A coach, after all, is seldom fired after leading his team to a bowl.

The athletic director, whose fate is often tied to the success of the football team, signs off on it because like the coach, a bowl game equates to another year in Fat City.

Haven’t you had enough of this? Isn’t it time to put an end to such shenanigans? I think so. Thus, I’m going to play the role of The Problem Solver in hopes of knocking sense into some people and bring good to the college game.

Here’s how to do it: If these big, bad I-A teams can’t pick on somebody their own size, then it’s time to cut them down to size. Let’s level the playing field by reducing the scholarship limit of big-time college football from 85 to 70.

Teams in I-AA are allowed to hand out 63 scholarships (in part or in full to no more than 85 players), so if I-A coaches want to continue and schedule these games, at least make it a fair fight.

Reducing I-A scholarships to 70 makes sense on so many levels. For starters, consider a report released last week by the NCAA that showed that only 14 of the 120 I-A schools made money from campus athletics in the 2009 fiscal year, down from 25 the year before. One of the reasons for the losses, besides stratospheric salaries of coaches and athletic directors, is the rising cost of scholarships.

Another is Title IX, which mandates an equal number of scholarships for men and women athletics. Football takes up the majority of scholarships on the men’s side, and reducing that number by 15 would mean schools could cut another 15 on the women’s side. That’s 30 scholarships. No small savings.

There’s another benefit. Because I-A teams like to hoard all the good players, scholarship reduction would mean a more equitable distribution of talent. Teams from non-Bowl Championship Series conferences would have a better chance of getting quality players, leading to games that are more competitive across the board. That might give Week 1 bettors a few more options with books feeling better about these small programs.

Big-time teams don’t need more players. Most programs already have rosters over 100 when you count walk-ons. Cutting scholarships would only increase the need for walk-ons, so it’s unlikely that power teams would be dealing with less than 100 players.

I can hear the coaches now - “We don’t have enough players to practice!” Baloney. NFL teams operate with a roster limit of 53 players — not counting the eight players teams are allowed to have on their practice roster. They somehow manage to practice and play four more regular season games than college teams.

It all makes too much sense.

Yes, some might consider The Problem Solver to be a villain, but if you look deep into his soul, he merely wants what’s right for the game.

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