August 23, 2006

On "Chump Games"

THE NEW YORK TIMES recently ran an excellent article on how bad college football teams are increasingly making good money by playing much better teams during football season. This practice, which for the better team results in what are known as "chump games" here at The Rant, is nothing new to college football. However, as The Times reports, the addition of a twelfth game to the college football season has made the practice ever more lucrative.

As a devoted college football fan, I find this trend rather unfortunate. However, I can see its positives, and I'm glad to see the Big Ten conference -- which I follow above all others -- has done an all right job in its scheduling this year. Although there are certainly some howlers in the mix -- Michigan hosts Ball State, for instance, on Nov. 4 -- it seems like the Big Ten teams have collectively decided to not embarrass themselves too much.

That's nice to see. For the embarrassment factor (or, if one wishes, the "respect" factor) is crucial to how a college football squad is perceived. If a team embarrasses itself through playing patsies much of the season, it will rightfully get no respect for its accomplishments. Instead, the team will get cruelly mocked and belittled the entire year, no matter how many wins it racks up. Occasionally, this happens to a team through no fault of its own, if the team happens to play in a crappy division (*cough* PAC 10 *cough*). However, most of the time, it is due to an easy schedule stacked full of hapless non-conference opponents.

In the Big Ten, for instance, Wisconsin or Purdue would appear most likely to rack up the highest embarrassment factor this season. Wisconsin is a decent football school, but the Badgers' schedule is so easy they should be a bit ashamed of themselves.

Wisconsin starts out playing Bowling Green, an iffy school at best, and then they face The Fighting Leathernecks of Western Illinois University, a I-AA class school. Then, they face an iffy San Diego State Aztecs squad (from the less-than-impressive Mountain West conference). Only then do they get into the meat of the season -- which arguably has four tough games at most. And then, they wrap things up with Buffalo! Buffalo! A team so bad its only victory last year was over a team named for a venereal disease! (That would be the Kent State Golden Flashes). Even then, Kent State only won by four points. So you can see that if Wisconsin does really well this year, they won't really have earned all of their wins.

Much of the same goes for Purdue, whose schedule is arguably even easier. Purdue doesn't have to play Michigan or Ohio State this year, so if they win the Big Ten, it would be like England winning the World Cup without Germany or Brazil taking part. Their "chump games" include Indiana State (a I-AA school which went 0-11 last year), Ball State, and Hawaii. They do have some tough games, of course; the Big Ten by its nature involves tough games; but when you don't have Michigan or Ohio State in the mix, and you do have Illinois and Indiana, that's an issue.

Still, I'm glad to see the Big Ten, for the most part, isn't giving into temptation. Many Big Ten "chump games" are actually not all that chumpish, with good opponents from the Mid-American Conference (which has quickly become kind of a second division for the Big Ten) and other groups.

Although I hate Ohio State and pray fervently for its football team to fail miserably, I must give the Buckeyes credit for playing Northern Illinois, a good MAC squad, in its first week -- and then playing Texas in the second week! They arguably have just two easy non-conference games -- against Cincinnati and Bowling Green. That will make it all the better when we ruin their season again in November. Penn State also has just two easy games -- against Youngstown State and Temple. Their first two games will be against a surprisingly good Akron Zips squad -- mark my words, they'll put up a fight -- and Notre Dame. Again, no slouching there.

And although Michigan is playing Ball State in November -- Gad -- that's arguably the only real "chump game" the Wolverines have this year. Central Michigan should do fair and Vanderbilt DID knock off Tennessee last year, so perhaps they'll come out swinging this year.

OK, so we have three "chump games." That's still average, and we have the toughest game at the end, so lay off.

Overall, though, I'm pleased with how things turned out schedule-wise. Although some football fans may despair, I'm glad to see the Big Ten schedule plenty of games with the MAC, and wish they would do more of it. It's important that regional rivalries be established and maintained, as that will only serve to strengthen both conferences' programs. One day, I'd love to see the Big Ten and MAC explore a promotion-relegation arrangement, in which the bottom Big Ten team and the top MAC team would switch divisions. That would make things TRULY exciting. But for now, this is just fine.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 23, 2006 07:31 PM | TrackBack
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