Editorial by Tulane University President Scott S. Cowen

Times Picayune - Metro
January 4, 2004

Editorial: Bowl System is Hurting College Sports

This year has not been a good one for big time athletics. Numerous high-profile scandals, the unseemly ACC-Big East tussle and the controversy surrounding the Bowl Championship Series are undermining the reputation of our universities in the eyes of the public.

The current BCS controversy is the problem du jour plaguing Division I-A athletics. Add to that the over-commercialization of athletics, poor student-athlete graduation rates, recurring academic and ethical scandals, and you have a depressingly long list of issues concerning intercollegiate athletics at its highest level.

We cannot allow athletics to be the "tail that wags the dog" in our institutions in any way that overshadows, tarnishes or diverts our attention from the primary academic mission of our universities.

As president of Tulane University, I have been working with colleagues across the country to address the complex issues confronting the integrity and role of intercollegiate athletics in higher education, including questions regarding the BCS and its negative impact on Division I-A athletics.

The BCS was created in 1998 through a series of agreements between six of the 11 Division I-A conferences, Notre Dame, four bowls and the ABC-TV network in order to stage a championship game in college football to alleviate the ambiguity in selecting a national champion. What it did, however, was to create a system deleterious to the very survival of Division I-A athletics.

The BCS has, in effect, created a two-tier system within Division 1-A athletics resulting in the creation of significant financial and branding disparities, and it has diminished the overall attractiveness and allure of the entire postseason bowl system. These disparities caused by the BCS, as well as the question its fairness, have been well-documented and thoroughly discussed in recent months in the media and in Congress.

Despite what the cynics say, the controversy regarding the BCS is not about money. It is not about who invests more in their programs; not about taking money from one program or conference to subsidize another; and not about the fairness of the postseason system that existed before the advent of the BCS. These are diversionary arguments meant to disguise the flaws of the BCS system and the harm it is doing to Division I-A athletics.

What the current controversy regarding the BCS is about is the future survival and vitality of Division I-A athletics. It is about what is fair and consistent in postseason play compared with all other NCAA-sponsored sports, including crowning a legitimate national football champion. It is about having an inclusive system that unifies rather than divides Division I-A athletics.

This year the BCS has come under unrelenting attack from Congress, the media, fans, non-BCS schools and even some of their own member schools because of the complexity and irrationality of the BCS polls. The system is no longer viewed as credible or in the best long-term interest of Division 1-A athletics.

On a personal level, I would like to see a system that has the following characteristics:

  • Provides reasonable access for all Division 1-A schools to any approach to postseason play that
    involves the crowning of a national championship.
  • Eliminates the current branding issue.
  • Rewards and, in turn, punishes universities with sub par graduation rates for student-athletes.
  • Is legally sound, unifies Division 1-A and reinstates the public's trust in higher education.

It is time for change and, fortunately, the presidents and commissioners representing all 11 Division 1-A conferences are now working together to craft a better system. I am optimistic that the BCS issue will be successfully resolved so we can focus on the more pressing issues plaguing intercollegiate athletics such as academic reform, student-athlete welfare and operating intercollegiate athletics programs with integrity.

My wish for 2004 is that we will see major improvement in all of these vital areas so that once again open, accessible athletic competition serves as an important complement to our academic mission of study and learning.
Scott S. Cowen is president of Tulane University.

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