Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Myth of Final Exams as an anti-Playoff excuse

*Editor's Note:  a version of this post ran on the PlayoffPAC's blog here

One of the arguments frequently cited as a major concern in creating an NCAA College Football FBS playoff system is the idea that it would inevitably conflict with final exams. Thus, the academic success of student-athletes would be compromised and the playoff would place more emphasis on the “athletic” component over the “student” one. Bill Hancock, the BCS Executive Director, has used this argument stating “Conflicts with final exams, it’s a real deal. It would happen.”

For now, we’re going to ignore the obvious elephant in the room—the fact that FCS, Division 2 and Division 3 NCAA Football all host playoffs during the months of November/December which may or may not conflict with a school’s final exams. Instead, we’re going to examine the current bowl system and “conflicts with final exams”; one might be surprised to learn that under it, there are already a number of schools whose practice schedules in preparation for their bowl game conflict with final exams and vice versa.

During the 2009 bowl season there were six bowl games played before December 25. The Bowl Games are listed below with the date of the game after it. The 2 teams who played in the game are listed below and after each team are the dates of its final exam period for the fall 2009 semester.

New Mexico Bowl - 12/19/09
Fresno State - 12/14-12/17
Wyoming - 12/7-12/11

St. Petersburg Bowl - 12/19/09
Rutgers - 12/16-12/23
UCF - 12/8-12/14

New Orleans Bowl - 12/20/09
Middle Tennesse State - 12/11-12/17
Southern Miss - 12/7-12/10

Las Vegas Bowl - 12/22/09
Oregon State - 12/7-12/11
1) BYU - 12/14-12/18

Pointsettia Bowl - 12/23/09
Utah - 12/14-12/18
1) Cal - 12/12-12/19

Aloha Bowl - 12/24/09
SMU - 12/11-12/17
Nevada - 12/10-12/16

Of the 6 pre-Christmas bowl games, one could make a reasonable argument that 6 teams (Rutgers, Fresno State, Middle Tennessee, BYU, Utah, Cal) had their practice times affected by the final exam period—that is they had 4 days or less from the end of the final exam period until the day of the game. Also notice that Rutgers played a bowl game in the exact middle of its Final Exam period; yet, the school didn’t seem to mind and accommodated the members of the football team, at least according to Mark Jones of ESPN who mentioned this during the broadcast of the game.

Bill Hancock appears to be fine with 4-6 out of 12 teams having their practice schedules and/or final exam study time compromised for the student-athletes. Yet, he has major problems with the exact same scenario (4-6 out of 8 or 12 teams) happening if the games were part of a playoff.

Below are the dates of the first round for a hypothetical 8 team playoff featuring 6 AQ conference champions (Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, Oregon, Ohio State, Georgia Tech) and 2 at-large teams (Boise State, TCU). Ed Note: BSU & TCU were selected ahead of UF because they were undefeated; if one instead went with the top-8 ranked BCS schools, then UF would replace GT and the seeds would be different. Also, a 12 or 16 team playoff would require 1 additional round and thus, might pose additional conflicts depending on how it is structured and which weekend the first round would take place. Since the final regular season game (Army-Navy) is currently scheduled for the 2nd weekend in December every year, it seems that the first round would still be the 3rd weekend in December as it is under the 8 team scenario listed below Also included are the dates of the final exam period for each school.

First Round Playoff Matchup Game Date Location  Final Exam Period
1-Alabama vs 8-Georgia Tech12/19/2009 - 8PMTuscaloosa, ALALA-12/11/09
2-Texas vs 7-Ohio State12/19/2009 - 4:30 PMAustin, TXUT-12/15/09
3-Cincinnati vs 6-Oregon12/19/2009 - 1:00 PMCincinnati, OHUC-12/12/09
4-TCU vs 5-Boise State12/20/2009 - 8PMFort Worth, TXTCU-12/18/09

Notice that only 3 of the 8 teams (BSU, TCU, UT), or 38%, would have had 4 days or less from the end of the final exams period until the day of the playoff game. (Ed Note: UF’s Final Exam period was 12/12-12/18 (14). Thus, it would fit the criteria mentioned above for having practice times affected by final exam dates and if UF had been selected instead of GT, the number of teams would have been 4 of 8.) This number is quite similar in terms of percentage to the 50% of teams in the first 6 bowl games played this year that had their practice times and final exam preparations affect each other. Also, notice that BSU-TCU were the two teams who would have had the greatest impact on their academics/game preparations (Texas was the 3rd team, but they would have had 4 full days including the game day). So would they have chosen to play each other in the current scenario, where they had over 2 full weeks from the end of exams to prepare for what was essentially a glorified exhibition game, or in a playoff scenario where the amount of preparation time was greatly affected, but the winner would have had the right to continue playing for a national championship. I don’t know the answer to this question, but it would at least be nice to give them the option.

Now, it is true that perhaps the sample of teams this year was randomly low and that the number could be significantly higher in another year. However, the same could be just as true for the teams who participate in the early pre-Christmas bowl games. The main issue here is that whenever someone brings up the idea that an NCAA FBS playoff can’t be done because it would conflict with final exams is that there already are FBS teams who are playing games in December which conflict with their schools final exam period. We have not seen or heard of one complaint about the fact that Fresno State only had 1 full day of practice with no final exams in the 5 days leading up to the New Mexico Bowl or that Rutgers played a game in the middle of its final exam period. If the BCS is truly concerned about the detrimental effects of December football games on the academic welfare of student-athletes, then they really should be examining the current bowl system since these “effects” already exist.