The Marshall Dilemma: The Case For Marshall (Part II)

Marshall #2

Author’s Note: This is Part II of a two-part article. Part I can be found here.

As bad as the situation is for Marshall, the biggest problem is not what is happening to them, but why it is happening. The reason for the unjustified snub of this program may be one (or both) of these reasons.

1. The Playoff Committee is indeed biased against G5 schools.

It is impossible to pretend that the G5 has as much of a say in how the postseason is run/conducted. Only one committee member is currently an administrator at a G5 institution. Even if the playoff committee is not directly involved in discriminating against the G5, the system may also be doing that for them, which is just as bad.

The new system with its greater emphasis on SOS is rapidly causing P5 programs to schedule less G5 schools. The G5 is finding itself being asked to find more P5 opponents at a time when the P5 is being told to play less G5 schools. It’s a textbook example of disenfranchisement and most likely setup this way for that very purpose. The new playoffs could very well be the first step of an FBS split along P5 and G5 lines.

NCAA Football: Marshall at West Virginia

2. Single Playoff Committee members have enough influence on the rankings to snub particular schools they don’t like. For example West Virginia Athletic director Oliver Luck could potentially be influencing the rest of the committee to keep Marshall unranked. 

There are well known disputes between various in-state public schools in college sports. These institutions don’t just compete in athletics. They actively compete for state resources, funding, etc. While issues between big state schools such as Florida and Florida State may get the most publicity, it is not as big of a problem as when a large school and a small school come into conflict.

As bad as the relationship between any major instate schools may be, they know that they also feed off each other and understand that without their counterpart they would not be as strong. This is not the case for P5 and G5 schools. Most P5 schools look at their in-state counterparts as leeches. Institutions that do nothing to benefit them and only act as a drain on resources and put them at a disadvantage.

The notion that Oliver Luck is blocking Marshall (the only other FBS school in his state) is entirely probable. Granted we don’t have any proof that he is doing it, but is an assumption that has merit to it in the eyes of the public despite a lack of evidence.

That is what makes this “Marshall Dilemma” so damaging. It doesn’t matter if either of these two scenarios are true or not. The very existence of a controversy regarding bias undermines the legitimacy of the whole process. These questions about Marshall and the G5 only lead to more questions about other conferences/teams. If it is happening to Marshall and the G5 could it be happening to the SEC? A bias can be positive or negative for certain conferences/teams. The same day Marshall was snubbed for the fourth straight time, committee chairman Jeff Long raised eyebrows with his explanation for the rankings of two SEC programs.

In the week that Alabama defeated Mississippi State (MSU), Long justified Alabama at #1 due to a “decisive win” over Mississippi State. In the same interview he later justified MSU at #4 because “You never felt like Mississippi State was out of that game” referring to their Alabama loss. These two quotes directly contradicted each other.

If it were just an SEC issue, or just an issue with Marshall, I wouldn’t have as much as an issue with the committee as I do right now. If the playoff committee could be shown to improve the way the top teams are selected into the playoffs, then the side effect of less access for the G5 schools could at the very least be somewhat tolerable. But that isn’t the case as what we have seen so far suggests a system that provides no improvement while adding more roadblocks for non-power schools.

Those who oppose Marshall receiving a playoff bid cite their weak SOS. The problem with that line of thought is that for schools like Marshall, SOS is largely out of their control. This is not the NFL where a neutral governing body produces a schedule and SOS is the only factor in the decision making process.

In college football it is quite different. For non conference scheduling SOS is one of just many factors at play. Number of home games, revenue streams, recruiting grounds, alumni/fanbase demographics, and historical ties all play a factor alongside SOS. In most cases a matchup is made several years in advance. There is no shortage examples where matchups were scheduled almost a decade away. You can only hope that the team you scheduled is in its same form on gameday. At the end of the day picking quality opponents for games that are years away is a crapshoot. On top of that there is always a chance that you opponent will cancel or delay the game. This is exactly what happened to Marshall as they were slated to played Louisville this year but had to move the game to a future date to accommodate the Cardinals move to the ACC. (2)

Marshall #4

Highlighting these issues still doesn’t fully explain how much of a scheduling disadvantage Marshall is at. FBS schools are predatory by nature. The power schools do not consider the non-power schools as their equal. The athletic director of a G5 school will consider himself lucky if he can schedule a P5 program on equal terms.

High resource programs have leverage, and with that leverage comes the ability to agree only to deals that are in their favor. For schools like Marshall that are located in low population areas, this is especially difficult to overcome. With every power conference having at most three OOC spots available to the G5, they will be even more demanding when fielding scheduling offers.

College football fans have the tendency to punish teams for SOS. However SOS is something G5 programs have limited control over and doesn’t separate a good team from a bad team. Alabama could play the exact same schedule as Marshall and it wouldn’t make them any less of a team.

Marshall may very well lose their next game, but that is beside the point. A potential loss won’t let the committee off the hook for snubbing them. In the event that a G5 school does go undefeated, they should be in the position to at the very least have a chance for a playoff slot. It blows my mind that even with four playoff spots we are still looking at a situation where teams can’t get a bid despite winning every game on their schedule.

I hated the BCS due to its tendency to mathematically eliminate teams before the season even started. The non-BCS programs weren’t the only ones who were hurt by this. Whenever a team goes undefeated and is left out of playoff contention, it will cast a shadow of doubt on the actual playoff champion every time. The postseason needs to have more parity for all the conferences that participate in it. The rule says these schools compete for the same title, so lets come up with a system that gives every school the chance to win it.

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© sportspolitico™ November 21, 2014

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