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To replay or not to replay

I understand my role here on your screen is to serve as a diversion from what you should be doing on your computer. And I'm happy to oblige, because it keeps the next generation of Maisels in warm clothing, which is no mean feat in Connecticut (state motto: Not As Cold As Vermont).

That said, I don't want to make you work when you read this. If you're anything like Geno, your lips get tired pretty quickly.

Editor Joe likes me to open Maisel E-mails with a quick essay. But this edition opens instead with a letter, which provoked a response from me that's long enough to be an essay.


Ivan, I don't quite understand your obsession with objecting to replay in college football. You were critical of the Big 10 for suggesting the broader adoption earlier in the year, citing "fairness." Yet officiating between conferences is inherently unfair. Officials in the SEC will call a game differently than those in the Big 10 or Big XII, etc. I've noticed that the interpretations of holding and pass interference vary significantly from conference to conference.

Replay, even if limited to only televised games, offers the opportunity that some mistakes can be rectified. Isn't that better than no mistakes being corrected ... simply for the sake of uniformity?

Regards,

Brendan St. John
Pleasanton, Calif.

That last paragraph veers into the realm of philosophy, Brendan, a realm in which I will never pretend to rule. I still think Bertrand Russell played center for the Celtics.

It is hard to argue with the idea that every mistake that can be rectified, should be. But it is just as hard to argue that the rules for every Division I-A game should be administered in the same fashion, without regard to the "Q rating" of the teams involved. Say that Boise State opens next season by beating Georgia and Oregon State. The Broncos vault into the top 10. Then they play I-AA Portland State, and the game turns on a play that would have been reviewed were the game televised. How is that equitable?

The NCAA, what you've noticed to the contrary, goes to some lengths to see that the rules are applied equitably from Husky Stadium to the Orange Bowl. For instance, there are seminars held for officials to discuss interpretations of rules, especially new ones.

The NCAA Manual is thick for a reason. It is filled with cumbersome rules that have been put in place in order to further the illusion that the playing field can be made level. The 85-scholarship limit is a perfect example. Forty years ago, the top schools handed out 140 scholarships. Why? Because they could, and all of those players they signed to sit on the bench wouldn't be suited up against them.

To me, instant replay is a rule that tilts the playing field toward the sidelines of the wealthiest teams. Until Division I-A comes up with a way to ensure that every game has instant replay, the big names will have an advantage.

And then, after the philosophical, there's the pragmatic:

I personally agree that instant replay is overrated. Had it been around in
the SEC the last three years, Florida would have three or four more wins. Sounds good
if you're a Gator fan, until you realize Ron Zook would still be your coach.
Say no to instant replay.

Derrick Brown
Pensacola, Fla.


You are a respected writer and journalist. Surely you owe it to your
legions of followers to ensure that your articles don't have obvious
mistakes. I can't believe your usage of the term "Marotti, 40, ...is built
like an ATM machine ... " made it past the editors. As you are aware, ATM
stands for Automatic Teller Machine; essentially you are being
redundant. That's like saying PIN number. (Personal Identification Number
number). Anyway, as a fan I hope you'll keep up the good stuff and
eliminate these occasional grammatical faux pas.

Regards,

Razab Quasem Chowdhury
Oakland, Calif.

Good catch, Razab. I have forwarded your letter to my editor and to the Department of Redundancy Department.


On the subject of fight songs (you brought it up), across the board, the best fight songs are in the Big Ten. Of those, I am partial to the Minnesota Gophers' fight song. The problem is that they play in that cavern of a Metrodome, so you really don't get a good effect. I would recommend that you take in a Gophers hockey game if you happen to be in town when they play; when the Gophers score against Wisconsin, the fans raise the roof.

There's two cents for you, whether you need it or not.

Andy Phillips
Overland Park, Kansas

I think the Big Ten has the best fight songs, too, although I'm still peeved that Wisconsin stole its fight song from my high school, Murphy High in Mobile. Oh, the Badgers think they had it first, but we know better.


You wrote recently, "The Big 12: The New Big East. That's not a slogan that will have legs."

Perhaps not, but an argument remains that the Big 12 is the most overrated conference in college football. One can debate the merits of bowl records as a valid measure of relative conference strengths. I only have to compare the UCLA team that scared me and everyone else in Cardinal and Gold last December to the UCLA team that played in Las Vegas three weeks later to know there are differences once the regular season is over. Nonetheless, bowls are about the best we have for comparing one conference to another. A look at the records since 1998, when the Rose Bowl joined the BCS, may be surprising.

From 1998-2004 in BCS Championship Games, the Big 12 has the worst record of any conference, at 1- 3. The largest losing margins in a BCS Championship Game are Big 12 teams: Nebraska in 2001 by 23 to Miami, and Oklahoma by 36 to USC. The lone Big 12 victory in a BCS Championship was in 2000, when Oklahoma only had to outplay arguably the fourth-best team in Florida State, which lost to one-loss Miami, which lost to one-loss Washington. The SEC, Pac-10 and Big 10 are 4-0 in BCS Championship Games. (By the way, who better than Florida State for the title of most overrated team?)

In all BCS games from 1998-2004, the Big 12 performs somewhat better with a 4-6 record. That is slightly better than the Big East's 3-4 record, while the ACC at 2-5 brings up the rear. From the top, in all BCS games it is the SEC at 7-3, the Pac 10 at 6-3, and the Big 10 at 6-5.

Worst BCS Championship record; most BCS game losses; worst BCS Championship Game blowouts; and only one season in the past seven -- 2002 at 5-3 -- with more wins than losses in bowl games. This is the Big 12. The only question is why do Big 12 teams get credit for strength of schedule?

Lisa Middleton
Fallbrook, Calif.

Lisa, I think all you have proven is that the best teams in the Big 12 aren't as good as the best teams in other conferences. You've left regular-season play unresearched, as well as the depth of good teams in the conference. It's all very difficult to measure equally. But no one can argue with your picture of the slice you researched.

Now, for the rebuttal.

Ivan "Which way is the bandwagon headed this week?"
Maisel,

My letter is in response to a reader from the Feb. 9th mailbag, and the two of you complaining about the Big 12. You agree with the reader that the Big 12 is
consistently overrated. You even go so far as to call the Big 12 the new Big East. Also, the reader (Carlos Gomez) promotes the SEC as an underrated, very
difficult conference.

I disagree wholeheartedly. Texas and Oklahoma are the highest-caliber teams, regardless of the conference that they play in. And the Big 12 South is a competitive conference with an impressive array of schools. "Overrated" Texas beat Michigan, remember? You seem to have completely neglected Texas Tech's dismantling of media darling Cal. And yet the Red Raiders are completely unmentioned in the letter.

I'm a Navy fan, I despise Texas Tech (remember their lack of class in the Houston Bowl?), but they're still a legitimate team. Mr. Gomez continues to say that the
SEC has "five top-tier, BCS-caliber teams (Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, and Florida)." Maybe you didn't notice that Florida went 7-5, fired their coach, and lost in the Peach Bowl. Not exactly top-tier BCS material in my book. In fact, these teams had a 3-2 bowl record, which is solid, but not overly impressive.

Mr. Gomez also raves on about Arkansas, Alabama, and South Carolina as "teams that can beat anybody on any given day." Even Baylor can beat anybody on any given day (Texas A&M comes to mind). Of these, only Alabama played in a bowl game, and lost.

How can you say that Texas only plays one good team (Oklahoma), and then call Arkansas a good team? That doesn't make sense. Everyone in the Big 12 South plays a
legitimate and difficult schedule. Hopefully you can admit it this week.

Thanks,

Kevin Barrett
USNA '04
Monterey, CA

O.K., Admiral, you're right about the Big 12 South. But you can't hide that ratty twin brother, the Big 12 North, in the closet. The lapses of the Big 12 North may have something to do with the gaudy records of the Big 12 South. It may be a chicken-and-egg question. I don't know. I'm not smart enough to figure it out. If you want to make the case that the Big 12 South is the strongest division in I-A, go ahead on, as they say whar Ah'm from.


I love the "forum" you provide for us diehards to vent. Would we miss all of this rhetoric if we had a playoff? The NFL leaves us no hypotheticals, i.e., if USC played Auburn.

Would a college playoff be better 365 days a year, or just in January?

Would you be working year-round?

On the QB's, what about Tracy Ham? He certainly had the W's and didn't need
to impress sportswriters to earn his championships at Georgia Southern.

I forget, which side of this playoff argument I am on.

Michael Herring
Suwanee, Georgia

Michael, the notion that the bowls and the BCS generate a lot of heat is one that the commissioners always fall back on. I think it's a good one, but I don't think that's the reason to not have a BCS. It's just a good benefit. Tracy Ham is one of two I-AA quarterbacks to be brought up by readers. The other? Steve McNair. If we ever do a list of top I-AA quarterbacks, they are automatic.


Ivan, being an Iowa Hawkeyes fan all of my life, I'd like to think the program has reached "elite" status with three top-eight finishes and January bowl games in the last three years. The Hawks have produced several quality NFL players in recent years and have received several individual national honors at season's end lately.

In your expert opinion, does this qualify as "elite" status? What quantifies "elite" status in your opinion? What schools would you currently put in that category?

Your opinion on this would make a good article and, of course, open you to criticism.

Jared Cuddeback
West Des Moines, Iowa

Defining the "elite" in college football could be done with stats, but there is just as much feel to it as anything. Does that team expect to win? Do other teams go in there expecting to lose? Is the proposed elite team ahead 7-0, figuratively speaking, when it steps on the field?

I don't think Iowa intimidates anyone. I don't think Kirk Ferentz signs so many can't-misses that the Hawkeyes have won seven games before the season starts. What is remarkable, though, is that the Hawks continue to win close games. They continue to win despite losing high draft choices. They continue to win despite losing experience.

The best description of Iowa's status in college football is the nod you get from a coach on another team when you bring up Iowa. Opposing coaches are impressed by how much Iowa improves, and by how well-coached the Hawkeyes are. They rarely beat themselves.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.