NCAA misses the mark in Division I-AA name change

Today marks the beginning of a new era in college football.

A playoff to determine the real national champion? Come on, you're not that gullible, are you? It may be December, but that gift isn't arriving this holiday season.

No, but teams that currently enjoy a playoff format are involved.

When Appalachian State and Massachusetts meet Friday night (ESPN2, 8 ET) in Chattanooga, Tenn., to decide the first of three NCAA football championships, the Mountaineers and Minutemen will be playing for the Division I football championship.

At least that's what the NCAA would like you to believe. And assuming you'll listen.

So as a public service, I will attempt to educate you on the new nomenclature being spread like fertilizer by the national office staff.

Back in August, the Division I Board of Directors approved a recommendation to delete the Division I-A, I-AA, I-AAA labels from NCAA use, effective today.

In its place, the NCAA would like the fans and the media to use the following terms:

In explaining the reasoning and benefit of the name change, the NCAA offered this:

"Intercollegiate athletics are a tremendous showcase of young individuals pursuing learning opportunities both on the field of play and off. The new Division I football designations will support this principle while also bringing greater clarity to the structure within Division I football."

Huh? Let the confusion ensue. And good luck with that.

Is this really how the NCAA and its board of directors and various committees spend their time? If so, where do I get a job with nothing to do and all day to do it? Earlier this fall, Congress decided to question the NCAA's tax-exempt status. How about questioning its logic-exempt status first? But I digress.

And what exactly was wrong with the old -- and what I still like to refer to as the current -- system?

I-A represents the 119 schools that offer a maximum of 85 scholarships and play most of their games on TV in front of large crowds.

I-AA represents the 122 schools that offer a maximum of 63 scholarships and play most of their games in a more intimate setting. It's also the grouping that wisely has a playoff to determine its champion.

I-AAA represents the rest of the Division I institutions that don't sponsor football.

Seems pretty straightforward to me.

But the agenda for the Aug. 3 board of directors meeting would tell another story:

" … the Board acknowledged its appreciation for the frustration associated with the current misapplication of the labels whereby nonfootball sport teams are referred to as Division I-AA/I-AAA …

"Division I-AA institutions and conferences tend to use references to Division I-AA football more often, but find the term confusing and misapplied by the public, boosters and media when referring not only their football programs but their overall athletics programs."

Read between the lines and it's clear that some of the I-AA schools felt like second-class citizens and were looking for something to make them feel better.

So in an effort to clarify a situation that didn't really need clarification, the NCAA's solution was to come up with FCS and FBS. I see a couple of letters in there that make sense, but again, I digress.

It's interesting to note that the board of directors' vote on this issue was 8-5, with two abstentions and three members not present to participate.

And it's also interesting that none of the new labels take into account that there's a little thing called the BCS, and its presence and impact take up the large majority of attention of both the fans and the media.

So now we're left with the BCS, the FBS and the FCS.

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't get it.

Either way, it's just in time to enjoy the 32-game bowl season that starts Tuesday and ends with the BCS National Championship Game between Florida and Ohio State on Jan. 8, 2007.

And by all means, enjoy the Division I-AA championship game.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.