Sport and Society – FBS, NHLBS, and NFLBS

Editor’s Note: “Sport in American History” is excited to cross-post Richard C. Crepeau’s “Sport and Society” column. This post was originally published on December 4, 2018. A full archive of his Crepeau’s columns can be found by clicking here.

Here we are once again at the end of the regular season in college football. The conference championship games have been played, and the champions have been declared. When there is no conference championship game, the champion is decided by the won-lost record over the entire season.

One thing we know is that championships won in a championship game seem to be preferred to season long champions. Some may think that this is reverse thinking, but The FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) Committee, formed by some cabal of the five conferences, gives preference in choosing the four teams for the playoff to those who win a conference championship game over the season long champion.

“The Committee” sounds like something out of an Aldous Huxley or George Orwell dystopian novel. It has great power, operates in secret, and apparently has few if any rules. Its decisions are final and no appeal is possible. Somehow controlling it all are the “Power Five Conferences” that have cut a deal with the television networks to determine who may compete for the FBS National Championship and divide up the money amongst themselves, thus controlling the system.

The arrangement is quite nice for those in the club and is clearly what economists call a “cartel.” Those not in the club are thrown a few scraps to keep them out of the courts and semi-content with their lot in football life. Given this arrangement one might argue that the “BS” in the FBS is what is being sold by ESPN, the NCAA, and the Power Five Conferences.

Fans can argue well into the infinite future about this system and about which teams should or should not be allowed to compete in the FBS National Championship Playoff. Such arguments are intense, futile, and should be laid to rest. The FBS Committee makes that decision and doesn’t care, even a little, what others think.

All that needs to be remembered is that this National Championship is not really a National Championship, any more than were the National Championships of the past, which were settled by the votes of sportswriters or coaches. So, celebrate whatever fits your moment, knowing that the concept of a single definitive national champion remains bogus. The other thing worth noting is that this is the only national championship in any NCAA division or sport that uses a committee to determine the final four teams. The only “real” thing about any of this is the centrality of money.

If that isn’t enough BS for you, turn your attention once to the professional sports leagues. First, the NFL is back in the news on the subject of abuse. Last week, the San Francisco 49’ers released linebacker Ruben Foster after he was arrested on domestic abuse charges. Almost immediately, Foster was claimed on waivers by the Washington team. Foster was suspended from play by the NFL, but he will be allowed to practice with Washington. This was the second incident involving Foster and his girlfriend in the past several weeks, and there was a third incident in May.

On Friday, a video involving Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Kareem Hunt was obtained and released by TMZ, the leading tabloid news website. The video showed Hunt involved in an incident in February in which, among other things, he kicked a woman with whom he had had a verbal confrontation that turned physical. The NFL and the Chiefs both issued statements that they had not seen the video before Friday.

Hunt was involved in another incident in May when he punched a man in the face. No charges were filed in either incident. Hunt was released by Kansas City when the video became public. He has been placed on the Commissioner’s Suspended List and faces a minimum six game suspension. No one has claimed Hunt on waivers, although, given his talent, he is likely to play in the NFL at some future date.

So, the NFL continues to experience problems with players involved in violent incidents in various forms. Despite the statements about a zero tolerance policy in the NFL, there is considerable evidence to suggest that such a policy is not well grounded in reality. Highly talented players are not likely to be subjected to a zero tolerance and find employment in the NFL after the passage of time. Washington’s waiver claim on Foster is a clear indication of that reality. Little has been heard about any of this from NFL leadership, including the Commissioner.

Another league having difficulty in dealing with reality is the National Hockey League where Commissioner Gary Bettman continues to deny any connection between head trauma, the NHL, and CTE. Despite the evidence which is piling up day after day, Bettman insists that there is no proof of this connection.

Last week, Bettman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, although to many it is not clear why. Also last week, the NHL won a lawsuit brought by players seeking damages for the head injuries they sustained on the ice.

In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Ken Dryden, Hockey Hall of Fame member, took the occasion of Bettman’s induction to make a plea for the end of hits to the head in hockey. Dryden quoted an NHL referee who pointed out that rule 48.1 speaks to “Illegal Hits to the Head.” Dryden point out that only one word, “illegal,” needs to be changed in the rule, as there should no such thing as a “legal” hit to the head.

Gary Bettman is not likely to lead the NHL to this change and, in the end, his Hall of Fame legacy will include a number of shattered lives alongside his lesser accomplishments.

For the NHL, the NFL, and the FBS, profit remains number one. Just follow the money.

On Sport and Society this is Dick Crepeau reminding you that you don’t have to be a good sport to be a bad loser.

Copyright 2018 by Richard C. Crepeau

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