29 July 2009

Letter to Father Jenkins about BCS Scandal

Hello Father Jenkins,

I'm a ND alumnus (MFA 2007), committed Buddhist + football fan, and I wanted to write you and express my deep sadness and concern about Notre Dame's decision to endorse the BCS's flawed bowl format. Though this is ostensibly a matter for Notre Dame's athletic department to resolve, I don't think this is actually true in our case. As you know, Notre Dame is one of the only schools in the nation where all proceeds from BCS bowl payouts are allotted to the general school fund, instead of being earmarked for student athletics, so in a way, it's impossible to extricate ND football from the university and vice-versa. For that very reason, we should be supporting a bowl system that is fair, equitable + above all, compassionate, and the current BCS bowl system contradicts the university's mission of social justice by excluding many smaller and worthy schools that both need and deserve the right to compete in BCS bowls. Especially in this afflicted economy, the ability to participate in one of the four BCS bowls would make a crucial difference for many small, state-funded institutions of higher learning that have been forced to cut funds for professors, slash scholarships and grants, and overuse adjuncts.

I'm not arguing that Notre Dame give up its leverage as a legendary football program, rather, I'm asking you to use that leverage to fight for what is right in college football. I'm not asking you to destroy the competitive instinct in collegiate athletics either, simply open the field to all worthy opponents so that BCS victories are a product of grit, talent and chemistry instead of exclusiveness, manipulation, intransigence and greed. The truth is that as a BCS president, you have the unique ability to fight for what our university stands for, but right now you're--knowingly or unknowingly--supporting a BCS system that is both unfair, unpopular and--dare I say it?--uncompassionate.

Why can't we support a playoff system that allows worthy teams with excellent records to compete in, regardless of which conference they belong to or whether their conference is a power broker in the current BCS committee? Obviously, the AP, the Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll could still be used to vote for the top 8 teams--a process that is far more democratic than the current BCS system. Poll after poll reveals that a college football playoff is what the vast majority of football fans want because it would create a true postseason for college football, and it wouldn't have any negative consequence on the regular season or the bowl system (since the BCS bowls could be subsumed within any playoff system and the regular season would determine who qualified for the playoff system). On a practical level, ND would not be giving away potential revenue since we receive an annual disbursement instead of one lump sum; more importantly, we would be opening the door for any and all schools--no matter what their reputation, budgetary constraints, athletic conference afiliation or geography--to have that simple, basic right to reap the financial awards of a BCS bowl system that is currently rigged to favor specific conferences and specific powerhouses within those conferences. That's the real injustice with automatic bids, they help the same conferences who have voted time and time again to keep the system the way it is, because they're the obvious beneficiaries of this system. Last year, for example, the University of Utah had a perfect record against several top-notch football programs and they weren't even given the right to play for the National Championships (two teams with one loss apiece were) because they happened to be a member of the wrong athletic conference (the Mountain West). But look at the numbers: Utah's endowment is $594,545,000. Our school's is around $7,000,000,000. It's obvious which school would benefit more. But there are countless other talented teams with identical (or near-identical) records each and every year that are being excluded from BCS bowls, and certainly from the BCS championship bowl, simply because they belong to the wrong conference (that is to say, to a conference that doesn't have the prestige, or the ability to vote in the BCS presidents oversight committee). It's an outrage.

As a member of the BCS Presidents Oversight Committee, Father Jenkins, you can not only stand up for social justice in college football by making the postseason fair, accessible, transparent and moral, but more importantly, you can be the individual who leads by example. If Notre Dame opposes the current BCS system next year, other conferences will inevitably follow and the system will slowly change for the better. I realize this is an odd thing to email you about, especially since at first glance it appears out of your jurisdiction. But it isn't. You have a unique capacity to uphold the spiritual values of Notre Dame, a position that is placed upon you way too much, I admit. Nevertheless, you can help make the system fair, which means that all revenue that ND and other schools earn from participating in BCS bowls in the future, will be clean, morally. We should expect nothing less of our school, of our administration and of our athletes. I hope that next year you will consider changing Notre Dame's position on this controversial issue. Personally, I feel that we have been on the wrong side since the Bowl College Series was created. Like every other alumnus, I want our football program to be wildly successful, but I want our success to be achieved the right way. I believe most other ND alumns do too. Please consider changing your stance on this issue.

With Great Respect + Gratitude,

--Jackson Bliss, Class of 2007

p.s. Small related side note: thank you so much for inviting President Obama to speak at this year's commencement exercises. I know that to some, this was an unpopular move. But I applaud you for taking that position. It helped facilitate a necessary cultural dialogue not only on campus, but around the world that has been long overdue. As you know, President Obama cares deeply about social justice, community service and volunteering, healthcare for rich and poor, diplomatic mediation, conflict resolution, and he wants to reduce the number of abortions in America, and I think he has many areas in common with the Catholic Church, even despite the substantive differences that obviously exist. But those differences should never stop us from listening, advocating and participating in a respectful cultural dialogue. By bringing him to campus, you have helped that conversation take place. I admire you greatly for that.

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