Recently, longtime NFL linebacker James Harrison compelled his two sons to return participation trophies that they received from their sports league. He did so in order to teach them that trophies should mean more than simply showing up for games and merely trying to accomplish something in games. He declared that trophies are rewards, which should be earned for accomplishments, not just effort. In our society's increasingly "trophy for everyone" attitude toward athletics, others in the world of sports should take this lesson to heart.
1. College football
The NCAA has allowed the number of bowl games to reach an absurd level. Multiple teams without winning records annually receive what used to be a reward solely for a commendable, if not outstanding, season. In 2014, Arkansas, Illinois, Miami, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, South Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia Tech finished 6-6. Fresno State had a record of 6-7. However, each of those teams played in a bowl game. How anyone can argue that teams without a winning record deserve a trip to anywhere other than the weight room for offseason conditioning defies logic and propriety.
In the past several years, a bowl game has turned into a de facto 13th game for more than half of the teams in FBS. Teams with .500 records or worse should be pondering how they could improve to try and prevent the last-minute losses or 30-plus point blowouts that they endured. They should not be given free multi-day trips to tourist destinations in order to receive electronic goodies and complimentary meals in return for mediocrity over the course of the regular season.
If coaches will decry the loss of extra practices, then let every team have same amount of practices after season. Teams with losing records could still hold extra practice sessions without the rewards given to bowl participants.
The big shots that run the most popular and profitable sport in America cling to the absurd notion that every team that won its division not only deserves an automatic playoff berth but also a higher seed than wild-card entries. Teams with inferior records should not be allowed to host playoff games due to merely winning a wretched division. This absurdity has occurred four times in the past 10 seasons — 2008 (8-8 Chargers), 2010 (7-9 Seahawks), 2011 (8-8 Broncos) and 2014 (7-8-1 Panthers).
The playoffs should consist of teams who have shown their mettle over the course of the regular season. The league should revoke automatic bids for teams without winning record and replace them with more wild cards. Additionally, seeding should be based on regular season records, regardless of whether a team won its division or entered as a wild card.
3. College basketball
March Madness is stealthily slipping toward March Mediocrity. When the NCAA Tournament started in 1939, only eight teams participated. The number doubled in 1951. Between 22 and 25 teams were included over the next 22 years. By the end of the 1970s the numbers of spots had grown to 40. In the 1980s, the NCAA boosted the number of teams from 48 to 64. An extra entrant was added in 2001. Ten years later, the current allotment of squads included stands at 68. The tournament is continuously creeping toward the frequently rumored 96-team entity. There is no justification for increasing the number of marginal teams in the tournament. Every year, teams stumble their way to barely above .500, if not worse, and yet sneak into the Big Dance. Their presence, due to hot streaks lasting a few days en route to winning their conference’s tournament and accompanying automatic bids, is odious enough. Fans should not be exposed to even more marginal squads admitted to the event just to pad the number of contests for larger television revenue. The mediocre teams omitted from the Big Dance still can participate in the postseason National Invitational Tournament.
More than half of the league's 30 teams advance to the playoffs. Why bother playing 82 games over seven months in the regular season if the majority of the league will still go to the postseason? Also, why make them play in seven-game series? Is that to increase the chances that a hopelessly overmatched opponent manages to win one game while being routed in the series, just to make the losers feel less like losers? Sixteen of 30 teams making the playoffs diminish the accomplishment of “surviving” the regular season.
See the listing for the NHL and apply the same advice.
Two children received worthwhile messages from their father. Players merely showing up do not merit a trophy. Simply giving an effort does not suffice. Sometimes, despite a person's hardest efforts, one falls short of achieving success. Adults in the world of high-profile college sports and professional leagues need the same lesson as well.
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.