On Contracts

Apparently K-State's decision to break off its contract with Fresno State for a game in September this year has created quite a furor, enough so that it was the first thing I saw on The Wizard of Odds this morning.  It's pretty impressive to me that the cancellation of a game between a 5-7 Big 12 team and a 9-4 WAC team is really that important to so many people.  It was also such a big deal that somebody from San Diego felt compelled to create an account here at BOTC and post an incendiary diary on the situation.  Who knew?

Anyway, the newspaper article linked above is written by some guy named Matt James from the Fresno Bee, who apparently fancies himself another Jason Whitlock, or perhaps T.J. Simers.  Except that he writes for the Fresno Bee and the team for whom he carries the spears is, well, Fresno State.  The basic point of his column is that Fresno State got a huge benefit because it now gets to travel across the United States to beautiful New Jersey to play a Rutgers team that went 8-5 last year and lost Ray Rice, its best player, while K-State got screwed because it won't get the honor of playing Fresno State in Manhattan this season.

I'm crushed.

Basically, James is super-duper excited because his Bulldogs now play at Rutgers, at UCLA, Wisconsin, and at Toledo in 2008.  I should point out that is exactly one home non-conference game, although it is against Wisconsin.  I'm not quite sure how you fund an athletic department on five home football games each year, but then, I'm not a fan of a WAC team, either.

I can understand why James, as a sportswriter, is excited about Fresno playing games against 'name' programs like Rutgers, UCLA and Wisconsin.  For a sportswriter, the success of the team you write about is secondary to having a lot of good storylines and material with which to work.  Suffice to say, then, playing teams from the Big East, Big 10(11) and Pac-10, even if they aren't very good (save Wisconsin), is good for the sportswriter.  Even better, Rick Neuheisel now coaches at UCLA, and that in itself ought to be good for a month's worth of stories.  Especially at about this time next year.

I've had just about enough of this James character, but I can't let him slide without quoting one particular line out of his column:

Oh, and there's this: Kansas State now plays North Texas, Louisiana-Lafayette and Montana State, its wish-list replacement for Fresno State.

Needless to say to any informed K-State fan, he conveniently forgot to mention K-State's trip to Louisville this year among the non-conference slate.  Why would he do that?  I see two explanations, and neither are very good for James.  One, it's not very good for his argument.  Of course, I'd be a lot better law student if I didn't have to worry about that pesky requirement that you acknowledge even facts detrimental to your position.  Or there's the other explanation, that he is a lazy journalist.

As happy as James surely is about covering a colorful football program like Fresno, the "anyone, anywhere, anytime" model is not a successful one among BCS programs.  For K-State, a smallish program in a BCS conference, nearly the entire athletic department is funded by income from the football program.  It goes without saying that six, seven, or eight home football games each year is better than five.  In fact, I'm not certain K-State could sustain its entire athletic department on only five home football games each year.

Commentators such as the aforementioned Wizard of Odds consistently bemoan the boring schedules of BCS programs across the country.  I can't really disagree that I would much rather see competitive teams in non-conference games, such as the Cal game in 2003, the USC games in 2001 and 2002, the Louisville game in 2006, or the Auburn game in 2007.  But a program like K-State, which is so dependent on its income from home football games, simply can't afford to forgo that income just to 'prove its toughness' by traveling to the ends of the earth to play elite programs--or mediocre ones, in Fresno's case.  We don't have a choice but to play as many home games as possible, or haven't you noticed the kind of money Texas, Texas A&M, Nebraska and Oklahoma are throwing around?

So when the argument turns from money to winning, we hear that we are buying wins.  I must ask what Fresno has reaped from its scheduling philosophy.  An 8-20 record against BCS teams since Pat Hill arrived in Fresno?  The fact that those eight BCS teams they've defeated in 10 years are a combined 41-53?  Or how about one-half of a WAC title?  Or trips to the Humanitarian and Liberty bowls?

As much heat as Bill Snyder took for his scheduling philosophy, it is quite safe to say he got a lot more out of it than Hill ever will.  He at least managed to win three Big 12 North division championships, one overall conference title, made two trips to BCS games, and was one quarter from playing in the national championship in 1998.  Anybody who tells you their program wouldn't take national criticism and boring September games in exchange for that level of success is either insane or an LSU fan.

Finally, I must address the contracts aspect of this situation, because I'm a nerd like that.  Those of you who have any law background know that the American legal system rarely imposes punitive damages in breach of contract cases.  Why?  Because we recognize that, in many cases, it's desirable for those engaged in business to have relatively easy entry into and exit from contracts, not to mention the relative certainty that comes from the absence of the specter of an open-ended punitive-damages judgment.  There's an entire school of contract thought, called "efficient breach," that espouses the idea that, in some cases, a breach is actually the desirable outcome.  It involves a much more complicated analysis than is required here, but the basic idea is that, sometimes, all parties are better off if the contract is breached.

With that as our baseline, let's analyze the situation.  K-State got out of its game against Fresno State for a lower price than the contract called for, and got a home game against an opponent it is more likely to beat and is also less likely to start a fight before the game.  Fresno State got some money from K-State and a game it apparently desires more, at least judging by James' reaction, against Rutgers on national television, on Labor Day.  Sounds to me like all parties are better off, and yet all we hear from the left side of this great nation is a bunch of bravado from a program that has never won its second-tier conference.

Fellow K-Staters, I think it's safe to say we've endured much worse than the carping of a bunch of whiny west-coasters.

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