Let the debate begin. Again.
It seems every year, college football finds some way to screw the fan over, and the preferred method is with a three-letter system that has one “C” too many.
For a decade, the Bowl Championship Series has been used to determine who gets to play for it all come year’s end, combining human polls with computer ranks to spit out a number that encompasses all of the blood, sweat, and effort every team has left on the field for 12 weeks (13 for those in conference championships).
Gee, people wonder why so many of us have a problem with the current system.
For perspective, here’s a look back at the last six years in the final weeks of the college football season:
2002: Two undefeated teams! The BCS powers are all smiles as unanimous Miami, at 11-0, is slated to take on 13-0 Ohio State. No arguments here.
2003: Escape! With Oklahoma undefeated going into the Big 12 Championship, somebody was going to be livid when either 1-loss USC or LSU were left out of the National Championship…until Kansas State upset the Sooners 35-7.
2004: A nightmare scenario unfolds: Auburn, Oklahoma, and USC all go undefeated. Countless hours are spent by analysts looking at each team’s argument for being in the title game. Ultimately, the polls put OU 31 points ahead of Auburn, and by the slimmest of margins in the BCS, the Sooners got the nod.
Which gave Auburn fans plenty to yell about when USC won 55-19 in a clunker.
2005: Once again, only two teams stood perfect at the end of the regular season, leaving no room for debate. And fans were entitled to a treat, as Texas pulled out a tight one vs. USC 41-38
2006: Ohio State vs. who? That was the question in early December, as Florida, Michigan, and Louisville all had 1-loss. Fans may remember people crying for a Big Ten re-match after Ohio State beat Michigan at home, 42-39, in possibly the greatest game of one of the best rivalries ever. Instead, Florida got the nod in the BCS and by three points in the AP poll, and promptly destroyed OSU 41-14.
An aside: Boise State won in dramatic fashion with the now-infamous Statue of Liberty play against Oklahoma, 43-42, opening the door for BCS busters everywhere.
2007: Ohio State vs. the world, part deuce. Nobody could argue with the Buckeyes being on top, as they were the only team with one “L”. The question was, who among LSU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Virginia Tech, and USC was the best 2-loss team to face them? The computers selected LSU, and they made good on that statement by beating the Buckeyes 38-24.
Going into the final week, it was Missouri and West Virginia as 1-2 in the BCS despite being ranked seventh and eleventh in the AP top 25 poll. It turned out to not matter after both flopped with everything on the line, each in their final game, but it’s worth noting.
2008: Another time of mass chaos and anger: The final major undefeated, Alabama, falls in the SEC Championship game to Florida, leaving seven one-loss teams and BCS buster (and 12-0) Utah all with claims to the top. The Gators jump to #2, while Oklahoma claims the top spot to set up a title game many are looking forward to.
The problem is not just the system, however. It’s the fact college football is a business to those involved, instead of the passion it’s become for millions of fans. The dollar signs drive decisions, not entertainment value or even a sense of justice.
Why else do we have a postseason where 68 teams (over half of the 119 who compete on the D-I level) are rewarded? It’s another opportunity for a company to slap their name on a game, claim it as their own, and beam proudly as two 6-6 teams duke it out on National TV because nothing better is on. This may come across as overly cynical, but how else can Hawaii-Notre Dame or South Carolina-Iowa be explained?
Furthermore, it drives bigger bowl decisions. This year, the final BCS at-large spot came down to Ohio State and Boise State. Neither team defeated a top-15 team all season. The Broncos beat current #16 Oregon 37-32 on the road; Ohio State managed nine points combined against top-10 foes USC and Penn State. The BCS standings have Boise State six-tenths ahead of the Buckeyes, a substantial margin. Yet the Buckeyes received the at-large bid, mainly because they have a massive fan base willing to travel.
Proponents of the BCS are quick to point out the annual debates over what’s good for college football keep the sport in the national spotlight. The tension is certainly increased when bowl pairings are about to be announced, from the small teams wondering if they get a nice athletic department bonus to the big-shots hoping for another chance at it all. But would college football have any less passionate fans rooting for their teams or watching big games if they have their fates decided by a computer or on the field?
Some claim the system is not designed to provide a clear #1 come season’s end. True, it’s called the Bowl Championship Series; as said by Gregg Easterbrook on “TMQ” at ESPN.com, “Names matter, and based on its name, the BCS does not even pretend to be about choosing college football’s best team. The BCS asserts that it is choosing the best possible set of five bowl games.”
To that, fair enough. Great job with Georgia-Hawaii and USC-Illinois last year, LSU-Notre Dame and USC-Michigan the season before (although Boise State and Oklahoma actually turned out well). When Purdue-Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl is more entertaining then three BCS bowl games (the two mentioned above, and LSU-Ohio State was over early in the third), there’s a problem.
Many also argue for tradition, saying many traditions would be lost if we got rid of some bowl games. For the fans: Name three bowl traditions you enjoy every year. I personally can only think of the Rose Bowl always wanting a Pac-10 vs. Big Ten game every year. At last check, the only tradition bowl games have are conference tie-ins.
So, how exactly do we fix this mess? I’ll make it as quick and painless as possible:
First, we have to eliminate some bowl games. Excuse me for thinking a 6-6 season doesn’t deserve a spot on National TV (or in my house) in a bowl game. Was anybody excited last year over Colorado-Alabama? Tulsa-Bowling Green? Didn’t think so. Rewarding mediocrity just doesn’t fly with me. Besides, if you take out a few bowl games, all other bowls can be moved up, allowing time for a better system to determine the National Champion be put in place.
Second, bowl tie-ins are just dumb. And many times, they provide ridiculous mismatches based on each team’s season. Oregon State-Maryland in the Emerald Bowl is a perfect example. The Beavers finished the season 9-3, third in the Pac-10. Maryland was 6-6, eighth in the ACC (one of the weakest BCS conferences of late). ‘Nough said.
Take what we have so far, and we have less bowl games, but with much better quality. Now, considering all bowl games can move up one or two weeks, we can at least implement a plus-1 system to the end of bowl season. Play the BCS games out, then take the top two in the BCS standings and have them duke it out for it all. I’d rather have a plus-2 system (four teams, after the bowl games), but once again bowl games must be eliminated for any chance of this happening.
It’s simple: Improve the “watchability” of bowl games by making them more selective, move ’em up for timetable, and tack on an extra game at the end. The BCS conferences still get most of their money (and the best get more from the additional big game), smaller teams can still make it big-time, and we have a more definitive national champion.
Sorry, no solution here for the two month layoff that causes Big Ten teams to flop in big games.