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BCS ramblings

I know it’s always been trendy and cool to bash the BCS, but I’ve always liked the system on its premise. I’m one of the few people out there NOT in favor of a playoff. Critics need to realize when the BCS was created in 1998, fans were tired of having dual/shared national championships – just look at the list of schools claiming “consensus national championships” from 1990-1997 (for sake of argument, I’m going off the Wikipedia page with its plethora of arithmetic and human polls, so bear with me):

1990: Colorado (AP/USAT-CNN), Georgia Tech (UPI),
1991: Miami (AP), Washington (UPI, USAT-CNN)
[Beginning of “Bowl Coalition”]
1992: Alabama (AP, UPI, USAT-CNN)
1993: Florida State (AP, UPI, USAT-CNN)
1994: Nebraska, Penn State
[Beginning of “Bowl Alliance”]
1995: Nebraska (consensus)
1996: Florida (consensus)
1997: Nebraska (USAT-ESPN), Michigan (AP)

The 1997 “championship” is most bizarre, because both teams from power conferences went undefeated. 1995 and 1996 appear somewhat normal. 1994 though, again, is where problems come up. Both Nebraska and Penn State went undefeated, won their bowl games, and finished #1 in various polls, claiming national championships because they didn’t face off head-to-head. What to do?

So the BCS was an idea that “smart” people came up with to determine a “true” national champion. In context and in the time of its creation, it seems like a good idea – create a formula that manages to match the “true” #1 team against the “true” #2 team and determine the national champion that way. In the mid-1990s, we didn’t have Boise State competing on a national level and winning the big bowl games – i.e. the Fiesta. We didn’t see TCU competing every year in the top 25 of the rankings. So of course the system was created to benefit the well-known conferences – Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC, Big East, ACC, and Notre Dame (based simply on their history of winning) because a. no one cared about the small conferences or schools, and b. no one got to see them play when power-conference games took the few existing TV broadcast windows. Simply out of sight, out of mind. Just think about it – we didn’t have the creativity or leverage of existing networks to schedule games on weeknights, and we didn’t have the technology or viewer appetite to show 50 different games on Saturdays. Just this 2010 season it seems we’ve seen Boise State on ESPN for every game they’ve played. And justifiably so, given the track record they’ve developed over the past five years – winning two BCS bowl games, finishing in the top 25 every year, yada yada. The latest true tweaks to the BCS came after the 2004 season when Auburn, USC, and Utah all finished undefeated – so who the hell finishes #1? The BCS folks changed the formula to take out the AP Poll, and then decided to allow:

“The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:

A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,
B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.”

While this allows teams like Boise State and TCU access to the party, it obviously doesn’t guarantee playing for the national championship nor does it reward them for finishing with undefeated records. Sure, this is something that should be looked into in the future. As I wrote above, I like the current format because you’re rewarded for playing your regular season. The NFL is a joke to me because games in September truly mean nothing. But, there’s been a system established over 40 years that says IF YOU MAKE THE PLAYOFFS AND WIN YOU WILL PLAY FOR THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. College football’s system has been WIN YOUR GAMES IN THE REGULAR SEASON AND YOU MIGHT GO TO A BOWL GAME WHERE YOU’RE VOTED NATIONAL CHAMPION AFTERWARDS — hence the BCS’s attempts to match the #1 and #2 teams, regardless of whether they’re “truly” the #1 or #2 teams in the country. One problem taken care of, another created.

I just can’t understand the screaming for a 16-team playoff when college football has ALWAYS been about the regular season and the bowl system. It feels so cheap and whorish to simply create a playoff and go for the NFL mode where a team can essentially skip two months of the season and make the postseason. Sure, college teams take a month off with non-conference games, but that is easily fixed with more progressive scheduling (i.e. playing conference games earlier), and the fact there’s no NFL-style preseason to get tuned up. The “plus-one model” would have been the best way to go to solve the access problem for the Boises and TCUs of the world – get to the top 4 nationally, and you should deserve a shot to play for the national championship, especially if a #3 or #4 ranked team is undefeated. But, the powers that be killed it (for many reasons, namely money) before it got out of committee behind closed doors at the conference/BCS commissioners level.

I think the current model will eventually be tweaked, and it’s just a matter of time — the chips are already in place, the TCUs and Boises have proved they can compete with the big dogs — but until then, enjoy the fact that every Saturday from September til the first weekend in December is worth watching.

Anyway, just my thoughts. I get annoyed when the quick solution to college football’s problems is “just have a playoff!” And especially the laziness from journalists that fail to take into account the context in which the BCS exists.

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  1. Latest blog posts | Brian Mortensen on Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    […] BCS ramblings I know it’s always been trendy and cool to bash the BCS, but I’ve always liked the system on its premise. I’m one of the few people out there NOT in favor of a playoff. Critics need to realize when the BCS was created in 1998, fans were tired of having dual/shared national championships – […] […]

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