Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why BCS Has an Extra Letter

Once again college football season has flown by, and once again I feel like I’ve barely had a chance to watch any games. That feeling is of course despite spending nearly every available Saturday planted on my couch in front of my TV watching college football. But as the regular season winds down we start approaching the most unfulfilling time of year – Bowl Season.

Mind you, I’m not talking about games like the Humanitarian Bowl, which should feature Bowling Green vs Idaho. I love the smaller bowl games featuring teams consisting of players who know they’ll likely never make it to the NFL and thus leave it all on the field. It makes for great football.

No, the most unfulfilling part of the bowl season is the big bowl games, or more specifically the big bowl games we don’t get. Surely there will be a couple of great big bowl games, but the one that matters, the BCS Championship Game, will be contested by two teams selected by a couple of polls and a few computer algorithms.

Most any college football fan knows that the system of selecting a national champion is ludicrous. I can’t think of another college level (or even high school level) sport that operates in this fashion, selecting its top two teams based on a beauty pageant. But yet there are still far to many that defend this system, including some people that I otherwise respect.

When these BCS defenders make their arguments, they spread at least one, if not all, of the following three lies:

Lie Number 1: The BCS ensures that every game in the regular season matters.

This is probably the biggest lie of them all. This season is likely to be the biggest proof of how false this lie is. Barring something catastrophic, there will be 5 undefeated Division 1A[1] teams at the end of the regular season. When a one loss team gets snubbed from the championship game, the argument is simply, “Well, just win them all.” Five teams will have done exactly that – won them all.

Chances are, the two teams that will play in the championship game (Texas and the winner of the Florida/Alabama game) are the best two in the nation. But there’s really no way to judge that for sure without actually settling this on the field. And frankly I think TCU is probably the best team in the nation.

Although when confronted with the fact that a team can run the table and still be rejected, the defenders of the BCS move on to the corollary to the above lie, that the mid-majors (Boise St. and TCU this season) need to play a tougher schedule. That argument is also rife with misunderstandings.

First, mid-majors have a difficult time at best scheduling a top tier school. The top tier schools have nothing to gain by playing the likes of Boise St; just ask Oregon who went to Boise St. only to lose. A major school playing a mid-major is expected to win, so gains next to nothing if they do, and will drop precipitously in the rankings if they lose.

Second, there is one other undefeated team, Cincinnati, who is a member of a BCS conference. They’re not a member of one of the mid-major conferences looking to crash the party; they’re a member of one of the conferences chosen as worthy enough to be a part of the BCS. Yet despite this they’re going to be on the outside looking in.

Since the inception of the BCS, many teams have gone out in the regular season, won every game, and been denied any chance to play for the national title. How does “every game matter” if we’re going to turn away teams who win every game?

Lie number 2: Having a playoff system will cheapen the bowl system

This is the most laughable lie of the three. People making this argument seem to believe that if suddenly there’s a playoff system that we’ll realize that the GMAC Bowl doesn’t mean anything.

News flash: The bowls don’t mean anything! They’re exhibition games. They’re a reward for the team for having a winning season, a chance to play one last game, a chance for the school to potentially make a little money, and an excuse for students and alumni to (generally) leave for warmer climes for a few days.

Having a playoff system isn’t suddenly going to change this fact, or make people realize the fact that any other bowl besides the BCS Championship Game doesn’t mean a thing.

If you’re so concerned about preserving the bowls, then seed the 8 teams[2] across games in the top 7 bowls. Rotate it so every 7 years the bowl gets the national title game. Problem solved.

Lie number 3: The players need to study for finals

This is the most uneducated lie of the three. Division 1AA, Division 2, and Division 3, all of which feature little to no sports scholarships, all have playoff systems. These are the real student athletes, ones that attend their schools strictly to attend school. Yet they manage to find the time to study for and take finals. I think the kids that attend Division 1A schools can manage as well.

Truth: The reason the system exists is because of money

The BCS bowl games are big money makers. One of the rules about the BCS system is that the conferences that send teams to the bowl games share the money they make by attending the game. There are only 6 conferences that are official BCS Conferences, and thus are the only ones guaranteed to send at least one team each (if not more) to the 5 BCS bowl games. As a result, this is a guaranteed money maker for the conference every year. Outside conferences are allowed to send teams to the BCS bowl games only in certain scenarios; basically only if they are in the top 12, and even then there’s only one guaranteed slot.

The time has come for the NCAA to stand up and do what’s right for college football, and what’s right for all schools. It’s time to end the system that tells certain teams right from the beginning of the season, “Sorry, you don’t have a chance to win it all.” It’s time for a real playoff; a real championship.

[1] Sorry, I’m not bringing myself to call it the FBS.
[2] In my plan, all we need is the top 8 teams. 16 is nice, but a bit of overkill.

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