Saturday, April 19, 2014
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Foul Shots: Bye-Bye, BCS

It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a championship to be decided without a playoff system. The rest of the world may disagree, as soccer leagues such as England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga don’t have a playoff system in place. The team in first place in the league at the end of the season is crowned the champion. But every major sport in America has a playoff system, culminating in a final game or series. Up until now, the lone holdout had been Division I college football. But no more.

Until 1998, the two participants in college football’s national championship game were determined solely by voting in polls. This led to no shortage of non-recognized champions, and disputes over who really was the best team in college football from year to year. In 1998, the Bowl Championship Series was created, in part, to put a stop to the idea of “split championships” and to resolve these disputes.

The BCS combined several polls with computer programs to spit out a set of rankings, which were listed as a decimal out of a perfect one. For example, the top rated team might have a BCS rating of 0.987.  However, certain colleges got precedence over others in these rankings, and therein lies the problem. Champions of so-called “AQ (automatic-qualifying) Conferences” got automatic bids to BCS games, sometimes rendering undefeated teams from lesser conferences to the relative oblivion of a lower bowl game.

The strangest rule of all was the University of Notre Dame rule. Because the Notre Dame has stubbornly refused to join an athletic conference in football and plays independently, the Fighting Irish are automatically granted a BCS berth if they are in the top-eight ranked teams. After these “automatic” bids were granted, the remaining bids (known as at-large bids) were filled by individual selection committees.

Is it just me, or does this system sound a tad antiquated? It reminds me of those back-room dealings in the 1800s, when fat men with mustaches, monocles and smoking jackets decided who would be the next sheriff in their town without input from the rest of the populace. Sound stupid to you? It sure does to me.

A classic example of the BCS mishandling the end of the college football season occurred in 2003. The Louisiana State University Tigers won the game designated as the BCS National Title Game, beating the University of Oklahoma by a score of 21-14. The then-No.3 University of Southern California Trojans defeated the University of Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 28-14. However, three coaches voted for USC instead of LSU to be named national champions. The Associated Press awarded their National Championship title and No. 1 ranking to USC while the coaches’ poll gave the nod to LSU. The specific thing the BCS was built to prevent occurred: a split championship. Why should coaches get to vote on who they think is the National Champion? If this happened in the NFL, the New York Jets would get a split title every year because head coach Rex Ryan would vote for his own team.

Another embarrassing BCS calamity was the case of the 2006 Boise State University Broncos. The Broncos were an undefeated team, 12-0 in the Western Athletic Conference. Because they didn’t come from an AQ conference, they weren’t chosen to play in the title game (between then-unbeaten Ohio State University and the University of Florida), which Florida won decisively, 41-14. Boise State topped Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, 43-42, in one of the most dramatic football games ever played. Any fan with a set of eyes in 2006 could’ve seen that Boise State belonged in the National Championship Game, and could’ve had a fighting chance to win it.

Supporters of the BCS do have some valid points, however. Losing a game, under the BCS standards, makes winning a national title very difficult, unless there are no other undefeated teams. This puts a premium on winning, which is obviously a good thing. BCS supporters point to the 2002 Championship Game between the only two unbeaten teams in the nation, the University of Miami and Ohio State, as their shining example. However, an article taken from BCSfootball.org (the official website of the BCS) states in part, “Trust the process and we will get it right 80 percent of the time.” 80 percent? Are you kidding me? What kind of organization are these people running? Ask someone in the NFL if they think the Super Bowl participants are “chosen” correctly 80 percent of the time. Ask an MLB official if they think the two teams in the World Series are “chosen” correctly 80 percent of the time. They’ll look at you as if you have two heads.

Finally, after 17 seasons (counting the 2013-14 season) the BCS is exiting stage left. Good riddance. A playoff system will pit the top four teams in the nation in a Final Four standoff, one that will be sure to incite more interest in the bowl season. Personally, I never care about any bowl game except for the National Championship under the current system. Is more meaningful football a bad thing? Heck no. Bring on the playoff, and bring it on quickly. I, and most of America, can’t wait.

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