Note: This is the first part of a four part series on the Bowl Championship Series. Links to the other three parts are found at the end of this article.
The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a scam. Why? The provision that grants automatic qualifying status to certain conference champions. The BCS toots its own horn about how great it is because it guarantees that the number one and two teams will play in a bowl game to finish each year. Okay, so where does the need for automatic qualification come in? First a little history, so we can understand the real answer to this question.
Historically, bowl games had agreements with one or two conferences for the right to host certain teams in their games at the end of the year. The bowl games operated completely independent of any entity that ranked the top teams in college football. As attention to both bowl games and the rankings increased, the desire to see the top two teams play each other at the end of the year increased.
In 1992 the Bowl Coalition was created between the Big East Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 8, Southeastern Conference (SEC), Southwest Conference (SWC), and Notre Dame with the expressed intent to create better possibilities for a bowl game to feature number one and two. This coalition involved the Cotton, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Gator, and John Hancock bowls.
The Bowl Coalition was dumped in 1995 for the Bowl Alliance. The Bowl Alliance consisted of the same five conferences, but reduced bowl participation to the Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta bowls. Each conference champion would automatically qualify for one of these bowls and one at-large team would be selected. Theoretically, that at-large team could be from any conference in NCAA Division 1-A football.
That brings us to the BCS. The BCS brought all the “major” conferences and bowl games together for the first time in 1998. The Pac-10, the Big 10, and the Rose Bowl joined the others to form the BCS. In 1996, the Big 8 and SWC had consolidated, more or less, to form the Big 12, so the official make up of the BCS was the Big East, the ACC, the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12, the Pac-10, and Notre Dame, as well as the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange bowls. The BCS continued the automatic qualifying status for champions from the six participating conferences. Notre Dame could automatically qualify if it had 9 wins and was ranked in the BCS top 10. Teams from outside the six participating conferences could automatically qualify if they were ranked in the BCS top 6.
In most cases, I give people the benefit of the doubt and believe they act with good intentions. In the case of the Bowl Coalition/Bowl Alliance/BCS, it is pretty hard to accept that some other interests besides matching the top two teams in the same bowl were not driving this process. All that would have been necessary to accomplish the declared intent was to have an agreement between the bowls that the bowl with the number two ranked team would release its rights to that team so that team could play in the same bowl as the number one ranked team. Of course the bowl losing the number two ranked team would want retribution for its losses, but I think retribution would be a minor detail that could be worked out easily and beneficial to all. Furthermore, if we are talking about having the top two teams play, why wasn’t the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance, and BCS all inclusive—all bowls, all teams. When was it ever decreed that a team from a conference with ties to one of the other bowls could not be number one or two? If a team from one of these outsider conferences and bowls was number one, why would that team not deserve to play for the championship in its affiliated bowl? Limiting the conferences and bowls involved and by giving automatic qualifying status to those conference champions was self-serving and collusive. The real intent was to have number one and number two play every year in a bowl game and to ensure that number one and two were teams from this select group of conferences.
Digging into history a little further makes this whole bowl confederation look very sketchy. I am still scratching my head wondering how the Big East and the ACC were able to gain favored nations status if the organizers’ motives were pure.
First, the Big East did not even exist until 1991 (Bowl Coalition began in 1992), so there was little to no historical evidence that this conference was important in accomplishing the objective to have number one and number two play in a bowl. Now, it is true that the University of Miami, Florida, technically was a Big East member and won the national championship in 1991 (as well as in 1983, 1987, 1989 as an independent), the Hurricanes played only two conference games that year. Now that 20 years have passed, the evidence we do have is that the Miami Dynasty unraveled shortly after it became affiliated with a conference.
Second, the ACC was a glorified Western Athletic Conference (WAC) before the 1992 season. Sure, Clemson won the national championship in 1981 and Georgia Tech split the national championship in 1990, but that is it. Once in a decade the ACC champion was relevant. The WAC was having the same level of success as the ACC during this timeframe. In 1992, however, Florida State left the ranks of the independents to join the ACC. Florida State was 53-8 and ranked in the top 5 from 1987-1991. Again, the evidence we have post-1991 is that the ACC, as a whole, was mediocre; the Seminoles dominated the ACC for the next decade. Furthermore, the ACC has never fielded an at-large BCS team.
Let’s be honest with ourselves and accept that the only reason the Big East is an automatic qualifying conference is Miami, and the only reason for the ACC is Florida State. No entity stating that it was trying to match number one and number two in a bowl game would have any credibility if it left these two national powerhouses out. However, all credibility would be lost if several schools were being hand picked like Notre Dame was.
Now, back to the original question, where does the need for automatic qualification come in? The short answer is it is not needed, all it is merely a cover up. I will uncover this cover up tomorrow. Don’t miss it!
Part 2: The Cover Up: Overall Conference Strength
Part 3: The Evidence: Performance on the Field
Part 4: The Solution: It's About Conference Champions