This is the final part of the BCS Bash series. For part one, click here. For part two, click here. For part three, click here
The BCS structure is about conference champions. While it holds the altruistic aim to match number one versus number two, the BCS is influenced much more by the automatic qualifying status for the six self-proclaimed elite conference champions. Being a conference champion in the Big 10, Big 12, Big East, ACC, SEC, or Pac-10 is so reverred that teams with four losses and barely ranked in the top 25 are not stripped of the right to play in an elite bowl game against a team that is truly elite; that teams catapult up the rankings in the final week of polling only because of the conference champion label; that an undefeated season guarantees a spot in the national championship (barring the rare occurrence that three teams are undefeated).
This obsession with conference champions is the solution to creating a fair and equitable BCS. It is, after all, the Bowl Championship Series. The corrective action that the BCS needs to take is to stop filling six out of 10 bowl slots with conference champions and start filling 10 out of 10 bowl slots with conference champions. The BCS will be inherently unjust until all conferences have equal access.
As presently constituted, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of NCAA football has 120 teams grouped into 11 conferences, with three teams remaining independent (Notre Dame, Navy, and Army). As presently constituted, the BCS has 5 bowl games that 10 teams compete in. Without making any changes to the existing conference alignments or the BCS set up, my proposal to correct the injustices of the BCS would be the following:
• The 10 BCS slots would still be filled using a system to rank teams;
• The ranking system will be programmed to emphasize overall record and use head-to-head results if two teams have identical records;
• The ranking system, however, would only be applied to all 11 conference champions and the three independents (only for the purpose of determining the best independent team);
• The top 10 teams (10 conference champions or 9 conference champions and the best independent team) would fill the BCS bowl slots;
• The top 10 teams would be paired 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, 5 vs. 6, 7 vs. 8, 9 vs. 10;
• The pairings would be adjusted, as necessary, to avoid rematches from the regular season, including and especially for the national championship (no double jeopardy) unless the number two team beat the number one team in the regular season, then a rematch would be in order;
• The revenues would be shared equally as well: 1/120 for each team in your conference, except bowl revenues would be proportionate to the seeding—the 1 vs. 2 would be the highest, the 3 vs. 4 would be $500,000 less, etc.;
• The bowls would continue the rotating double hosting system for the championship game, and they would rotate which pairing they hosted each year so that the bowls host each pairing once every four years.
To illustrate, here is what the BCS bowl games would have been for 2009 if this system was used:
National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Texas
Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati vs. TCU
Rose Bowl: Oregon* vs. Ohio State
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State* vs. Georgia Tech
Orange Bowl: Central Michigan vs. East Carolina
(Note: These pairing were made using the final BCS standings and the last USA Today poll before the bowl games.)
* = Following the 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, etc. order, Boise State and Oregon would have played in the same game. Since they played during the regular season, I paired Oregon with Ohio State for a more traditional game in the Rose Bowl. Another alternative would have been to pair Boise State vs. Ohio State and Oregon vs. Georgia Tech.
For all the traditionalists out there, which I am one, I would be willing to allow the Rose Bowl to continue hosting the Pac-10 Champion vs. the Big 10 Champion, as long as both are in the top 8, but not in the top 2. That means the worst case scenario would be 3 vs. 8 and 4 vs. 7, which should still be good games. The price would be that the Rose Bowl would have the pay out that would normally go to the pairing for the lower seeded team (i.e. If the Rose Bowl is team 4 vs. 6, the pay out would be for 5 vs. 6 and not 3 vs. 4).
This solution would guarantee access to the BCS for a team from 83% of the 12 groups of teams in college football, as opposed to 50% of the groups that the current BCS format guarantees. If we want to be truly all inclusive, then we have two options: 1) Force conference realignment to form 10 conferences of 12 teams each, or 2) add the Cotton Bowl as a sixth BCS bowl.
Yes, we would still have controversies, but nothing in life is without opposition. The whole point, though, is to crown a national champion. The only teams that should be eligible are those who were champions of their conferences. The only teams that should compete in this series are champions. It’s like the Olympics. To make it to the finals of an event, you have to win the qualifying rounds. The qualifying round for the BCS would be the regular season, and a qualifying mark would be to win your conference.
It doesn’t matter if Boise State played the 96th toughest schedule and only four teams in its conference had a winning record, while Texas played the 38th toughest schedule and was one of seven teams with a winning record in its conference. It doesn’t matter if Boise State is from a state with a total population less than the Austin metropolitan area. Playing a tougher schedule, playing in a certain conference, and having more money supposedly makes you better, but the real measuring stick is if Boise State can beat Texas. If they can despite the disadvantages of playing a “weak” schedule, playing in the WAC, and having less money for facilities, recruiting, coaching, etc., that is what matters. The BCS is bowl games. That is all it pertains to—the bowls. All of this other mumbo jumbo trying to justify the discrimination is irrelevant. To stick with the Olympics comparison, we never hear criticism that an athlete did not deserve to be in the Olympics because of the country he or she came from or the inferior facilities, coaching, etc. available to that athlete. That athlete qualified by being the best in his or her country. If that athlete then goes on to surprise everyone and win a medal we do not say he or she did not deserve it because it was easier to get to the Olympics by living in that other country. The BCS should not discriminate and exclude based on stereotypes—not on conference affiliation, schedule strength, or media markets. There is a reason the Super Bowl is the most watched television event EVERY year, regardless of who is playing. We love football and will watch whoever is playing in the championship game.
All 120 teams in the FBS make up the success of college football and the bowl system. The truth is that, just like a big family, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, and USC all benefit from San Jose State, North Texas, Navy, Troy, and Wyoming, and vice versa. While each child of the family differs in age, strength, and abilities, the parents work together to ensure that each child is loved, is safe, and eats dinner at the same table. The parents of college football, the NCAA and the BCS, are not working well together. The BCS has turned into a domineering, controlling spouse that the NCAA is scared to stand up to. Some outside the family (the rankings) see what is going on, and they simply form their judgments to fit what is happening in the house. The BCS is a parent that plays favorites with its children. The abused children have been unable to find redress with the NCAA. The oppression has led the abused children to seek government assistance to get the help that they should find in the family.
Many of you may be disappointed that I have not proposed a playoff as the solution. Fundamentally, I am opposed to a playoff. As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a traditionalist. Honestly, I like the bowls (yes, there are too many, and I want January 1 to be what it once was). The bowls give one last chance to binge on college football before hibernating for almost nine months. The bowls have also become a launching pad for the next year’s Heisman Trophy campaigns and other awards. The bowls give players an opportunity to increase their draft stock. I believe a playoff will have a negative impact on rivalries and other defining characteristics of college football.
The biggest reason I don’t want a playoff is because I don’t want a three or four loss champion if a one or two loss team exists. Having played organized football for many years, I learned to appreciate that an undefeated season is a major accomplishment. Most years only one or two teams finish undefeated (we may be witnessing a paradigm shift, however, with the BCS, which has placed an increased emphasis on undefeated seasons, therefore, what happened last year—5 undefeated teams—might become more regular), so throughout the regular season a process of elimination is already happening. If a team was able to finish the year 12-0, with all that entails (overcoming injuries, not having a slow start to the season, avoiding trap games, avoiding a mid or late season let down, surviving down the stretch with a bulls eye on your back), that team should not have to put that perfect record on the line against a 9-3 or 10-2 team. It was hard enough to swallow the first two loss national champion two years ago (no offense to LSU, I realize a two loss team was, pretty much, our only option).
In the future, I will not be surprised to see a plus-one system. If three or more undefeated teams becomes the norm in college football, I will gladly support the plus-one system. However, that presents other issues. If we had a plus-one in place this year Boise State would have been left out and Utah would have been left out last year. After the bowls, however, it was obvious that they were underrated all year and deserved to play in a plus-one game. In any case, a playoff system with more than eight teams would be inappropriate. Player safety is a real issue. A long playoff system would increase injuries, and I can’t find any reason that you need to field more than eight teams to ensure that the best team is included.