Friday, December 5, 2008

My rant on the B.S.C, I mean BCS

Wow, it's been a whole month since I posted. Ok well, here's a quick recap of my last month. I got real busy at work and I did lots of fantasy football stuff for the league that I run while maintaining a team in a separate league. I had a sinus infection for a while there, I got the flu early this week, and now I believe I'm fighting a particularly nasty case of tonsillitis or some such other sore throat condition. Oh, and I watched Penn State blow a chance at the national championship game by losing to Iowa a month ago.

So here is where my rant begins. But where to begin? Let's start with Penn State. They were 9-0 going into Iowa, only to lose on a last-second field goal in blustery conditions. Sure, they played a god-awful game and didn't deserve to win. But didn't they end up 11-1 with key wins over Ohio State and Michigan State? Why don't we throw in Oregon State for good measure, since they beat then-#1 USC to knock them out of the title picture and almost stole the Rose Bowl berth away from them. And PSU didn't just beat the Beavers, they crushed them, 45-14. So, another 11-1 season for Penn State and another non-championship BCS game. Sure, it's the Rose Bowl, which is the most storied bowl of them all with its rich history and USC getting an extra home game every year. But still, a shot at the national title would have been nice.

But enough on Penn State. What I really want to talk about is the BCS championship game. The BCS is what keeps one-loss teams like Penn State and Texas Tech and Texas out of getting a chance to play for the national title on a nearly annual basis. The national championship in Division 1 collegiate football is arguably the most elusive championship in all of sports. More so than the Vince Lombardi trophy, the Commissioner's trophy, the Larry O'Brien trophy, or even the Stanley Cup. Ok, so maybe the World Cup in soccer is more elusive, but no one really plays soccer in the U.S (not well, anyway). But I digress. There are 119 teams vying for the top two spots in the country. So why, then, is Division 1 college football the only American sport that does not feature a playoff system?

One word: money. That's what the head muckity-mucks that support the BCS will tell you. They'll also make excuses like "the schedule would be too long", or "we don't want to pull the athletes out of class or make them miss finals", or even "the holidays would interfere." And they're all bull. Every single one of them, even the argument about money. I have been opposed to the BCS ever since its inception and many people, mostly true fans of the game, share my hatred of the system.

I'll forgo writing a history of the BCS and instead focus on what is happening this season. The 2008 season, like the last couple, have been, to say the least, crazy. Lots of upsets, non-BCS teams going undefeated, and teams worthy of the national title game getting left out of the picture. This year is no different. Going into the last week of the season, there was: one remaining undefeated BCS team; two undefeated non-BCS teams; and six one-loss teams. To complicate matters, #1 Alabama played #4 Florida for all the beans in the the SEC conference and #2 Oklahoma played #20 Missouri for the Big 12 championship. There are a couple of things going on here and I'll detail them below.

First, let's address the Big 12. The Big 12 conference has two divisions: East and West. Each year the best team in the Big 12 East and the best team in the Big 12 West play each other in the (Dr. Pepper) Big 12 Championship Game. It seems like a pretty fair system. Well, the Big 12 West was outstanding this season, featuring three teams with only one loss: Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech. Unfortunately, only one of those teams can play for the Big 12 title and since the Big 12 was one of the strongest conferences in the nation this year, the winner would surely end up playing for the national title. To complicate matters, Texas beat Oklahoma, 45-35, when Oklahoma was ranked #1 earlier in the season. They then beat #11 Missouri and #6 Oklahoma State the following two weeks before losing to #7 Texas Tech on a last-second touchdown miracle. Texas Tech beat Texas then blew out Oklahoma State the following week before receiving a beatdown from Oklahoma. Oklahoma lost to Texas early in the season, but rebounded by winning six in a row to end the season, scoring no fewer than 45 points in any game, and scoring at least 60 in five straight. Their signature win came three weeks ago, when they beat then-#2 Tech 65-21 to knock them out of the title picture.

So who goes to the Big 12 (and national) championship(s)? The easy choice would be Oklahoma, since they beat the team that Texas couldn't. But Texas beat Oklahoma, so that should count for something, right? Well, Texas Tech beat Texas so they should also draw some consideration, right? Fortunately, there are tiebreakers in place so we stupid humans don't have to decide. The tiebreakers are:

1) The
records of the three teams will be compared against each other

That's no good, they're all the same. Next!

2) The records of the three teams will be compared within their division

Hmm, their division records are all the same too. Next...

3) The records of the three teams will be compared against the next highest placed teams in their division in order of finish (4, 5 and 6)

Well, that's also the same.

4) The records of the three teams will be compared against all common conference opponents

Wow, this is getting interesting...

5) The highest ranked team in the first Bowl Championship Series Poll following the completion of the Big 12 regular season conference play shall be the representative.

Zing! That's it! That makes sense right? Because the computers are never wrong, right? What a horrible system. Not only are you leaving it in the hands of computers, but you're leaving it in the hands of stupid biased voters, just like old times. The Big 12 made a statement last week saying that they are going to "re-evaluate the tiebreaking procedures", but not until March of 2009. Sure, that will help the teams this year. Let's see how long it takes a team like Texas Tech, a non-traditional football school, to recover from this black eye, especially with talk that the head coach may be leaving to take the head coaching position at Washington.

Moving along... Alabama was 12-0 and the #1 team in the land by virtue of one of the most pathetic SEC schedules I have ever seen. They played only 3 ranked teams this season, two of which aren't ranked anymore, the third of which is now ranked #15. Everyone touts their amazing defense, but shutting out teams like Auburn and Arkansas State doesn't impress anybody. But they were the last remaining BCS unbeaten, so a win against Florida last weekend would have sealed the deal. As we saw on Saturday, Saban's crew is a little overrated. Florida beat them, in Alabama, to win the SEC championship. This brings up another interesting issue. Florida finished the season with a 12-1 record and was ranked #4 in the BCS going into the SEC championship game. Texas was ranked ahead of them, at #3 in the second-to-last BCS rankings, but were idle because they got shut out of the Big 12 championship game. Well, the ultimate nightmare for the BCS occurred when #4 Florida jumped #3 Texas to grab the #2 spot in the final BCS rankings with Alabama falling from #1 to #4. Alabama could have saved the BCS a lot of controversy if they had just won on Saturday. Now, the debate rages on once again. If you hate the BCS, you rooted for Florida this week.

This season goes to show once again that you can lose early in the season and still make the national title game. Both Florida and Oklahoma did it, with Florida losing to Mississippi in week 4 and Oklahoma losing to Texas in week 6. Alabama, Texas and Texas Tech all lost after that and it cost them. Why is that? Because voters are stupid. They forget easily. Texas boasted the most impressive resume, in my opinion, having beaten 3 teams in the top 11 in the rankings in 3 consecutive weeks before losing to #7 on a last-second miracle TD pass. Not that what Oklahoma did wasn't impressive, but they were able to spread their games vs. highly-ranked teams throughout their schedule. It also goes to show that voters (and computers) can be swayed by style points. Oklahoma scored at least 60 points in each of the their last 5 games. Impressive, especially when considering that 3 of those games were against ranked opponents.

So instead of Texas playing a team like Oklahoma or Florida, they end up playing #10 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, a game they will likely dominate. And I can tell you this: Texas was pitted against Ohio State because beating Ohio State will prove nothing. Penn State beat Ohio State in Columbus earlier in the season, so it goes to show that Ohio State isn't that great this year. Not that Penn State is a bad team, but they are the one 1-loss team that probably isn't making too many bones about not being considered for the BCS championship game.

Now for the non-BCS teams. Three non-BCS teams were undefeated going into this past weekend: Utah, Boise State, and Ball State. Utah and Boise State both finished undefeated and were off in the final week, but Ball State had to play their conference championship game... against Buffalo. That's right, a team that needed a last-second hail mary to beat Temple was facing 12-0 Ball State in their conference championship. Well, Ball State did the BCS a favor by wetting the bed on Friday night and losing to Buffalo, making them just a pretty good team instead of possibly BCS-worthy. However, that still leaves Utah and Boise State. Utah was the original bracket-buster, beating Pitt in the in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Boise State is the latest bracket-buster, beating Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl on a 2-point conversion, statue of liberty play in the waning seconds of what many call one of the greatest bowl games in history. Both teams have proven themselves to be legit, but only one is allowed to play in a BCS bowl game. Is that really fair?

The problem here is the bowl committees. Each bowl game has a committee that decides who plays in its bowl. The BCS bowls, however, have stricter rules that apply to their bowls. For instance, the Rose Bowl always features the Big Ten conference champion vs. the Pac-10 conference champion. The Orange Bowl always features the winner of the ACC championship. This year, the committees had a chance to buck these old-fashioned trends and go in a new direction. But they didn't. Instead, we will see #19 Virginia Tech play #7 Texas Tech in the Orange Bowl, instead of giving a team like Boise the opportunity to face off against a power conference team. What an interesting matchup Boise vs. Texas Tech would present. Instead, Texas Tech will likely blow out the undermanned VaTech. Note to the BCS powers that be: if you want to increase the viewership of the BCS, create interesting matchups like these and throw out your old-fashioned bowl committees.

I read an excellent article last week about the BCS and a plan to implement a playoff system. I've read a hundred of these things and I can't really agree 100% with any of them. With this article, I came close. The writer proposed a system that mirrors college basketball's March Madness. It consists of a 16-team playoff, but with a twist. The twist is that, like in college basketball, the winner of every conference in Division 1-A would receive an automatic bid in the tournament. Think about it. There are 11 conferences in NCAA Division 1 football. That's 11 automatic bids and 5 at-large. The bracket presents some interesting matchups. And before you jump on me and say that schools like Buffalo and Troy don't stand a shot, think of the NCAA tournament. Lower-seeded teams pull off upsets every year. Why should football be any different? The excitement that this system would generate would be great for everyone involved: students, fans, and schools alike. Teams like Troy would generate so much revenue that they could use to fund their football program and expand it and grow it. Some people say there's parity in college football. I say it's just schools becoming more competitive and this would be a great way to advance that.

One argument would be that they couldn't play games on neutral sites. Who cares? Have the higher-seeded team play host. Home-field advantage plays such a role in college football, so why take that out of the tournament? It keeps the atmosphere of college football fresh for the playoff games and gives students of the schools involved more a chance to attend. You could still have the championship game rotate sites and you can even still use the same sites that are currently used for the championship.

Some will argue that the season would be too long. That's just B.S. First of all, the college football season is shorter than any other season. Oh no, some teams might play 16-17 games in a season. How awful! The NFL regular season is only 16 games, so for the masses of players that are thinking of going pro, here's your chance to show that you can endure a longer season. The real problem with college football is that the games run longer because of the game rules. Tweak those game rules a bit to make them more like the NFL and you don't have to worry about players getting worn down.

And to those who say that the season could run through January and into February with the added weeks, I say "nay". What we need is to start the playoffs the week after the regular season ends, this weekend, and run through December. You can even take a week off for Christmas and finish it up the first week of January. To me, taking a month off before playing in your bowl game is worse. You can get rusty this way and it just isn't a good system. The real problem with scheduling is that it's not uniform throughout the NCAA. There are 17 official weeks in the NCAA football season, and yet teams only play 12-13 games. Let's reform scheduling and then we can talk about having a playoff that will end around New Year's.

Some will argue that too many students will miss finals. While it's true that there isn't a Division 1 school that doesn't have finals at some point during the month of December, since when did school presidents care about this? Every year lots of college basketball players miss mid-terms to play in the NCAA tournament. The tourney is about 4 weeks long, depending on how far your school goes in the tourney. Then there are conference championships the week before and those run all week. So don't come with that lame excuse. You can work something out. These kids are making your school a lot of money in revenue. You can find a way for them to take their finals around the playoffs.

The final argument is that having a playoff system would undermine the integrity of the bowl games. I have to say that I agree with this 100%. Kind of. It may undermine the integrity of the BCS bowls (i.e. the more important ones, or the "New Year's Bowls" as we like to call them). I say, keep them. Create an extra game for some teams that lose in the playoffs. Sure, it won't mean anything, but does it really mean anything now? Think of it. Penn State plays USC in the Rose Bowl, for what? What does the winner really get? They have no shot at the national title. Bragging rights. Recognition. And a bouquet of roses. That's all they get. Well guess what? If Penn State and USC both lose in the second round of the playoff and played each other in the Rose Bowl, the winner would still get all of those things. You can keep all the other bowl games if you want. The ones that don't mean anything, like the Meinke Car Care Bowl or the Bowl, of even the Insight Bowl. Schools relish the chance to play in a bowl, even if their record is only 6-6. To be honest, though, bowl games are such an old-fashioned thing. And it's kind of gotten out of hand, hasn't it? Is there really any integrity in bowl games anymore? Teams that finish the season .500 can, and usually do, make a bowl game. In 2008, there will be 34 bowl games (including the BCS bowls and national championship game) with the addition of the EagleBank Bowl and the St. Petersburg Bowl (really?). That means that 68 out of the 119 Division 1 football teams will be playing in a bowl game. That almost guarantees that schools with .500 records or worse will be playing in the postseason. How much pride, really, does a school get from playing in the New Mexico Bowl? But if they are that important to you, keep them. I guarantee that eventually, every school will play in a bowl game, just so we don't leave anyone out.

The whole point to this overly drawn-out rant is to say that the system needs to change. But the change doesn't just consist of instituting a playoff and getting rid of the BCS. There need to be sweeping changes across the board, from the structure of the regular season schedule to the rules of the game to make games shorter to the conference championship system to the postseason and national championship determination. One line in the article I referenced above struck me. It said that school presidents aren't opposed to a playoff system. They just haven't been presented one that makes sense yet. While I doubt that this system will ever be proposed to the school presidents, I do think that it would work and it's a shame we may never see it in action. Unfortunately, it would require too many broad changes to the game and the stuffy old alumni that run the BCS system would never go for it. Not while they had their money to throw around at it.

Imagine that: me, a staunch Republican, preaching about change.


  1. Given the topic of your post, I thought you might enjoy this: