Before you throw rocks at your screen, let me stipulate that I am NOT making the case for keeping the BCS system. I am excited to see the beginning of the next era in football championships, which begins next season.
However, as we prepare to pull the plug on what will no doubt be referred to in years hence as “the BCS era” in major college football, it is high time to finally give the BCS its due. By that, I mean it’s about time to compare the BCS to what it replaced, instead of the system replacing it, let alone some notion of championship utopia. This is a concept that somehow escapes all the wizards at ESPN, let alone sports-talk radio nation.
Besides, we always remember the good in a eulogy anyway.
And unlike the Titanic, the Hindenburg – or ObamaCare – the BCS actually has largely accomplished its mission statement. Somehow, people talk as if that mission was to conjure up a perfect National Title match every year – all while solving the mysteries and vagaries of polls and rankings – and yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
The BCS was brought into existence for two simple reasons: First, this system was devised in order to put the top two ranked teams in the same bowl game while preserving the existing bowl tradition and structure. In case you haven’t noticed, these long standing bowl committees, private/public enterprises usually, are extremely powerful, and fans love them. The second BCS mission meanwhile was to make boat loads of money. On the subject of the first, the BCS often succeeded. On the second, well, I think their only problem was being a bit too triumphant while being perpetually lousy at PR.
Concerning item A, it should also be pointed out that the BCS is not responsible for the human nature element in bickering over rankings. This bitching existed prior to the BCS, and will continue to do so forever. To hear the BCS discussed on radio or cable, you would think that the evil BCS invaded the planet Earth merely to bring subjective rankings into existence as a pox upon the sports world. Frankly, I don’t remember the BCS ever promising that they would do a perfect, or even better job, of ranking teams. It was simply a system to lock numbers one and two into the same game, once those teams were determined in this admittedly imperfect universe. Their mistake was the PR snafu of allowing this ranking compilation to be called the BCS standings. That’s where all the irritation is in the first place. I can’t wait for the unhappiness next year over the rankings, of say, teams 3-6. And there will be no BCS to cuss at.
Moreover, it is instructive to remember the pre-BCS bowl system and those conference alignments. Under historical and traditional conference ties with the Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar Bowls, it was pretty much guaranteed that the top two teams would not play each other. Remember Brigham Young winning a National Championship, beating Michigan, 6-6 Michigan no less, in The Holiday Bowl? In early December? How about Georgia Tech and Colorado sharing a title in 1990? That’s right, Tech took the UPI ‘title’ while the Buffs captured the AP. Colorado was only in this position because in the regular season they beat Missouri by scoring the winning touchdown on fifth and goal late in the game. Yes, fifth and goal.
Oh, at times, it was ugly, confusing and bizarre. So much so that people didn’t really care that much about the football national championship. New Years Day had it’s four bowl games, and after the hangover, it was one to the NFL play offs and college basketball and oh, yeah, who won the um, title again?
In fact, it was the BCS that ushered in some semblance of order starting in 1998. You might say it was the BCS that really made people care about what used to be called the “fictional national title” in the first place. It has been a far from perfect work in progress to be sure, and several changes have been made along the way. And yes, the BCS members are arrogant and insufferable turf protectors, but that’s another issue. Yet without a doubt, the BCS was a vast improvement on the non-system it replaced, and that’s all it was supposed to be. Any expectation that it would magically make controversy over rankings go away is a problem on the part of those who held that silly notion.
Somehow, that’s the vital perspective that goes missing in most BCS analyses. It was better than what it replaced, and what is replacing it will be better still. This is exactly how things are supposed to work.