Will Anyone Defy The BCS?

December 12, 2008

Bowl season will begin shortly with 34 games of varying degrees of interest ready to be played. Once again, the Bowl Championship Series has kept up the yearly tradition of making college football look ridiculous by arbitrarily deciding which teams should play for the National Championship. This year? Florida and Oklahoma.

I could spend this article arguing for some variation of a playoff or at least a "plus one" system in College Football, but I won't. What's the point? No reasonable solution is likely to be considered for the very sad fact that there appears to be very little political will on the part of the writers or the coaches.

You disagree? Oh sure, there are going to be plenty of coaches complaining and there will be editorials written about the "urgent" need to have a playoff. But in the end nothing will happen, unless the Associated Press regains the courage it began to develop in 2004 and does the one thing that could have an impact: Defy the BCS and split the championship. To explain, let's go over a brief bit of BCS History.


THE PROBLEM: The BCS system began in 1998 and was set up primarily to make sure that the #1 and #2 teams played in the National Championship Game. In 2003, USC was ranked #1 in both human polls, but the BCS left them out of the championship game altogether. While LSU went on to win the BCS championship game USC blew out Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The Coaches poll was obligated to accept the BCS Champion as their own, but the AP had no such obligation and picked USC #1 in their final poll. Thus, LSU and USC shared the title.

THE SOLUTION: Nobody was satisfied with a "split" national champion and the BCS system was forced to reform by having the human polls account for 2/3 of its formula as opposed to only 1/3 as before. Also, the BCS was simplified to include only the computer numbers and the human polls, excluding other factors.


THE PROBLEM: In 2004, the BCS faced more controversy, this time involving which team would be guaranteed a lucrative BCS Bowl Birth. According to the rules in play, because undefeated Utah had earned the right to be in one of the BCS games, 1-loss Cal or 1-loss Texas would have to be excluded. The chosen team would play in the Rose Bowl. Cal had lost at #1 USC and Texas had lost to #2 Oklahoma. They were ranked #4 and #5 respectively.

After Cal's final victory of the season at Southern Miss, the Bears expected to participate in their first Rose Bowl since 1959. But voters in both the AP and Coaches poll changed their previous rankings after strong lobbying from Texas coach Mack Brown. 4 Coaches voted Cal down to #7 and 2 voted them down to #8. Despite numerous demands from the writers, the Coaches refused to reveal the ballots of each coach. Texas went to the Rose Bowl, and Cal played in the Holiday Bowl.

Equally as disturbing was the situation among the top 3 teams. USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn all went undefeated. The BCS chose USC v. Oklahoma in the championship game, leaving Auburn to play in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn went on to win in the Sugar Bowl, and finished undefeated. However, USC blew out Oklahoma in the BCS Title game and won both the BCS Crown and the AP National Championship on the strength of that performance.

THE SOLUTION: The Coaches Poll became public after the Cal-Texas fiasco and is to this day. The AP was so disturbed by the controversy that they pulled out of the BCS system altogether. At the time, this was seen as a bold move to effect change in the system. However, the AP Poll was quickly replaced by the "Harris Poll" and life went on as usual.

The lesson to be learned is that some significant change occured in 2003 when the AP split the National Championship. However, their decision to simply remove themselves from the BCS equation in 2004 did almost nothing to move College Football towards a more respectable postseason. Which all leads us to this season.

2008 - Who's really #1?

THE PROBLEM: Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Penn State, Alabama, and Texas Tech all have only 1-loss this season. Utah and Boise State are undefeated. Many may attempt to rationalize why Florida and Oklahoma are the chosen ones this year, but these "arguments" are pretty weak. Here are some of the problems, even when picking just among the BCS Conferences:

1. Does it matter when you lose, with the earlier loss hurting less? Then the rankings should be USC, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Penn State, Texas Tech, and Alabama in that order.

2. Does it matter if you lost at home or on the road, with road losses hurting less? Then the rankings should favor Texas, USC, Penn State, and Texas Tech who all lost road games as opposed to home or neutral field games.

3. Does it matter how good the team you lost to was, with losses to better teams hurting less? Then the rankings should be Alabama, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Penn State, and Florida in that order.

4. Does Head to Head matter? Then Florida over Alabama, Texas over Oklahoma, and Oklahoma over Texas Tech should matter quite a bit.

Other problems include how to include "strength of schedule" and how exactly to rate conference strength. You might say that College Football rankings have always been imperfect, but then why do we take them so seriously? Who really cares who the BCS thinks is #1 or #2?

THE SOLUTION: AP Voters should watch all the bowl games and then give their #1 Ranking to who they feel is the best team among Alabama, Texas, Texas Tech, USC, or Penn State. The winner of Florida and Texas will already earn the BCS Championship, so one of the other teams should get recognized as well.

By splitting the title as in 2003, the AP will be putting real pressure on the BCS to radically change or become less relevant. In 2004, the AP could have made a similar statement by not just pulling out of the BCS system, but crowning Auburn as the #1 team thereby creating Co-champions. Let's hope this year the AP Voters don't simply goose-step along with the BCS Masters in crowning a National Champion.

Is it a perfect solution? Of course not. But this is pre-playoff college football, so you just have to do what you can.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor of The Daily Sports Herald

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