Sunday, November 14, 2004

More B.S. from the BCS

This blog's focus has been, and will continue to be, mostly on politics and the media, but this weekend is as good a time as any to introduce you to my other great obsession: college sports, and -- surprise, I'm from Alabama! -- college football in particular.

Disclosure: I'm a lifelong fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide, but I'm not one of those fans who you see on ESPN wearing full body paint and a houndstooth hat and holding a roll of toilet paper taped to a detergent box, nor have I ever worn a three-piece suit to a game or smuggled alcohol into a stadium. Alabama victories make me happy, but I'm a fan of the sport above all else.

That's why this Bowl Championship Series garbage has me climbing the walls year after year. NCAA Division I-A football, as you probably know, is perhaps the only team sport in the country that doesn't hold a playoff to determine its national champion; instead, we're stuck with a bunch of bowl games with corporate sponsors whose contributions to bowl names over the years have ranged from awesome (Outback Bowl) to hilarious (Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl) to outright absurd (MicronPC.com Bowl). Most of these bowls serve a good purpose -- i.e., giving teams like North Texas something to look forward to after final exams -- but they continue to get in the way of the quest for a true champion. What we get instead is the BCS, which, like that man who cheats on his wife again and again, keeps vowing that I'll get better, baby, I promise, just give me another chance.

At the heart of the BCS is a convoluted, ever-changing mathematical formula that at various times has relied on poll rankings, computer rankings, strength of schedule, losses, and the winning numbers in the Illinois Lottery's Evening Pick 4. The BCS' noble goal is to pair off the two best football teams in the country to play for the national championship each year without upsetting the entrenched bowl system.

Which is great, except that it works about as well as a coin flip would. In the BCS' six-year existence, it has produced an undisputed national title game three times. In 2000, it matched unbeaten Oklahoma against a one-loss Florida State team instead of the one-loss Miami team that beat the Seminoles or the one-loss Washington team that beat the Hurricanes. In 2001, the BCS defaced the Rose Bowl with top-ranked Miami's shellacking of a Nebraska team that didn't even win its own division of its conference. And last year, we were left with a split national title as the BCS jobbed No. 1 USC, the Pac-10 champion, out of a title game berth against LSU in favor of an Oklahoma team that was destroyed in its conference championship game.

The BCS' performance is on track to drop under .500 this year. USC is back again, and thanks to political pressures -- see, you knew I'd come back to politics eventually -- pollsters will be damned if they allow the Trojans to miss their title shot twice in a row. It's at the No. 2 spot where things get tricky. Oklahoma, which started the year ranked No. 2 and has kept churning out consistent but fairly unremarkable wins, clings to the other spot in the title game. Meanwhile, Auburn, which emerged from the middle of the national pack, is continuing to annihilate everything in its path, just as it's done all year and just as I fear it'll do to my team of choice next weekend.

All three teams are undefeated. USC won't fall from the top spot unless it loses. So it's down to Auburn and Oklahoma. Who's the unquestionable, indisputable, undeniable No. 2 team in the land? Well, that's easy enough: They both are.

Of course, I haven't even mentioned Utah, a fourth undefeated team that vanquished the Texas A&M squad that Oklahoma didn't finish off until the last play of the game. Boise State, whose blue turf is the single greatest football innovation since the forward pass, could also finish unbeaten. So in a resounding victory for the creators of the BCS and the college presidents and athletics directors who irrationally refuse to permit a playoff, there's a very real possibility that three teams could finish 11-0 or 12-0 and have no chance to play for the national title.

End the madness, guys. Please. Just give us a playoff. Four teams, eight, 16, 117 -- I don't care; just do something. There is no legitimate argument against a playoff. You can set it up so players won't miss any extra class time; college players in Divisions I-AA, II, and III seem to do just fine with the playoff systems there. The regular season won't be devalued because teams will still be jockeying for position until the last snap. Most importantly to your athletics programs, you can make way more money from playoff games than from bowls. And most importantly to fans and boosters, you can give us a real, undisputed national champion.

Give the Evening Pick 4 a break, and give us a playoff.

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