Is it really the last BCS title game?
Posted January 6, 2014
The day has finally come. Late Monday night -- or maybe, more accurately, some time early Tuesday morning, seeing as it takes at least four hours to play a 60-minute college football game these days -- either Florida State or Auburn will don "BCS Championship" hats and the most vilified era of college football will come to a close. And, when I say "vilified", I'm talking big-hair 90's and disco 70's type of condemnation.
Like those two eras of popular culture, there are but a select few who will look back on the past decade and a half fondly. Others will cringe at the memory, but chalk it up to the reality that it was simply the way it was "back in the day". Meanwhile, those of you who lived through the disco days, still stop on "70's on 7" when "Stayin' Alive", or "Jive Talkin" pops up. And you children of the 90's, you still smile at the yearbook photos from 20-plus years ago and wish you still had the locks to pull it off. Alas, those days are long gone, though they still elicit a smile.
For some, that's how the Bowl Championship Series will rank in their hearts. If you're Roy Kramer, the commissioner of the SEC at the time of its conception and the "Father of the BCS", you may weep tears of joy at what the concept has meant to your league, specifically. The Southeastern Conference won the very first BCS title game, with Tennessee beating Florida State, and they're in the throws of a 7-year streak in which they have simply dominated the sport, something totally unprecedented in any league, pro or college.
Heck, I wouldn't be completely surprised if current SEC boss Mike Slive wore black the rest of the week, regardless of the outcome Monday night in Pasadena.
I know there are others who loathe the system and I fully understand many of the points. The BCS has certainly created a national view on what was, for almost a century, a very regional sport. It has absolutely widened the gap between the have and have-not conferences to the point that if you're not in a power five league you have virtually no chance at all of winning a championship. While there was added access to one of the big-money games, extra cash and the feeling that you have a chance to win it all are entirely different notions.
Of course, non-traditional programs had almost no chance of staking a claim before the BCS, and there was very little chance of a match up of #1 and #2 in a bowl game prior to this system, so I still fail to see the complete argument. In truth, the BCS as a concept was better than the BCS as it was practically carried out. Then throw in the fact that many bowls served to line the pockets of old men in suits almost as much -- and in some cases more -- as they served local charities and communities and the queasy factor had to escalate.
There can be no question that the BCS became one of the most controversial elements of the sports calendar. But, before we eulogize the system, as I've already heard some of my fellow media members opine, let's understand something very simple; the system really isn't changing.
The Bowl Championship Series is getting a new name, the College Football Playoff, but the practice is hardly undergoing an extreme makeover. In fact, it's hardly a playoff at all. What we're about to embark upon is nothing more than a "Football Four", chosen in a very similar fashion to what we have today. In almost every season since its inception, the BCS has had some debate over the second spot.
In 2000, Florida State ended the year 10-1 and was "chosen" to play unbeaten Oklahoma, even though the Seminoles lost to Miami and the Hurricanes had the same record. The problem was that the Canes lost to Washington who also finished 10-1. Put that season into next year's computer and we'd likely have those four teams fighting it out in semi finals, which is great. But the way we'd arrive at that juncture will change so little, it's not really worth debating.
In the end, college football has always thrived upon -- in fact, been almost completely driven by -- controversy. Debates around water coolers, on television, on talk radio, in the blogosphere have forever fueled interest in the game. Opinion polls have always chosen champions and, thanks to a system that has inexplicably removed data from the equation, that will continue for at least another decade.
Even though we're entering into the selection committee era of college football, let's not be completely naive to the fact that the opinion polls and the programs themselves will remain the chief factors in determining which four teams get to play-off for the championship. Don't get me wrong, I love what's about to happen to college football. But, I've been arguing for more than a decade that the Bowl Championship Series was good for the game. I do see it as having helped to create a season-long, single-elimination tournament, until we run out of unbeaten teams and then it morphs into a transitive property debate over what makes us feel better.
My feelings about the BCS haven't changed, I thought it cut to the chase, giving us a 1 vs 2 game that exactly zero other sports guarantees, without further burdening the free labor by adding a second season of games. But, I've always argued that the fatal flaw of the system was that, as was proven by the 2004 Auburn Tigers, there was no accounting for the third, qualified, major conference, unbeaten team. Oklahoma and Southern Cal were thought to be better than Auburn that year even though all three schools did exactly what they were charged with doing.
They won all of their games.
To me, what is about to happen is poorly named, it's not a College Football Playoff. A full-on playoff would have automatic qualifying teams, maybe conference champions, and possibly some wild card entries. You know, something that didn't start in the semi finals. I've always thought that the ACC men's lacrosse tournament was a bit dumb as, until this season anyway, we had just four schools playing the sport. I can't think of a credible major sport with a post season, in which the playoffs begin in the semi finals. Even NASCAR, a sport with rules that were initially written on a restaurant napkin and change periodically during the season, has a 10-race chase.
No, to me, this seems a lot more like a BBBCS, a Bigger (4 from 2), Better (because more is better), Bowl Championship Series. And, because I'm a firm believer in the fact that the players who are most responsible for reaching this pinnacle, as Cam Newton was when he brought Auburn to this point three seasons ago, don't receive anywhere close to a big enough slice of the pie, the fewer games involved the better it is for them. Let's be honest, every time you watch a future NFL player suffer a serious injury in a bowl game -- nothing more than a glorified exhibition with a Best Buy shopping spree -- it has to make you just a little sick to your stomach that the players are asked to put their career's in jeopardy just so a credit card company can run the same commercial 2,639 times over a 10-day span.
No matter which team gets to wear those insidious championship hats after the game Monday night, do us all a favor, don't eulogize or celebrate the passing of the BCS. Understand that the system isn't really changing, it's just growing. Just as the men's basketball tournament and every other sport's postseason has over the years. Maybe we'll have a real playoff someday. When that happens I'll be glad to write the epitaph of the Bowl Championship Series, and it'll go something like this…
'Here lies the BCS, a much-maligned system responsible for creating a billion dollar industry while making almost everyone connected to it wealthy -- well, other than the young men who actually play the games.' That's for a different tombstone, the one on the NCAA's rules on amateurism.
The BCS is dead, long live the BBBCS.