A BCS Solution

So here we are again, basking in the glow of another thrilling college football season (nationally, at least. It got rather, um…monotonous here in Boulder. And then there was all that horsing around going on up at Penn State. Okay, it was a weird season…but exciting nonetheless). We’re giving a collective satisfied nod to the most deserving player actually winning the Heisman; anyone who brings Baylor to national relevance certainly warrants the honor, and probably a Stanley Cup and some sort of humanitarian award, too. We’re trying to get interested in college basketball again, while wholeheartedly and emphatically ignoring the early, meaningless, small-time bowl games, the names of which seem to get longer and more corporate-laden each year. And, as usual, we’re all feeling pretty darn unfulfilled with our spoon-fed national championship game.

Yes, this seems to be becoming an annual tradition: some combination of computers and human voters select the two teams that will compete in the (Allstate) BCS Championship Game, showing as much tact as John McCain when choosing presidential running mates (and, for that matter, enjoying a similar level of public support). The people revolt. The masses, up in arms, cry out at the injustice. “That’s a terrible matchup! What about (Team X)? They had a much better resume than (Team Y)! THEY should be playing in this game!” Fans of any team in the top 10 make impassioned arguments that THEIR team should be in the national championship game. Dan Patrick takes to the air, smugly questioning how Boise State and TCU, et al, continue to be left out of the BCS picture. Snubbed student athletes halfheartedly compete in lesser bowls. Bob Stoops is pissed about something; nobody is exactly sure what. It all seems unreal, how it could be happening again.

This year, unquestioned #1 LSU (13-0) plays questioned #2 Alabama (11-1). The issue here is not whether Alabama is the second best team in the country – they probably actually are. The problem is, not only did the Crimson Tide fail to win their own conference (the SEC); they didn’t even win their own division (The SEC West). LSU did. Yep, the top two teams in the country reside in the same half of one conference – not all that surprising, considering I’m pretty sure 40% of the players in the SEC aren’t actually human, but mechanically engineered killing machines. It’s just a different world down there.

Ok, so the two best teams are in the same division. Who cares? Well, America cares, because they don’t want to see a rematch. Indeed, that “1” on ‘Bama’s record came courtesy of the Tigers earlier this season, in a 9-6 overtime yawner that was, at the time, generally considered make-or-break for each team’s national championship hopes. (I know this is all review for most of you. Feel free to skip this section if you’re getting bored). “The Game of the Century,” it was hailed, though I’m pretty sure the marketing department hits us with that moniker once every few years. Regardless, I think we’re all feeling a little cheated for tuning in to this so-called must-see TV, buying into the idea that it actually meant something, and then months later come to find out that, no, just kidding, we should probably rethink this, you know what, Alabama gets another try. Never mind that whole game of the century thing.

“Every Game Counts!” the ESPN college football promos have told us all season. Except one, apparently.

So we raise a ruckus. We don’t want to see a rematch as the national championship game, especially of a game that – despite being a strong football contest – wasn’t very exciting the first time. Plus, why can’t Nick Saban just go away? He’s scaring the children. For over a month until the game happens, we stand around in circles and lament the tragedy. Then we sit down to watch the game. What else is there to do?

If only there was some system, one that would select title game participants organically. A system in which we would take all those one-loss teams – and hell, maybe some two-loss teams, too – and throw them into a proverbial bin. We could organize multiple games, where each team included would play another team in the pile; then, when the dust had settled, the winner could move on and the loser would be sent home. After that – and this is only if college football fans would be willing to accept such a progressive change – the winner of one game would play the winner of another, until only two teams remained. I understand if you’ve lost me here; it takes a radical mind to grasp such an unheralded concept. But in theory, ladies and gents, I suppose the last two teams without a loss in such a scenario, well, those two teams would play each other, with the winner being crowned national champion.

Wouldn’t that be something? Unfortunately, we currently don’t know of any system that would yield such a result. Sigh. So I guess we’ll just go forward with the BCS, for at the current time, there’s no other option.

Wait a minute…

Actually, as I think of it more, that actually kind of sounds like the system they use in the NFL, a fledgling startup league made up of college football castoffs. And as the wheels turn, you know, it also kind of reminds me of the systems they use in the NBA, MLB, the NHL, college basketball, women’s college basketball, and every other level of college football. A playoff! Yes! I knew there was a word for it.

Of course, a playoff would never work in the Football Bowl Subdivision of college football (the artist formerly known as Division 1-A), or at least that’s what the honchos at the BCS keep telling us. And this post isn’t really about making an argument for a playoff – that’s been well-documented, and at present time, isn’t the point. Most rational sports fans agree it’s time for a change, so we’re going to temporarily ignore the (obviously erroneous and self-serving) arguments BCS supporters offer for why a playoff just couldn’t be done, such as:

– The extra travel would create too much stress on the student athletes. (They do it in every other sport. The stress level of those athletes is just fine, thank you. And I do find it funny that we suddenly care about the “student” part of the equation, Messer’s Conference Realignment and Multimillion-Dollar Television Contract).

– Fans wouldn’t travel to multiple game sites. (Have multiple games at the same site over the course of a week. Can I introduce you to the NCAA Basketball Tournament? You may’ve heard of it.)

– The lack of a playoff makes every game vitally important. (LSU vs. Alabama, 2011. Enough said.)

– A playoff would do away with the bowl season, and many teams that would’ve previously gone to a lesser bowl game would get nothing. (The best argument yet, but I don’t see why we couldn’t just convert the BCS bowls (Orange, Sugar, Rose, and Fiesta) into playoff games, and keep the shitty smaller bowl games intact. I mean, they’re essentially meaningless without a playoff system – none of these teams are getting another shot after the bowl, even if they win – and they’d be equally meaningless with a playoff. Either way, we should still get the pleasure of watching Rutgers take on UAB in the Meineke Care Care and Auto Parts Holiday Bashathon Bowl Presented By Jack Links Beef Jerky, Inc., on December 27. These are the things that are important to fans.)


Okay, so I didn’t ignore the arguments; forgive me, I can’t help myself. Regardless, the list is not exhaustive, but these are the types of lines we’re given when we ask why they won’t change the system.

But here’s my question: why would they change the system?

Really. Why would the same people who are making millions upon millions of dollars of this system just discard it completely and institute something else? For as much as we, the fans, bitch and moan about the BCS, we still support it wholeheartedly. We decry the indecency of a manufactured title game, but we sit down in front of the TV to watch it when the time comes, contributing to ratings and ad revenue. We label the bowl system outdated, yet we travel in droves to the site where our team plays, filling the stadiums of the same games we call meaningless (at least those of us with the financial wherewithal do). The same people that rail for a change in the college football postseason are the ones feeding the current machine, and making it work. What incentive are we giving the swinging dicks at the Bowl Championship Series – and their cohorts – to change?

None. And that’s why the system won’t undergo any meaningful change until we, the fans, decide to actually commit to such a change. Yes, there are talks of a plus-one model, but those talks have been going on for years, it’s unlikely to happen in the near future, and plus-one provides little real progress while bringing on a new set of problems. It is not the true playoff most fans seek; that is not even being seriously discussed. The only way the bowls system will change is if we decide to change it. And the only way to do that is through the same means that drive the BCS and college football as a whole: the almighty dollar.

We as fans need to stop the hypocrisy of verbally pissing on the college football postseason, then turning around and supporting it with our dollars and eyeballs. No progress will happen until bowl game television ratings drop sharply and those football stadiums are half-empty on New Year’s Days. Then, and only then, those who control college football will take notice, for their financial windfall will start to disappear, their wallets start to thin. Until then – until we commit to making a real and meaningful statement – they will continue to stay fat, happy, drunk, and rich, and we will be footing the bill.

Don’t ask Congress to get involved; this is not their jurisdiction. The Senate and the House have many more important issues – issues of actual substance – to take care of, most of which they’ve proven they can’t handle anyway. The only likely outcome of a governmental intervention in college football would leave a lot of national issues even more neglected (if that’s possible) and make the bowl system even more fucked up (if that’s possible).

For a change to occur, we need to stop timidly accepting what is given us. Until we turn our backs and cross our arms at the things we claim to be fed up with, the machine will roll on, business as usual. If you actually want to see a change, please join me in doing something else during The Game of the Century, Part 2 on January 9.

1 Comment

  1. Samantha12-15-2011

    Rutgers are takin on ISU not UAB.

Leave a Reply

Sam Neumann | sam@samneumann.com | Boulder, CO