Does the BCS really solve the problem?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Sports Columnist

I once heard an interesting, and often appropriate, definition for the word "expert".

If you break the word down phonetically into two parts, "ex" basically means "has-been" and "spurt" is basically a drip under pressure.

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Pretty clever, huh?

Every now and then the so-called experts in the world of college football ­ specifically Division 1A college football ­ come up with a brilliant idea about how to finally decide, once and for all, who should be the national champion. Each time they try to convince us that this is the best plan ever ­ a sure-fire way to determine the undisputed best team in the land. It kind of reminds me of the products you see on the shelves in the grocery stores. Every year or so, it seems each item you buy is "new and improved", even though they tried to convince you last year that it was perfect the way it was.

In years past, it was just the good old-fashioned polls. A bunch of "experts", from who knows where, voted on who, in their educated opinion, was tops.

Of course it was up for debate even then. Which poll did you want to side with? The sportswriters’ poll or the coaches’ poll? This often ended up a fiasco when all was said and done. Each year it seemed you would wind up with No. 1 playing No. 4 in one bowl game and No. 2 playing No. 3 in another. So what happens when No. 4 beats the tar out of No.1 and No. 3 barely sneaks past No. 2? Who deserves the title? And what if No. 1, after losing to No. 4, still has a better record than No. 3, who beat No. 2? And what if No. 5 has a better record than all of them?

Sound confusing? It was.

And although that may sound like a far-fetched, hypothetical scenario, unfortunately it happened all too often. And to make matters even worse, sometimes the coaches and sportswriters would disagree, (imagine that), and you would have separate national champions in each poll. Anytime that happened, you would have fans suggesting the two teams play each other to determine who the real national champ was. Sounds like a great idea, but then you have No. 3 from one poll saying, "we could beat either one of ’em if we had the chance!" Then No. 4 from the other poll chimes in with, "hey, we DID beat No. 1 this year when we played ’em!"

Well, you get the picture

Then a few years ago, someone came up with the brilliant idea of the Bowl Championship Series rankings, usually referred to as the BCS rankings. The concept was, in part, a good one in the sense that you would always have No. 1 meeting No. 2 in a bowl game to determine the national championship. The problem was in the way they determined who was No. 1 and who was No. 2.

The first problem was getting computers involved. You’ve got to figure it wasn’t anyone from a Southeastern or Southwestern school that came up with this idea.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how any of us ever got along without computers. I’m not against computers. They just aren’t meant for judging the quality of a college football team.

Another huge problem with the BCS rankings was the fact that margin of victory was factored into the equation. I think we all got sick of watching the Spurrier’s and Bowden’s of the world calling fourth-quarter pass plays so they could score their 70th point against Southwest North Dakota A&M. Just to improve their BCS rank. The system definitely had its problems, as evidenced by Miami not being included in the championship game last year. Proponents of the BCS lucked out when Oklahoma, who at least was undefeated, won the game and quieted a few of its critics.

In an attempt to improve the system and discourage teams from running up the score, (or at least no longer encourage it), margin of victory was disregarded in favor of victories against highly ranked opponents. This is the lesser of two evils for sure, but it still depends on its own system to determine whether the opponent was highly ranked in the first place.

And then, just when they think all the kinks are worked out, Thanksgiving Weekend 2001 happens.

Nebraska, Miami, Oklahoma, and Florida were perched happily atop the polls, just as they probably would have been without the BCS. Then, quicker than you can say, "here we go again", Oklahoma found out (like Auburn) that you don’t look past in-state rivals as they fell to Oklahoma State, and No. 1 ranked Nebraska was humiliated (for lack of a stronger word) by Colorado.

Now look at the mess we have:

Miami’s a shoe-in if they beat Virginia Tech, which is not a given. Florida, at No. 2, must beat rival No. 6Tennessee and whomever they play in the SEC Championship if they hope for a shot at the title. Tennessee has a chance if it beats Florida and wins the SEC title game, but Oregon has an identical record (9-1) and is ranked ahead of the Vols. Texas is No. 3 and has only one loss, like Florida, but likely will be left out unless Florida loses, even if they beat Colorado (who squashed Nebraska). Also in the Top 10 with only one loss are Illinois and Maryland (who is ranked lower than Oklahoma with two losses). And let’s not forget that Brigham Young, the only other undefeated team in Division 1A besides Miami is way down at No. 12.

What’s it gonna take for Division 1A to have a playoff system? Every other division in every sport has one, and it works. It would have to be done without eliminating the bowls, which are huge moneymakers and a reward for the teams involved. So why not use the bowls that are already involved in the BCS on a rotating basis for a three-game playoff to determine the National Champ? For instance, No. 1 and No. 4 play in the Rose Bowl while No. 2 plays No. 3 in the Orange Bowl, with the winners playing in the Sugar Bowl for the Championship. The next year the Fiesta Bowl is included and one of the other bowls hosts the Championship game. All the other bowl games go on as usual, the top four teams only play one game more than they would have otherwise, and everyone’s happy.

Except No. 5.

And Brigham Young.

Hey, it was just a thought!