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Suffering Through the BCS

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There is a new champion in college football and hardly anyone outside of Gainesville, Florida seems all that thrilled about it.

Certainly there is always going to be a little jealousy creeping in anytime someone other than your favorite team wins something of consequence. Thus a little bashing of the Florida Gators, or whoever else might have found themselves in their position, is expected. But this season, just as the season before it and the season before that, the din has grown louder for a playoff system for Division I football. And this season, just as the season before it and the season before that, the folks who bring about the Bowl Championship Series could care less about your concerns.

What most people forget, however, is that Division I already has a playoff system so arguing about creating one is misplaced. The real problem that never gets articulated is that the current playoff system is too restrictive. It’s basically a two-team playoff with those teams picked by a confusing amalgamation of polls.

At some point, the critics of the BCS will get their way. In the current economic environment almost anything that at one time seemed unimaginable is likely to happen. It is easy to envision a collapse of the sacred bowl system on a purely fiscal basis, which would eliminate the major obstacle to a more expansive playoff. But even if that doesn’t happen, eventually those who really control sports in this country, the broadcast networks, will force a comprehensive playoff system on the naysayers and protectionists that refuse to budge to logic and reason.

But until that happens, the best way to fix the BCS is to simply abolish it. On pure merits, a one-game playoff will always yield far more controversy than it will solve. There simply is no way to satisfy the number of teams with a claim on one of two slots and far too many variations and lack of comparators to ever insure that those voting in these polls will get the top two teams correct.

This season is instructive but nearly any season in the past 10 would do. To my eyes, USC was the best team I’ve seen this season. I understand they lost to Oregon State, which lost to Penn State. I understand, too, that their head coach, Pete Carroll, keeps finding a way to underprepare his team at least once a season which leads to them being on the outside looking in more often than not. But having watched USC dismantle both Penn State and Ohio State this season, it was easy to see that this is a team with far more talent from top to bottom and side to side than any other team in the country.

Maybe you’re one of those that believe that wins against Big Ten teams are meaningless. But having watched Ohio State do everything right but win against, first Penn State and then a Texas team that was far more highly ranked convinced me that Ohio State wasn’t nearly the patsy that many believed.

The SEC had their share of good teams, including the national champion, again this year. Florida is clearly a very good team. But is it just another good team made better because of the presence of college football’s best player, Tim Tebow? Oklahoma seemed unstoppable heading into the game with Florida, despite its one loss. But a team averaging 50 points a game or more for a good part of the season couldn’t get more than 14 on Thursday night. Florida, too, was having its way with every team prior to Oklahoma, almost scoring at will against them, and yet only managed 24 points against a highly suspect Oklahoma defense.

And let’s not forget about Utah. They dominated Alabama, a number one team for a healthy part of the season.

The point, though, is not to trash any of these teams or to argue against Florida this year. It’s simply to note that the outcome of the Florida-Oklahoma game solved nothing. Florida is still a one-loss team, just like USC and Texas. Utah is still undefeated. Each has a legitimate argument for why it’s better than the other, even if you don’t share their viewpoint.

It’s not as if anyone outside of those with a vested interest in the BCS system thought that the outcome of the Florida-Oklahoma game would solve anything going in. Thus it’s not a surprise they still feel that way coming out. In other words, it’s pure fantasy to say that whoever wins the BCS national championship game is an undisputed champion. It’s not designed to yield that result, no matter its claims.

Given what’s undeniable, why play the game at all? If a playoff in major college football is too logistically complicated for this nation to solve, a nation that solved the logistics of landing men on the moon and getting a package from Anchorage to Poughkeepsie overnight by the way, then stop trying. Stop acting as if the worst thing in life is different polls crowning a different teams number one.

The argument against the BCS is all the more compelling when you consider the unintended consequences this convoluted system has created. Essentially, the BCS system has chosen to sacrifice the value of a winning a conference championship in its quest to bring relevance to one game being played later and later each January. At the same time it’s also rendered meaningless every other bowl game except the self-titled National Championship game.

From a fan’s perspective, there simply is nothing meaningful about winning the Big Ten anymore, as an example. All it does is get you in the Rose Bowl. It doesn’t necessarily get a team a leg up on getting into the BCS title game. Indeed, given how little respected the Big Ten is these days, being the Big Ten champ carries all the prestige of being the prettiest girl in shop class.

The same goes for the Pac 10. If any major conference is less appreciated than the Big Ten it’s the Pac 10. USC is almost always a good team and the rest are almost always not. USC has its way in that conference every year, well in every year in which they take each game seriously anyway. It wasn’t the loss to Oregon State that kept USC out of the National Championship game, it was the lack of respect pollsters have for the conference.

But if there was no BCS at all, and it’s not hard to remember when that was the case, winning the conference carried not only prestige but a real chance to be crowned number one by someone, even if not by a consensus. This year’s Rose Bowl would have taken on far more meaning for both Penn State and USC and would have carried far greater implications if it had been on equal footing with all of the major bowl games. But since there was a BCS National Championship game looming with two other teams, it carried all the significance of a Randy Lerner press conference. The same is absolutely true of the Sugar Bowl game between Alabama and Utah. While it may have been sort of fun to watch Utah dominate a SEC team, it carried no meaning.

What I miss most are the days when there was a compelling reason to watch the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. Now those games are just pictures at an exhibition with the added benefit to the teams of a lot of cash to keep them wedded to the current system.

When the presidents of the major conferences and their surrogates at the BCS say they aren’t interested in a playoff, they really are saying they aren’t interested in bringing certainty. Fine, then it would be great if they’d stop pretending they are by foisting a compromise on the public each year that is actually makes the problem worse, not better. Jettison the BCS games as the failed experiment they have become and really restore meaning to the bowl games you claim to you’re trying to protect in the first place.

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About Gary D. Benz