Friday, December 09, 2005

The BCS: It just won't go away

So here's the column I did for this week. Everyone whines about the BCS when it comes time for Bowl season, but I needed to throw a couple more sticks into the fire.

The BCS: It just won't go away

Turret Sports Editor

It's that time of year: sports fans nation-wide are once again bemoaning the Bowl Championship Series.

So much time has been devoted to deriding the BCS for its non-playoff system that it feels slightly redundant to rehash. This horse has been dead for a long time... but I think I'll give it a couple more kicks for good measure.

ESPN Classic ran a special last month in its "You Can't Blame" series which gave five reasons not to blame the BCS for a lack of college Division I-A football playoffs. Summarized, they are:

5 - The U.S. Supreme Court's 1984 ruling that colleges had the right to determine their television contracts, and that the NCAA had no say in the matter.

4 - That the BCS is an improvement over the old conference tie-in system, where, for example, the Rose Bowl would annually host the Big 10 and Pac 10 champions. While there may be no clear winner in the current BCS system, it at least removes the possibility of there being five or six teams crowned as "champions."

3 - Under the current system, the regular season acts as a sort of double-elimination playoff, since one loss may mean a team is out of the running for the national title, and two losses means a team is out almost for sure.

2 - The bowl games generate a lot of income for the participating schools.

1 - University presidents don't want to give up that money, and since the decision as to how to sell their contracts is up to them, the NCAA and BCS organizations are powerless to change anything.

I might be way off base here, but I think these five reasons are, without exception, lousy excuses.

Working from the top down, let's look at them one by one:

The first reason is a clear cop-out on the part of the NCAA. As an independent body, can't it determine who is granted membership? The NCAA certainly used that leverage when it came to renaming teams with names and mascots that were supposedly offensive to Native Americans.

Second: just because the BCS system is better doesn't mean it's good. The art of cooking certainly improved when humans started heating things over a fire, but we still had a fair way to go after that before we had the cheeseburger.

Third: The "season-acts-as-a-playoff" argument is little consolation to teams that wind up being ranked lower than they might thanks to the polling system. The fact of the matter is that polls are subjective, and it makes college football a lot more like a beauty pageant than it ought to be.

Fourth: The mafia made a lot of money during Prohibition by illegally selling hooch and having people murdered. How is revenue a valid excuse?

Lastly: University presidents claim they don't want a January playoff because it might interfere with academics. Nonsense. They have no problem with March Madness, and besides, they recently approved adding a twelfth regular season game to Division I-A football. The reason they don't want a playoff system is because they don't want to stake the revenue from the bowls on their teams' performances each year.

It's not hard to tell that it all comes back to money. You don't have to look any farther than the names of some of the bowl games: the Champs Sports Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and the Outback Steakhouse Bowl. With that much cash at stake, don't expect major changes to the BCS anytime soon.


I found this on my desk this morning in the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise: "BCS head: Football playoffs could be done, but we've chosen not to" (Associated Press, via the San Diego Union-Tribune). Confirmation, perhaps?

(Rep. Joe) Barton (R-Texas) questioned the concern about academics, citing a recent report that said 41 percent of this year's bowl-bound college football teams fall below the NCAA's new academic benchmark.

"Let's don't use (academics) as an excuse not to have a playoff system -- and then ignore it," Barton said.

He also wondered aloud whether money is the biggest reason there isn't a playoff.

"Doesn't it really boil down to that the major bowls ... don't want a playoff system because you think it's going to impinge on the money that the big bowls make?" Barton said.