Friday, December 10, 2004

Big Cash System

So many things to blog about, so little time. Well, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has the distinct advantage that all the players are settled, but we have almost a month before the actual event. So let's talk about what went wrong and why.

The BCS is supposed to give us the two best Division I college football teams fighting for the National Championship. Instead, it gives us pretty good teams fighting for the Championship, and leaves everyone else outside looking in. Sometimes this works. But not often (numbers in parenthesis indicate pre-championship game record):

Season Bowl Winner Loser Controversy
1998 Fiesta Tennessee (12-0) 23 Florida State (11-1) 16  
1999 Sugar Florida State (11-0) 46 Virginia Tech (11-0) 29 
2000 Orange Oklahoma (12-0) 13 Florida State (11-1) 2 FSU beaten by Miami (10-1) during season
2001 Rose Miami (11-0) 37 Nebraska (11-1) 14Nebraska lost to Colorado (10-2) in final game of regular season. Colorado was Big 12 champion.
2002 Fiesta Ohio State (13-0) 31 Miami (12-0) 24 (2 OT)Actually, this was the best BCS championship game
2003 Sugar LSU (12-1) 21 Oklahoma (12-1) 14 Oklahoma lost Big 12 Championship Game to Kansas State. USC (11-1) left out in cold, though ranked above OSU in the polls.

(Thanks to and for the preceding data.)

This year, it's worse. There are not one, not two, not three, but five, count'em, five teams with perfect records: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah, and Boise State. Six if you count Harvard, who graciously declined to play in a bowl game. So many undefeated teams that Boise State doesn't even get to play in a "BCS" auxillary bowl -- heaven forbid, it's bad enough that Utah is in one.

In the past, the BCS has used the excuse "we'll get it right next year." They tweak the system. Conference champions get screwed? We'll give them a point. Oh, but then strenght of schedule isn't taken into account. No, wait, we're depending on the computers too much. No matter, the next fix would work.

And then the nightmare happened -- not only did a non-BCS interloper (Utah) make it into the sacred bowls, but one of the "real" BCS teams was denied entry into the Championship game even though it had a perfect record -- because there were three perfect teams.

I believe the next fix is going to be addition of an extra bowl game, one held between the "best" two winners of the traditional BCS bowls. That won't work, either, for the simple reason that the Utahs and the Boise States are getting good. They get nearly as much TV exposure as the BCS teams (quick: who plays on a blue field?), and they're getting the players. One day, soon, a non-BCS school will have a plausible argument to being the best team in the country, and it's going to get shut out of the championship game.

The solution, of course, is a playoff, as every other NCAA division has for football. An 8 team playoff (which quite probably would have included California over Texas) would have been OK, but a 16 team playoff is better. This year we could have had the games start last week, the Elite Eight tomorrow, the Final Four next week, skip Christmas, and have the Championship on New Year's Day.

It won't happen of course. One reason is the difference between money in hand and money which can be made. The money in hand comes from the 28 bowl games. This year, unless it is too disfunctional (e.g. Clemson and South Carolina), just about any team with a winning season got into a bowl. That's a lot of money. (If you think it's not about money, note this just in: the NCAA is "considering" making 12 games a year the standard, every year.)

Of course, a real championship would make even more money, just as the basketball tournament makes a ton more than a set of Big 12/Big 10(11) -- Pac 12/SEC -- ACC/Big East tournaments would make. But that money is in the future, so it's hard to see.

And, of course, there is an issue with (gasp) finals. Many commentators like to make fun of this. It's true that every other Division has football championships and finals, and it's also true that many Div-IA players aren't at school to make grades. But last year the last championship was on Dec. 19, a week before Christmas. There's only one (1) game on the whole Div.IAA schedule during the two weeks before Christmas: prime finals time.

Anyone think the Big Guys want to wrap up the season on Dec. 18? Of course not. First, the big bowl games have always been on Christmas, and with a 12 game schedule the season can't end before Thanksgiving. So any playoff will have to span the finals, or not start until around Christmas. Or, the colleges will have to admit that we're really looking at the NFL minor league and give the players a free pass through the finals. As long as we're supposedly in it for the education the NCAA is going to have a problem with finals and Division IA football. While the hypocrisy goes on there will be no IA playoff.

But waiting in the wings: one of these years, Utah and Boise State, or their counterparts in the non-BCS Div.IA, will be the only undefeated teams in the nation. And not only will they not play for the championship, one of them will be left out of the best bowls.

And then the fur will fly.