Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The BCS Worked Perfectly, Which Proves We Need a Playoff

I sincerely love Bleacher Report for many reasons. The primary reason is that, although some of our members get carried away with their passion at times, you almost never have to question motives. Either the person is a peach or he/she is biased towards a certain team/school to a fault.

The latter bothers me very much and I am brutally hard on such fans. But in truth, I respect that source of delusion above all others.

For instance, when Ray Bogusz pens his excellent defense of the Bowl Championship Series system, I don't have to worry about such sinister influences as corporate bias, television revenues, ad dollars, etc. To be perfectly accurate, such is possible just highly unlikely. The only legitimate gripe might be that the BCS favors a school for which Ray roots.

I despise that reasoning, but I'll read it since it's consistent with the spirit of competition.

Let me be clear, the preceding was a hypothetical.

The article in question is under no such influence in my humble opinion. I'd say Ray is absolutely correct to defend the BCS; it functioned exactly as designed in the situation is was created to handle. As far as I'm concerned, the results are perfect.

Arguably the two best teams (Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners) and absolutely the two hottest teams are squaring off for the BCS' portion of the crown.

The other bowl match-ups are far from ideal in terms of competition, but that's not what they're designed for. Nobody really cares about third or fourth (or even second for that matter). Those bowls are about one thing: dolla, dolla bill y'all.

Which is why I still disagree with Ray (another thing I love about B/R - usually you can disagree as if you're debating with a close friend i.e. without personal insults).

Dr. Bogusz dispatches with the 16-school playoff format quite effectively. I can neither muster nor imagine a sufficient counterargument. I'd be interested to hear one, but anyone who makes such an attempt should know going in that he/she needs to bring a lunch.

My stance on the BCS is public knowledge (whether or not anyone read it is a different matter). Also part of the public domain is my eight-team playoff proposal. There's no need to regurgitate either.

I'll just hit the high points while playing Devil's advocate and attacking the only vulnerable part of the good Doctor's defense - his dismissal of the eight-school format.

1. A playoff must include all conference champions to end the griping.

A 16-school format may stifle all of the marginally justifiable complaints and it is certainly true than an eight-school format would not. However, I don't think putting a stop to all such complaints is necessary.

Using the NCAA basketball tournament as an example (as Ray did) is perfect.

That tournament (as the smaller football version would be) is about crowning a National Champion on the playing surface. This gets obscured a little since the mystique of the overall tourney has grown such that a mere trip is a considerable reward.

There are 34 chances to make the tournament and yet, bitter moaning at the onset of every March is as sure as taxes the following month.

The truth, though, is that there's absolutely no reason to complain. First and foremost, the primary reason for the tournament is to crown a winner. If you haven't clearly distinguished yourself as one of the 34 teams worthy of an at-large berth, you simply cannot make a reasonable argument that you deserve a shot to play for that ultimate prize. Not via probability of success and not by merit.

Furthermore, the difference between challengers gets smaller and the ability to distinguish between them gets more difficult the more removed you get from the top competitors in any sport.

Some other squad might get in that's less-deserving, but the margin is negligible.

Against this backdrop, consider the smaller version we'd have in college football. Even more so, this tournament would be about crowning a National Champion. Realistically, there are only eight to 10 schools who have a shot at this title on a given year.

Again, I'd argue this year is an abnormally-open field and there are really only 10 schools you could seriously argue for - the top 10 in the BCS (more evidence that the BCS did it's job).

But, even in this outlying year, I'd say there are three squads you could omit without losing sleep - the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and the Boise State Broncos. In that order. All three would have good reason to complain, and complain they would.

Still, does anyone really think those three would win out? I'd include Boise State since it beat everyone on its schedule and the last team in the tourney should be more about merit than probability of success.

Most importantly, I see no great tragedy in leaving any of the three for a bowl game.

2. Selection would require a committee, which is vulnerable to the same complaints.

My rebuttal to this would look very much like the above. The statement is true, but I just think that those complaints aren't too problematic.

Using the final BCS poll as a guide, the decision is an easier one. The schools left at home (even in the worst-case scenario) just wouldn't find too many willing allies in their opposition since their omission would not detract from the playoff's ultimate results.

3. Smaller schools would still get the shaft, even after going undefeated.

Continuing with the pattern, this is true to a degree. Had Ball State managed to remain lossless, the Cardinals would have been on the outside looking in.

And again, tough.

The eight-school format would have included two Davids (Utah Utes/Broncos) and, most other years, Ball State would be doing the football version of the Dance.

Ultimately, my response would be that there will never be a system that ends all complaints. The 64-school field of the basketball tournament proves this. Dividing up the money will always be another such source as will travel, exposure, etc.

But I think there are only two serious and unforgivable problems with the BCS: it precludes small conference teams from playing for CFB's highest honor and it does not sufficiently settle the matter between the sidelines.

This year, Utah went undefeated while playing a legitimate schedule. It was more difficult than those played by some of the big boys. And the Utes never had a real shot at playing for the Crystal Football.

Not only that, but this is the second time in five years the Utes have gone undefeated under the BCS regime. Having already achieved the feat in 2004, what else must they do to get a shot at CFB's brass ring?

As for settling the matter, Florida and Oklahoma should be playing for the National Championship. They have proved that on the field. But the Texas Longhorns, Alabama Crimson Tide, USC Trojans, and Penn State Nittany Lions can all cry foul into considerably receptive ears.

And the system worked perfectly.

The eight-team format wouldn't be perfect, it wouldn't silence all the gripes, and it would have its critics.

But it undeniably solves the two biggest problems and, in my opinion, the only two unforgivable problems the sport could possible have.

Ironically, they were the two biggest problems with the preceding system as well.

With all due respect to my man, Ray, that they persist is further proof it's time for a change.

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