Friday, January 9, 2009

Mr. President, Take Pity on a Working Man: Another Plea for Deliverance from the BCS

Alright, it's not a new angle. In fact, it's an incredibly stale angle—the Bowl Championship Series needs to go. You've heard it from your favorite sports writer, you've heard it from your favorite broadcaster, you've heard it from your friends, you've heard it from your family, and (to make sure the situation gets really absurd) you're heard it from the President-elect.

Yep. We've got two wars, the worst financial crisis most of us have ever seen, a humanitarian time bomb ticking in Gaza, and the soon-to-be leader of the free world is talking college football playoffs.

Suffice it to say that 2008 wasn't a great year for the BCS and 2009 isn't getting off to a great start.

But, get this, the picture could have been much worse. That's right. This isn't even the worst-case scenario.

It's bad, but what if Oklahoma had won? What if Texas blew out Ohio State as many thought (including myself)? What if Alabama had narrowly beaten Utah, maybe on a fluke score?

As it stands, the USC Trojans and Utah Utes are the only two schools that should be complaining. Texas required a touchdown in the gloaming of the Fiesta Bowl to stave off defeat at the hands of the Big 10's second-best squad and all the other 'One Loss'-ers got beaten.


However, the worst-case scenario would have seen Oklahoma, Alabama, Utah, USC, and Texas staking a legitimate claim to the coveted Crystal Football. Not to mention its Associated Press counterpart.

Having two schools grouse into very little national sympathy is quite a pretty little picture for the BCS considering it could have been five (including four heavy-hitters).

Don't get too comfortable, though, because NOW is when the real fun starts. Now is when fans and analysts start digesting the information that has inundated us for the past several weeks. Now is when the vultures swoop in to pick over the BCS' dead carcass.

This year, it's a big carcass and there's plenty to go around.

Already, we're seeing individual final rankings come out and stories dissecting the top schools still standing. On Bleacher Report alone, I've seen several rankings that have Texas above USC. I've even seen one putting Texas ahead of Florida. Not surprisingly, I've run across several articles—here and on other sites—making the argument that Utah is the real National Champion.

To which I have the following reaction:

1. Utah the best team in college football—insane

2. Texas over USC—really insane

3. Texas over Florida—really, really insane

4. I can say the above is insane, but I can't say any of it is wrong.

How ridiculous is that?

The thinking goes that Utah finished undefeated, beat everyone who agreed/was forced to play it, beat a school that defeated USC (Oregon State), stomped out a school that Florida struggled with (Alabama), and everyone else has at least one loss.

I can't argue any of that because it's all true. Furthermore, under the BCS system, Utah probably should be the National Champion—it didn't lose, beat some strong opponents, and no other school can say that.

But could Utah beat Florida or USC?

I doubt it and I think a lot of other fans do too. I think it's crazy to look at the difference in caliber of opponents and conclude that Utah is equal to those other two schools, but that's what the BCS demands.

Of course, the BCS demands it and proceeds to ignore it. What a wonderful system.

The thinking goes Texas belongs ahead of USC because its only loss (on the road to Texas Tech) is much better than USC's single loss (on the road to Oregon State). But how is one loss the better measure of a squad's strength than the 11 or 12 wins? Furthermore, how do we know that Texas Tech (who got handled easily by Ole Miss) is better than Oregon State (who won its bowl game and played in a conference that survived the bowl season undefeated)?

Additionally, what about the fact that USC destroyed the Big 10's best representative (Penn State) in a single half while Texas required the full 60 minutes to put away Ohio State (a school PSU beat during the regular season)?

Of course, using common opponents and single losses is a terribly inaccurate method of comparing schools. The transitive property works wonderfully in math; not so much in the world of CFB. Just because school A beats school B who beats school C, that doesn't mean school A will beat school C—match-ups shake down differently, weather might be a factor, injuries might change the gameplan, etc.

Yet, under the BCS, this faulty method becomes one of the cornerstones of assessment.

And what happens when A beats B, who beats C, who beats A? That's easy.

The universe implodes, the BCS one at least.

The thinking goes Texas belongs ahead of Florida because...well, I can't really come up with a rational argument for that one. It's just absurd.

But they never played, so I can't say it's wrong.

No, a college football playoff system would not be perfect. No, it would not solve every single problem facing the process of crowning our national champion. No, it would not be impervious to attack from a school that felt slighted.

Here's another newsflash—it wouldn't cure cancer or AIDS or world hunger or religious fundamentalism either.

What it would be is a damn sight better than what we've got. It would be an infinite improvement over the BCS.

At the very least, it would be one less thing for Barack Obama to worry about.

That's good enough for me.

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