One Cheer for the BCS

A recent poll indicates that Congress has an approval rating of nine percent – “less than some diseases,” according to one observer.

Rotten Tomatoes gave Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill a Tomatometer rating of four percent, based on 75 reviews.

Yet I’m certain that a national survey asking “Do you approve of the current BCS system?” would come even closer to unanimity.

Its defects are obvious.  Two teams and two teams only.  One game.  Outsiders need not apply, unless all other options have been exhausted.  All other bowl games are rendered irrelevant.

Let’s not ignore the linguistic stupidity of calling something a “championship series” when it consists of wholly separate games, only one of which has any bearing on the championship.

But what about its advantages?  It is simplicity itself, and its purpose is to create the best matchup.  (Neither of those can be said about the rest of the BCS process.)  It always brings about a definitive result.  It doesn’t put an excessive additional burden on the athletes involved.  All other bowl games are rendered irrelevant.

In the dark ages when all the major bowls – and a host of minor ones – were played on January 1, conference affiliations often prevented the top two teams in the country from squaring off; if both won, it was up to the polls to decide the mythical national championship.  On rare occasions, a series of surprises and upsets early on the 1st turned a late matchup – usually the Orange Bowl — into the de facto battle for Number One.

Those times were exciting, with the tension and the anticipation ratcheting up throughout the day.  They are, however, as dead as the dodo, thanks to the consortium — or cartel — of bowls that has spread those games across several days to keep them from competing for attention.

(Don’t get me started on the ludicrous wait for the championship game.  I’m sure it makes sense to someone to play the climactic game under conditions radically different from those of the season, with six weeks to prepare for it.  I haven’t met him yet.)

The thrills of the exceptional New Years Days have been redistributed to the regular season, to weekends like the one just concluded.  The sequential fall of the O’s – Oklahoma State, Oregon, and Oklahoma – radically reshaped the path to the title.  In a playoff world, those upsets may have been no more significant than a loss in the conference tournament is to a top-ten basketball team.

Expanding the structure to add teams won’t eliminate controversy, it will just shift it downward in the polls.  The NCAA basketball tournament leads to cries of injustice from fans who insist their school deserves to be number 68 instead of 69; selecting four or eight or sixteen football teams will do nothing to stop the arguments.

Who would be the eight for this season?  (Forget 16; college football players are unpaid mercenaries going on a dangerous mission every week, and it would be harsh to volunteer them for four more on top of the season’s slate.)  The current BCS top eight are LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, Stanford, Boise State, and Houston.  Are they all more worthy than Oklahoma, Oregon, Kansas State, Georgia, Michigan State, or Wisconsin?  Who should the four be at the end of the season, when either Arkansas or LSU will have an extra loss?  There will always be arguments and disappointments, whatever the number.

Limiting consideration to the top two concentrates the mind wonderfully.  Every game is vital; every loss matters.  The season as a whole is better for that.

I’ll try to remember all those positives while slumbering through the LSU-Alabama rematch in January.

(published November 24, 2011)








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