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The Ryan King: Surprise! The BCS Messed Up

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It’s official (extremely early sidenote: I promise never to start another column with “It’s official”). If the 2011 season doesn’t strengthen the cry for a playoff in college football, nothing will. The BCS failed so mightily in selecting the ten best teams this year that it’s almost humorous—and that doesn’t even account for the national championship controversy.

Analysis of the BCS’s motives is fairly pointless after well over half a decade run by the system, but that doesn’t stop Sports Illustrated or ESPN from running ten page-long features on the matter titled “Breaking: BCS is Fueled by Money.” Of course it’s about the money. It always has been about the money, and, as long as college football refuses to make the switch, always will be about the money. If you haven’t realized that by now, you are either not very familiar with collegiate sports or you’re an SEC fan. The real problem plaguing the college football world is not the fact that the BCS is run by corrupt businessmen, it’s the mentality of the fans now that they’ve discovered that fact. Many become complacent when faced with the truth, assuming a mindset along the lines of “Well, if lots of guys in suits have large stakes in the BCS then there’s no real hope for a playoff and we should all stop thinking about it.” Not so much.

My point is, analysts and writers all over the country are throwing the same anti-BCS facts at the wall (“The little guys have no shot!” “ The guys at the top will never change their minds!” “No money is going to the schools!” “No one cares about the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl!”) and hoping something sticks, which is really trite and just plain irritating at this point. That does not, however, make it acceptable to just sit on the couch watching another lackluster BCS game and try to come to terms with the fact that nothing is going to change. Well, the sitting on the couch part is perfectly fine, but the latter part is not—mainly because things are going to change. Eventually.

The main argument of BCS proponents who aren’t personally receiving money from the system is that the implantation of a playoff would reduce the drama of the regular season. That’s true, to an extent—part of the charm of college football is that one slip-up in a twelve-game schedule is enough to eliminate a team from title contention. It’s exciting, yes, and certainly adds an intense, playoff-like atmosphere to the season that no other sport possesses, but it really doesn’t come close to outweighing the BCS’s flaws. A playoff, even a simple four-team plus-one setup, would reduce the drama in a few late season matchups, but it would help immeasurably in working out the postseason knots that arise when several deserving teams are left out of the national title picture, or worse, out of a premier bowl.

The Bowl Championship Series is, quite simply, too heavily criticized and too blatantly wrong to not be somewhere close to its deathbed. Need proof? Look at this season, in which a national championship fiasco was complemented by an array of top ten teams being left out of BCS bowls. The latter scenario seemed to slip under the radar, but it is these teams that provide the most compelling anti-BCS case. Controversy is inevitable when selecting between two equally qualified teams for one spot. When you have several unqualified teams usurping the spotlight from several that are qualified, that’s when you have a problem.

The national title situation is simple enough. LSU beat Alabama on the road by three points en route to an undefeated year. Alabama won the rest of their games. Oklahoma State cruised through all their games and won the Big XII in impressive fashion, save a Friday night upset at the hands of a 6-6 Iowa State team. Who’s more deserving of the second berth in the title game, the right to take on LSU? Many say the Crimson Tide—after all, their loss was much less incriminating than Oklahoma State’s. Others choose the Cowboys, claiming that Bama already had their chance to take down LSU—at home, no less—and failed. It’s only fair to give another team a shot.

It’s a lose-lose scenario, really. How do you solve it and satisfy both sides? Use a playoff. All three teams will, among others, battle for the title, and it will quickly become clear to America who the two most deserving squads were. The BCS, as it is a computer and feels no sympathy toward human emotions nor playoff systems, elected to satisfy half the nation and picked the Tide to face the Tigers.

Still, the real injustice lies in the rest of the BCS Bowls. There are ten BCS slots. Surely the top ten ranked teams should automatically qualify for these games? Surely the teams ranked from six through nine—Arkansas, Boise State, Kansas State, and South Carolina, respectively—are more deserving than numbers eleven (Virginia Tech), thirteen (Michigan), fifteen (Clemson), and, go figure, twenty-three (West Virginia)? Not according to the system. For reasons both monetary (Michigan and Virginia Tech are sure to draw large audiences based on their name, not their talent) and, well, silly (Clemson and West Virginia earn automatic bids for winning their extremely questionable conferences), the former four teams are shut out from the BCS. The fallout is harsh, too—Boise State, forever the nemesis of big-time BCS executives everywhere, will be playing 6-6 Arizona State in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl.

How do you solve this dilemma? Use a playoff. And, while you’re at it, don’t include Virginia Tech, Michigan, Clemson, and West Virginia. Don’t send them home for the holidays—keep the bowl games intact and have them square off with other ranked squads in some exciting pre-playoff matchups. But no one, and I mean no one, would tell you that any of those four teams had a better resume than any of those ranked in the top ten. To provide some insight, here’s a peek at what an eight-team playoff would look like this year, using the year-end rankings to seed the teams:

(1) LSU vs. (8) Kansas State
(4) Stanford vs. (5) Oregon
(3) Oklahoma State vs. (6) Arkansas
(2) Alabama vs. (7) Boise State

I won’t bore you with a game-by-game synopsis on how it would turn out (mainly because, no matter how you spin it, LSU and Alabama are the two best teams this season), but the entertainment and drama would be off the charts. Oklahoma State thinks they deserve a shot at the national title? Prove it by making it through Arkansas, whose only losses all year were to the two SEC behemoths. How about a rematch of Stanford-Oregon, only this time with the national title potentially on the line? Could Boise State, essentially a botched field goal away from playing in the title game this year, get past Alabama upon being given its first actual shot at the championship? And this is only the first round.

There’s a limit to how long the drama can go on. Eventually the BCS will become too decrepit to ignore. Eventually television contracts will expire, deals will be reworked, and a playoff system of some sort will be put in place.

Or maybe not, in which case drawing up hypothetical postseason scenarios will never cease to be enjoyable.

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The Ryan King: Surprise! The BCS Messed Up