Sunday, January 04, 2004

BCS: Bowl Championship Sham

It's about an hour before LSU and Oklahoma will kick off at the Superdome. They will be playing in the Sugar Bowl, a game that has been labeled as the BCS title game. I say, "What a sham!" There has to be a better way to crown a champion. And that better way is no mystery. It is the way that champions are crowned in all other divisions of NCAA football, NCAA basketball, NCAA baseball, you name it. That way is a playoff tournament.

Before I offer my favorite plan, a little history lesson is in order. In college football, conference championships have always been quite important. In the old days, conferences had contracts with specific bowl games, and the conference champions automatically went to those designated bowls. Then pollsters voted their number one. This was clearly not a perfect system because undefeated teams were rarely matched against each other, and independents with no bowl affiliations were often hurt. But at least there was no pretending that we had somehow, scientifically crowned a champion. It was clear to all that this was an opinion poll. Then came the Bowl Alliance. This allowed more flexibility in the match-ups for the major bowls, but the PAC 10 and Big 10 were not part of this system. That flaw became glaringly apparent in 1994 when an undefeated Penn State team traveled to Pasadena to take on the Oregon Ducks the day after a "champion" was crowned in the Orange Bowl. Then came the BCS. Largely due to luck, the BCS has managed to crown a fairly legit champ thus far. That will end tomorrow when the number one team in both human polls, the USC Trojans, will be denied the BCS title.

But, as Teddy Roosevelt said, "It is not the critic who counts." True enough. So I will not merely gripe about the current system, but offer an alternative. This alternative is not solely my idea. It was a collaboration of several family members -- primarily my father.

So here's the idea: All the non-BCS bowls would remain unchanged. They will remain just as insignificant and yet just as fascinating as they currently are. For the current BCS bowls, we'll have a little bit of throwback. Restore the old conference ties. Let the PAC 10 champ play the Big 10 champ in the Rose Bowl. The Sugar Bowl would get the SEC champ and the Big East champ (or a an at-large if the Big East loses its legitimacy). The Orange Bowl would get the Big 12 champ and the ACC champ (that way they can get either FSU or Miami every year). The Fiesta Bowl would go back to its roots and get two at-large teams (see Jan 2, 1987 when the Fiesta secured its position on the national stage). The at-large berths would be given to the teams with the highest BCS ratings.

These BCS games should all be played on New Years weekend as they are now. The next week would have two neutral site games pitting the bowl game winners against each other. The week after that a College Super Bowl. What could be better than that?

Possible negatives to this system: (1) The season is extended for two weeks. Okay, but it's only extended for a handful of teams. Besides which, it doesn't kill NCAA basketball players to play 30 games over a 5 month period. (2) The prestige of the bowls is diminished. I just flat-out disagree. How much more prestigious would the Fiesta Bowl have been this year if OSU or KSU were playing for a chance to advance? (3) Attendance concerns for semi-finals. Please spare me. These games would be must-have tickets. And if the NCAA is really that concerned, they could make the semis into home games with the venues decided by some random selection. I'm pretty sure Sooners fans would find the time to make a final trek to Norman in mid-January. (4) Controversy still exists for the at-large berths. True. But, just because all flaws haven't been eliminated doesn't mean that nothing new should be tried. Certainly this system would create some controversy as to who should get the at-large berths, but no one with a legitimate claim as best team in the nation would be on the outside looking in (yeah, that means you WAC champs).

The main plus: The prestige of conference titles is not diminished to the level that the Big Dance has cheapened conference crowns in NCAA basketball. Even though there are at-large spots to be had, conference titles are the primary ticket to the bowl tournament.

So those are my thoughts.