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Issue & Argument: The BCS

December 6, 2009

The Issue

The 12-year-old BCS uses a combination of both polls and computer selections to determine team rankings and narrows the field to two teams that then play in the BCS National Championship Game. The system is designed to find the top two Division 1-A College Football teams in the nation. Critics of the system contend that it leaves out teams worthy of a title shot by only allowing the six major power conferences, (the wealthiest with key bowl games tied to teams from those conferences) to have automatic bids to the big games.

Critics claim the system is frequently unfair to college teams that aren’t traditional powerhouses. Despite this, some have advocated for a hypothetical playoff system, which could be more controversial and contentious than the BCS. The real problem is that the BCS continues to purport to crown a national champion based on opinion rather than through a series of playoff games – unlike every other NCAA sport. Many advocate a bracket system like the NCAA Division Men’s Basketball.

And, no matter how in-depth computer formula’s become, debates will always arise. How do you have a split championship? How do you base a championship on a single game where there may be three or more teams without a loss? How can you put a one loss team in the championship over another one loss team when that one loss came in the conference championship? If you can’t win your conference, you can’t win the NCAA football championship either… or can you?

Enter Congress.

Members of Congress are taking a look at the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to figure out “whether it is a fair way of choosing a college football champion.” House lawmakers are gearing up for a vote as soon as next week on a bill aimed at forcing a national college-football playoff. House and Senate panels examined the BCS during the off-season after Boise State was left out with an undefeated record last year (they went undefeated this year too) and Utah was denied a shot at the national championship despite smashing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. In 2000, debate was sparked when Miami was denied its chance for the Orange Bowl, despite having a regular-season victory over Florida State, who faced Oklahoma in the National Championship game.

The Argument

In one camp, proponents argue that the BCS is the best format to match up college football’s number one and two teams while preserving the heritage and success of the bowl system. It’s a reasonable means to establish a level of parity in the ranking and selection of bowl participants. Prior to the formation of the BCS and its predecessors, the No. 1 played No. 2 teams met in bowl games only eight times in 56 seasons. In contrast, since the conferences agreed to the BCS format 11 years ago, #1 has played #2 every year by BCS measurements.

Others argue the BCS is perpetuating an unfair system. All the BCS has done is replaced a flawed and out-of-date system with another equally, flawed and out-of-date system. The BCS system, with its stranglehold on college football, sends the message that economic power, rather than athletic ability, is key to success. The bowl games have nothing to do with the NCAA; they are money making enterprises run by cities and corporations. The whole disparity argument ignores the fact that the college postseason was built by the bowl organizations. The economic engine and benefits are a legitimate interest for those organizations.

Thanks to the BCS though, regular-season college football has become a true national sport and the great traditions and great rivalries continue. As a result, college football is more popular than ever: Attendance, TV viewership, fan interest and revenues are at record highs. Attendance has shot up 35 percent since the BCS’s inception—from 27.6 million in 1998 to 37.4 million in 2008. BCS television ratings regularly surpass the NCAA basketball finals, the NBA playoffs and the World Series.

In 2009, 26.8 million viewers watched college football’s title game between Oklahoma and Florida; 17.6 million watched the 2009 NCAA basketball championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State. An average of 19.3 million viewers watched each game of the 2009 Yankees-Phillies World Series; game six had a peak audience of 22.3 million viewers. In the NBA, an average of 14 million people watched each game of the 2009 championships between the LA Lakers and the Orlando Magic.

There is a lot of money in the bowl system. The BCS guarantees approximately $18.3 million to each of the six power conferences – or $1.83 million per school in the Pac-10. It guarantees $9.6 million combined to the five non-BCS leagues – or an average of $184,615 per school. Teams that receive at-large berths to BCS games get a $4.5 million payout.

For a non-BCS team to even have a chance at playing in a BCS Bowl it would have to go undefeated, and no matter what it does it will never, and I mean NEVER, get to play for the National Title. Just ask Boise State and Utah. This is the biggest reason why so many people are calling for a playoff system. Undefeated Utah teams have been left out of the national title games twice in a span of five years and Boise State University, presently ranked #6 completed the regular season undefeated (13-0), their second consecutive unbeaten regular season and fourth in the last six years (2004, 2006, 2008, 2009).

The system is definitely fairer than the old system based on conferences berths and polls of sportswriters. It was a reasonable means to establish a level of parity. Though many favor some sort of a college football playoff similar to the NCAA basketball tourney, such as brackets, one has to be concerned of ‘bracket creep’. In every sport, brackets began with a few teams. Then schools felt slighted, and so the brackets grew to accommodate more teams – and grew and grew and grew. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship started with eight teams. It’s now 65. And, some college officials want to expand beyond that.

The NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision began with a four-team playoff years ago, and now it’s been expanded to 20 teams. Think about what bracket creep would do to college football: it would greatly diminish the importance of the regular season, and would forever change the bowl system. BCSFootball.org offers a simple cliff notes version response. Basically there are four ways to qualify:

1. The top two teams in the final BCS Standings qualify automatically.
2. The champions of six conferences have annual automatic berths.
3. Other teams can qualify automatically as follows:

    A. The highest-ranked champion from the MAC, MWC, WAC, Sun Belt or C-USA qualifies if it finishes in the top 12; (or top 16 if ranked higher than the champion of a conference that has an automatic berth)
    B. Notre Dame qualifies if it finishes in the top eight.

4. If spots remain after the above teams are slotted, a bowl can select any other team that finishes in the top 14, but no more than two teams from a conference can participate.

Those who are against a playoff argue that people will still have trouble deciding the seeds? Well, who cares about the seeds, at least they all get a shot to play and if they continue to win then they will eventually play for the title. Maybe someday ‘December Madness’ will also mean the 32-team playoff for the NCAA Football National Championship.

Congress needs to get out of the sporting business.

The lawmakers say the bowl system is rigid and blocks all but the largest universities from competing in postseason bowls, denying dozens of others not just the opportunity to compete but also a shot at the big payoffs and national exposure that come with bowl appearances. Congress is inherently flawed. This is certainly an important thing for Congress to be worrying about. Everything else is above their pay-grade. The public may be out of work, broke, and threatened by terrorists, but give them bowls and circuses. The federal government has no business being involved in this. Once again Republicans miss the opportunity to be the party of less regulation. And, this is coming from a Republican. Enter Representative Joe Barton (R.-Tex.). Barton is actually the sponsor of legislation that would “prevent the NCAA from labeling a game a ‘national championship’ unless it culminates from a playoff system.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) too sent Obama a letter asking him to launch an anti-trust investigation of the BCS. With Congresses getting involved, and their politically correct mindset, by the time they are through coming up with a “new playoff system” we will have a system that redistributes the wins to those with losses and every team will be declared a winner. Why don’t these clowns work on something that means something for the American public? Reducing government expenditures would be a great place to start. Then again, maybe it’ll keep Congress from doing something stupid like tying up $7 trillion in make-work projects.

Under the present system, Boise State should never be allowed to play for the national title with their schedule. Give them a shot at one of the BCS bowls, sure. But, we need a pseudo-March Madness single-elimination tournament for college football. Imagine this: an eight-team playoff, with each team having an equal chance to become the national champion. Seldom seen matchups, such as Nebraska vs. Tennessee and Florida vs.Oklahoma, would be commonplace in the college-football tournament.

So what do you think readers?

Should a playoff system replace the current BCS formula?

Is the BCS so flawed that Congress should be involved?

Does Congress play a role at all in solving BCS’s system?

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