BCS Angst: Are We Any Closer To A College Football Playoff?

There are a bunch of reasons to get rid of the BCS and very few reasons to keep it.

"Corruption charges! Corruption? Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulations. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets. Corruption is why we win." ~Danny Dalton, Syriana

Now that the Heisman trophy has been distributed, it’s time to turn our attention toward the next college football debacle: that is the bowl games, and more specifically, the BCS. This is my favorite column of the year to write because it’s so easy to bash this miserable system, and yet, it’s also my least favorite column of the year to write because we’re still bashing the same awful system we were bashing five years ago.

I’ll start with a concession. This BCS selection was the fairest I can remember. The biggest gripes were an 11-2 Virginia Tech’s at-large selection after getting shellacked, 38-10, in the ACC Championship by Clemson. The Hokies were chosen over the likes of a one-loss Boise State team (by one point to a very good TCU team). The other issue was the blatant SEC bias that thought nothing of re-matching LSU (13-0) and Alabama (11-1), instead Stanford (11-1) or Oklahoma State, who lost one game the week of a campus tragedy and finished the season by drilling a formidable cross-state rival Oklahoma, 44-10.

Now don’t get me wrong, these are legitimate complaints, but they are not as bad as undefeated teams like Boise State (2006-2007, 2009-2010), TCU (2010-2011) and Utah (2008-2009) never getting the opportunity to play in a BCS final.

Now here’s the thing, because I'm aware that these teams play weaker schedules than, say, Florida or Texas. But if a system eliminates you from contention before you play a down than that system is unjust. And that’s exactly what the BCS does. What if Houston had beaten Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA final? Would they have any shot at playing for the BCS Championship? Of course not. What could they have done to merit consideration? Nothing. Of all the competitive National Collegiate Athletic Association sports, the only one not to crown a tournament champion is football.

I was quite pleased to see Boise State coach Chris Peterson finally go on the record, quite unabashedly, against the BCS. "It doesn’t make sense to anybody," he said. "The whole thing needs to be changed, there’s no question about it."

Not too long ago, President Barack Obama was threatening to intervene. ESPN’s Rick Reilly has voiced his discontent. Last year, it was Mark Cuban announced publicly that he is willing to put forth the money to end the BCS.

Cuban mentioned a book called Death to the BCS:  The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series. Naturally, I quickly read it and was angered by what I learned. The book written by three sports journalists with the intent to persuade their readers that the BCS is corrupt and another system is possible. Although polls reveal that too much persuasion really isn't necessary; at least 60% of sports fans would prefer a playoff.

Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan refer to the leadership of the BCS as a "cartel." I think it's the right word. The real reason the BCS continues to exist--despite its unpopularity--is because a small amount of people continue to make fat cash off the whole thing. Basically, it’s a monopoly.

Unfortunately, no one gets as excited for the BCS as they do for March Madness, even though football is probably a more popular sport in the United States than basketball. It is a cartel that works with billions of dollars, includes six major college football conferences, and even loops in my team of choice, Notre Dame. (Sure, I love the advantage Notre Dame receives in BCS selection, but is it fair? Of course not.) Those involved tend to benefit both financially and competitively, while those outside the circle aren't taken seriously. Those who threaten the credibility of the BCS tend to be bought into one of the big six conferences (think Utah to the Pac 10 and Boise State and TCU to the Big East).

The excuses put forth by the cartel to defend the BCS are mostly absurd, and the book does a convincing job of discrediting them. Going to a playoff would lose money. Would eliminate all the bowl games. Would be just as controversial. Would lead to too many games for college players. Too many injuries. Would decrease the sport's popularity. It's all hogwash.

College football is popular despite the BCS, not because of it. Wetzel, Peter, and Passan point this out, but it seems obvious and self-evident. And there would be plenty of money to be made in a football playoff.

What Wetzel, Peter, and Passan have done is present a plan, which the cartel (dishonestly) claims has not been put forward. They call for a sixteen-team playoff in addition to most bowl games, which would continue to operate as usual. The bowls just could not select one of the sixteen teams in the playoffs. The bowls' role would be comparable to the modern National Invitation Tournamentin college basketball, a sort of consolation, but still the opportunity for teams to keep practicing, playing, and getting better for next year. All eleven conference winners would make the tournament, while a small committee would determine five at-large bids. Undoubtedly, this plan would include some cupcake games for select top seeds. But it would also include the possibility of great upsets, which the current system does not allow for. And the best teams--per their proven record--would definitely be in the tournament, which, again, is not always the case in the current BCS championship, especially if you lie outside "the big six."

Now maybe you don’t like the 16-team idea; maybe you prefer a plus-one (think LSU-Stanford meets the winner of Alabama-Oklahoma State) or an eight-team playoff or even something like an NFL playoff (twelve-team playoff, first four get a bye). But we should be able to agree that any of these options are better than the status quo.

Policy does not always align with the will of the majority--and perhaps it shouldn't always--especially when money is involved, but if we look honestly at history, there is a closer alignment than we might think, especially for countries with somewhat free elections. But the BCS is clearly an example to the contrary. Almost no one likes it, except for the rank-and-file voices of conference commissioners, university presidents, and football coaches at places that benefit competitively or financially from the current system.

In the U.S., political parties tend to fight for the five or ten percent in the middle that will make a difference, because in our nation, we tend to be divided on everything. But not on the BCS. A clear majority of involved parties hate it. Guess it's time to organize, to unite, to spread the word. Count me in.

Because I, for one, cannot wait for the day fans get to see who the real college football champion is.

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