Changing the Game of College Football: For Better or For Worse?
In late 2004, the Auburn University Tigers football team, despite its perfect 12-0 record at the time, was denied an invitation to the 2005 Orange Bowl, that year’s designated national championship game. This decision caused further questioning of an already controversial system. The Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, is the system employed by college football to determine the national champion in lieu of a traditional postseason tournament and is self-described as “designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game, and to create exciting and competitive matchups among eight other highly regarded teams in four other bowl games.” Auburn University may have disagreed with that sentiment in 2004.
I personally am a very competitive person, and naturally am an avid sports fan. One of my favorite parts of watching sports is the playoffs. The do or die atmosphere, with fans like myself living and dying with every play, praying that their team comes out on top, is something everyone can appreciate; just look at the ratings for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Therefore, one of my biggest gripes about sports is how college football goes about its postseason. The NCAA sacrifices big plays and gripping storylines for heated debate that will never truly be settled. As I sat pondering what I would like to explore, our class, which regularly discusses, began talking about college football. It became clear that I would like to learn more about a simple question regarding a game I love: is the BCS good or bad for college football?
The BCS was instated into NCAA college football in time for the 1998 season. Its intent was to, after years of having the national champion strictly decided by a vote, have the two top teams in the country play in one game, with the winner being crowned champion. Through a series of complicated formulas that have constantly been changing for 12 years, a combination of human voting and computer calculations spit out a ranking for each team. Standings are kept based on these numbers and at the end of the season, the teams ranked numbers one and two will be chosen to play in the National Championship Game. On paper, the concept sounds remarkably simple (even if the behind-the-scenes work doesn’t) and certainly is an upgrade over a simple vote.
However, an upgrade doesn’t always produce satisfaction. As a college student, it is one of my favorite activities to just take some time to relax, and recently, I spent an hour on the lawn outside Faurot Field doing just that. It was a gorgeous day, the temperature far higher than a typical early-November afternoon. As I laid in the grass, I thought of what I told myself to ponder while there. Normally I’d like to just let my mind wander wherever it took me, away from daily stresses. But that day, I was to take in the feeling of that college football stadium. I thought of the memories it has already given me as a freshman student and fantasized about what is to come in those bleachers over the next four years. Then, I thought about the team inside of those walls, the Missouri Tigers. The Missouri Tigers that are currently a damn good 7-2. Those Tigers may be relegated to an unattractive bowl with no chance to prove themselves any better in a few weeks, and there is nothing they can do about it. The Missouri Tigers are clearly not perfect, and yet, that seems to be the only qualification necessary to ascend to the level that Mizzou wants to be at. I sat on the grass, thinking to myself, “is that the way the system is supposed to be?”
As the BCS took off into adulthood, it did not take with it the sense of satisfaction it provided for fans. It soon became known for “incorrectly” selecting the two participants in the championship. “How sad…[that] this new BCS system does not work”, cried George Vecsey of the New York Times [Vecsey 1]. "We'd be foolish if we didn't take a hard look at (the BCS ranking formula) again in the spring," BCS coordinator Mike Tranghese added [Curtis 1]. Throughout the early 2000’s the BCS consistently sparked controversy with the matchups it created.
The 2003 and 2004 seasons were especially rough for the BCS, as each ended with enormous dissatisfaction. In 2003, the University of Southern California, ranked number one in the human polls the majority, was dropped to third (and thus, left out of the championship game) in the BCS standings.
Pete Carroll, coach of the USC Trojans, called his team’s misfortune “a clear example of the system not working out right”, and who could blame him [Curtis 1]? After USC won the Rose Bowl, the Trojans were awarded the number one ranking (and national champion designation) by members of the Associated Press, while LSU (who won the Championship Game) was voted number one by the coaches, resulting in the crowning of two national champions. And things were only about to get worse for the BCS.
The following year, three teams finished the year undefeated. With only two slots available for the championship, the BCS selected Auburn as having drawn the proverbial short straw. So a team that won all of its games - and did it in the SEC, generally regarded as the nation’s toughest conference – was left out of playing for a title. "I'm going to be honest," said nose guard Tommy Jackson, on having to watch fellow
undefeated squads USC and Oklahoma battle for the championship. "It's going to hurt deep" [Lopresti 1].
As a sports fan, this unfairness makes me very upset with the game. As a fan, I feel deprived of an ending, as if it were a movie that ended with 20 minutes left. I cannot possibly imagine the emotions going through the heads of Pete Carroll or Tommy Tuberville, coach of Auburn, during those times. What is a coach supposed to say to his players? “Hey guys, we won every game we played, but it wasn’t enough”? Or “hey, we’re ranked number one, but it just wasn’t good enough”? I began to wonder, before Mizzou had lost to Texas Tech, of the possibility of Mizzou continuing to win all its games, and despite a hiccup at Nebraska, finishing 11-1. Chaos would have been inevitable. There would have been a tie with Nebraska for first place, and the politicking for bowl positioning would have been extraordinary. Long story short, somebody, be it Mizzou, Nebraska, or someone else, would have gotten an incredibly short straw; a mediocre reward for resounding success. I couldn’t help but think, “why?”. Why have such subjectivity? There is no fair conclusion to this situation. College football is inherently an unfair game. I know it, because I can see coaches and players and columnists alike all saying the same thing. I know it, because as a fan, I say it too.
And yet, the NCAA will continue to applaud the system.
Roy Kramer was the commissioner of the SEC in the early 1990’s and is generally regarded as the Father of the BCS. The system was largely his brainchild and he is the one responsible for organizing the system into what became the BCS in 1998. In an interview with him following the 10th season, in 2007, USA Today’s Jack Caray asked Kramer how he felt the program worked during its inaugural decade. “I think we might have saved the jobs of some talk-show hosts”, Kramer immediately joked about the hot-button topic he created [Caray 1]. Becoming serious, though, Kramer cited the national interest the BCS naturally sparks, saying "People in Florida are now excited about how an Oregon is doing, and people in Louisiana are now interested in how West Virginia is doing. Games always had a regional attraction; now they've got a national attraction.”
At this point in my studies I became legitimately upset with myself for devoting time and interest into the game. Not only did the NCAA create such a monster, but was applauding it as well. When Kramer also noted that he “[doesn’t] think they'll get there anytime soon” with regards to a playoff, that was the icing on the cake [Caray 1].
The fact that college football is currently without a playoff system is mind-boggling. I cannot tell you what specifically I would instate if I were in charge, but I can vaguely tell you a postseason tournament would be in place immediately. The NCAA, which employs an enormously successful tournament in men’s basketball and equally successful (given the size) tournaments in lower-division football, proves that it cares little about the fan’s interest. To continue operating with archaic methods masked as technological advancements is a disservice to itself, its fans, and perhaps most importantly, its players and coaches.
This is not to say the BCS is completely inept. Looking past solely the championship game, the Series aspect of Bowl Championship Series does do a fine job of creating five marquee matchups for fans to enjoy. The problem is that the games are independent of one another, rendering the quality of the contest meaningless in the long term. "It's like communism," Texas congressman Joe Barton said [Litke 1]. But while there’s nothing that any team can do about it, some are taking full advantage. Ask Boise State University.
Boise State is sometimes a forgotten school from Idaho’s capital that has been in Division 1-A football barely longer than the BCS has. And yet, since Boise’s coming-out party in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl (where they won a thriller against traditional power Oklahoma), Boise has consistently been regarded as a top team in college football. Chris Petersen, coach of the Broncos since 2006, has compiled a not-too-shabby 56-4 record at the helm, including two Fiesta Bowl wins capping undefeated seasons and is sitting pretty with a 7-0 mark thus far in 2010. Unfortunately for Boise State, they are a member of the Western Athletic Conference, or WAC. This poses a problem for the Broncos, as the WAC is not considered one of the six “major”, or BCS, conferences. (The six are the Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, and Pacific 10 Conferences). As an outsider to this system, Boise State has to face everlasting questions about the toughness of its team and its opponents comparatively to members of the power six. So despite winning 56 of its previous 60 games, Boise has yet to be truly rewarded by the BCS. Some will claim the BCS has done more than enough for the small school by rewarding it with priceless exposure and enormous revenue. And while all of this is true, Chris Petersen is not the chancellor of Boise State University; he is not making the budget. Nor does he need the publicity; Boise, with its underdog story, notoriety for trickery, and its famous artificial blue turf, needs no more of that. Chris Petersen wants one thing, and one thing only: a chance at the national championship.
“[Joe] Paterno (coach of the Pennsylvania State Nittany Lions) may be the king of the sport, but [Jim] Delany (commissioner of the Big Ten Conference) is the ayatollah, speaking the word of God. And that word is no. No to a playoff . No to an extra championship game following the bowl season. No to any semblance of sanity in America’s greatest spectator sport. No to anything but the loathsome, odious, reviled BCS.” So reads an excerpt from a new book by sportswriters Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan entitled, bluntly, “Death to the BCS”.
Here, right in the middle of the 2010 college football season, we recently had seven remaining undefeated teams, three of which come from non-BCS conferences, and none of whom were named Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame, Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, USC, or Michigan, just to name a few traditional powers. The sport is going through unprecedented levels of parity and popularity at schools that are not historically winners at football. And how does the NCAA plan on maintaining these levels of success? By continuing to utilize a system that steals from the poor and gives to the rich, both literally and figuratively, both on the field and at the bank, cashing in revenue.
When I began researching the topic, I was already a knowledgeable football fan upset with the current system and calling for change. Although I will gladly concede that this is an improvement over the system in place before it, the BCS is still an incredibly flawed system. It causes unnecessary controversy, it has disgusting levels of bias, and it creates an unfair playing field on which to play a fair game. My view on the BCS changed very little throughout researching it. I still would like to see it go. Perhaps the only difference now is I’d like to see that happen even quicker.
"The BCS Is ..." Bowl Championship Series, 22 Sept. 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. .
"Bronco Football: A Winning Tradition." Boise State University, 3 Apr. 2007. Web. 27 Oct. 2010. .
Carey, Jack. "Man behind Creation of BCS Pleased with Results." USA Today, 8 Dec. 2007. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. .
Curtis, Jake. "How Trojans Got Bowled over by BCS." SFGate.com. San Francisco Chronicle, 8 Dec. 2003. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. .
Dickey, Matthew. "Arguments For and Against Boise State." Bleacher Report, 8 Sept. 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. .
Litke, Jim. "BCS Is Like Communism: Joe Barton." DFW. NBC, 6 Jan. 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. .
Lopresti, Mike. "BCS Makes Right Choice to Exclude Auburn." USA Today, 6 Dec. 2004. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. .
Vecsey, George. "Sports of The Times - In Spite of the B.C.S., Ambiguity Survives." The New York Times. 1 Jan. 2004. Web. 20 Oct. 2010. .
Wetzel, Dan, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan.
Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series. New York: Gotham, 2010. Print.