Bowl Championship Series: Self-inflicted wounds to the beast of college football
The Bowl Championship Series is a lost cause. It is an inequitable system incapable of serving justice in the fiercely competitive landscape of college football. Reform will never ensue until the current BCS structure self-implodes, leaving no doubt the system is broken beyond repair. The NCAA must realize that if the right teams continue to win, a nightmare will be waiting on the horizon, a perfect storm capable of destroying all BCS credibility for good.
2011 has been the year of reform in college football. Conferences are rapidly realigning, the monetary value of athletic scholarships are being reconsidered, and the crooks with their dirty hands on college sports are being exposed and weeded out. There has never been a more approachable time for NCAA leadership to round up its brightest minds and call for an all-out blitz on the BCS, aiming to gang tackle the most prevalent issue threatening the sport’s cultural enrichment today. It is a problem so significant that even members of Congress and our President have been outspoken on the subject, insisting the BCS should be obligated to weigh its postseason options:
Unfortunately for President Obama, until a full blown BCS catastrophe occurs, there will be no preventative rush to the drawing board. BCS brass will continue to waffle with their it’s good enough attitude, insisting that no machine should be forced to be fixed if it has yet to be proven broken…
It was week-seven of the college football season, and I could see the beautifully dark BCS storm clouds taking shape on the horizon. I began drafting a scenario on paper that would show how the BCS would reach its breaking point. Great teams would have to continue prospering, and although the scenario was far out on a limb, I had to ponder if the BCS coalition members were starting to feel a little nervous.
The complex scenario took root during the season-opening showdown with my beloved Oregon Ducks taking on the LSU Tigers. It was the first time since 1984 that two top-five ranked teams came storming out of the gate to square off. Win or lose, nobody was ruling out a possibility for a rematch in the national championship if both teams continued to win out. Just nine months prior to the kickoff, the Ducks’ head coach Chip Kelly was sitting at a table with empty eyes at January’s national championship press conference promising his team “we’ll be back” next year.
Four quarters later, that promise was broken, marred by turnover jitters and failed execution against LSU. As a Ducks fan, it felt unfair that a system would discourage us for scheduling “the best of the best” early in the season, unaware how stifling a single loss could be. Having started the season already in the top-five, the Ducks would’ve been better off scheduling a home game versus Portland State. Instead, it challenged one of the nation’s best teams, and as a result was immediately ousted from top-ten consideration. Economically, if this type of fear spreads, it will be extremely damaging for the business of college football’s regular season. If the BCS discourages highly ranked teams from taking early season risks, how often will we see these marquee matchups–that draw in substantial national interest–if there is too much to lose and not enough to gain? For Oregon, many teams would have to lose in order for us to begin climbing again. That’s the system, there are no other options.
We had already reached the half-way point in the season, and it made me realize how steep that political climb was going to be. The top ten looked as stout as it has ever been in recent memory and conference schedules were set up for a potential BCS horror story in which at least one team per major conference would keep on winning. On a positive note, I was ready for my Ducks to sacrifice its season if it meant that the BCS would be forced into a playoff discussion. While the BCS was rooting for two teams to stand alone, I began rooting for a handful of teams to stand together.
Try and balance yourself out on a limb for a second, and just imagine:
What if Kirk Cousins’ hail mary was knocked down and undefeated Wisconsin prevailed in overtime over Michigan State? Wisconsin has now lost two heartbreaking games in a row on dramatic final second touchdowns. I could just picture the BCS coalition slapping high-fives, knowing that antagonists now had one less argument to use against them. Yes, I’m talking about the same BCS commissioners that take home million dollar salaries. With their mountainous pay scales on the line, of course we know who they are rooting for and against.
For the sake of my scenario, let’s just pretend Wisconsin was on the lucky side of those wild finishes and remained unbeaten. Secondly, what if Oklahoma recovered that late onside kick versus Texas Tech, capping off its dramatic comeback for a 40th consecutive home victory? So close to victory, what if Oklahoma’s dream season was still alive?
A similar fate struck Clemson this Saturday, after its undefeated season was halted by an unranked Georgia Tech team. You have to wonder if Clemson had not uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times that they could have continued their unbeaten streak and marched their way to a perfect season as well.
Seeing these title contenders fall in the past two weeks is part of what personifies the beauty of college football. It proves that anything can happen on a weekly basis, and how incredibly difficult it can be to finish the regular season undefeated. However, I question if it is really that farfetched to outline a scenario in which five teams stave off elimination, and finish the regular season unbeaten? Both the 2009 and 2010 seasons saw at least three teams finish untouched, so could five ever happen? This is a scenario that the NCAA seriously must chew on:
THE FLAWLESS FIVE, THE UNDEFEATED
- LSU Tigers: Since the BCS has been in place since 1998, seven of the thirteen champions have come out of the Southeastern Conference. LSU is going to the Natty, but against whom? The BCS will be rooting for Bama in this one, because LSU staying undefeated only bolsters Oregon’s campaign as the top one-loss team deserving some sort of a shot at redemption.
- Oklahoma Sooners: If only they didn’t revert back to their nickname “Choke-lahoma.” The Sooners would’ve had three wins vs. top-ten teams and would be sitting pretty as the top candidate to be selected to play LSU in the title game.
- Wisconsin Badgers: Other than the scares at Michigan State and Ohio State, they managed to remain unscathed in conference play, running the table in a Big Ten that has felt a little down ever since the sweater vest got the heave-ho out of town.
- Boise State Broncos: They’re back! To topple the BCS, you must root for #18 Georgia. The Broncos went into a rowdy atmosphere to start the season and won fairly convincingly against a Bulldog team that seemed bound to finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC. Yet, suddenly Georgia is looking like the favorite to win the SEC East with South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore done for the season.
- Clemson Tigers: The surprise. Had they not shot themselves in the foot against Georgia Tech, they would be the BCS’ ultimate nightmare, finishing the year undefeated and under-appreciated. Keep in mind, they would serve as yet again another AQ (automatic qualifying) team unfairly left out of the championship picture. They are the Auburn Tigers of 2004 and the Utah Utes of 2008 (see below)
THE UNBELIEVABLY GOOD ONE-LOSS SQUADS
- Oregon Ducks: They finish the year with a single blemish, at the hands of the best team in college football, LSU.
- Stanford Cardinal: The epic showdown versus the Ducks in Palo Alto will likely be decided on the offense with the final possession of the football. Unfortunately for Luck, he’ll be required to throw the ball nearly 50 times, and the Ducks haven’t lost in almost four years when forcing a QB to throw 40+ times.
- Alabama Crimson Tide: Between the three one-loss teams so far, how can you choose the best one? It’s merely politics from here, but in all likelihood, Bama surges ahead of both Stanford and Oregon in the rankings after losing in the unofficial college “Superbowl” against LSU this coming Saturday.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys: It continues. If they manage to keep running the table, their only loss would come in the final game of the season, versus none other than their in-state rivals, the Sooners. This game would propel Oklahoma into the title game, while the Cowboys would drop out of the top-five into a realm of irrelevance.
- Cincinatti Bearcats: This is where the BCS system is majorly flawed. The Bearcats won’t likely have to beat a team ranked in the top-20 all season, yet since they won their conference, they will be automatically selected to play in a BCS game to take on one of the far superior opponents that I have listed above.
The BCS coalition should be sweating bullets. In this worst case scenario, there are now nine teams that arguably deserve a shot at entering some sort of a playoff structure. All four one-loss teams were knocked out by ranked opponents sitting in the top-seven or better. The BCS could rest its case on the fact that, hey, there are ten teams on this list, and there are five BCS games. All the schools could collect a pretty penny from their lucrative bowl games, our grudgeful memories would eventually let go of it, and we’d move on. But what if there was one more ripple to throw into this cluster of controversy?
The “independent” Irish.
Yes, what if Notre Dame–the BCS’ best buddy–broke out of its state of amnesia and remembered how to win games again? What if the Irish finished as the best two-loss team in the country? Ever heard of the infamous BCS “Notre Dame Rule?” How convenient, eh? It helps when you are an “independent” team without a true conference, yet still have a prominent role in the BCS coalition.
The Notre Dame Rule declares that if the Irish finish ranked within the top-14 they are automatically eligible to be selected to a BCS game, with the decision falling into the hands of the bowl game profiteers. We are talking about the same group of high rollers that were recently caught exploiting bowl game revenue to splurge on lavish parties after last season’s BCS Fiesta Bowl. Yeah, these guys. Can we honestly trust them to do what’s right for college football?
In reality, the greedy BCS beast would breathe all over the small market in Boise. If Notre Dame ended up BCS eligible, a team like Boise State would likely be left out of the picture. It would be an absolute travesty making the term may the best team win feel as if it no longer carried any merit in college football. Boise State would be hurdled by an Irish team that has played 24 games at home in the last three years and only 12 on the road. Coincidentally, Notre Dame began playing this unbalanced schedule just one year after signing a major contract extension with NBC in 2008 (a contract that televises all Notre Dame games regardless of their win-loss record). The Kellen Moore legacy would come to an unfashionable close, and our dreams of another heroic Chris Petersen Statue of Liberty play would vanish.
Other than LSU and (likely) Oklahoma, there would be a handful of teams demanding to know why there still hasn’t been a playoff discussion brought to the table by the NCAA. Even the players on the field are calling for a playoff, so why haven’t the right voices been heard yet? The BCS would have no argument to defend itself from a barrage of these furious demands all surrounding one circumstantial season when all the right pieces fell into place. This perfect storm scenario would finally prove that the BCS is nothing more than a lucrative dam slowly leaking out many cracks. It is a vehicle in the fast lane with no emergency brake. It is a brittle city built upon a bedrock of uncertainty, too stubborn to prepare for the big quake…coming…someday.
It’s time for the NCAA to feel the ground shaking. It’s time for the NCAA to wake up and start fearing the worst.