On College Football Championships

My opinion on this subject may not be considered worthwhile, as I don’t know the names and stats of every kid on every team in every conference of every division of college football. But anyone who does is a blithering moron for it, so I feel my thoughts are just as valid as most.

There’s a lot of blathering going on about how people don’t like how the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) works. Some advocate some sort of playoff system similar to what Division I-AA schools use; some say the BCS only needs tweaking. However, I submit that we have all we need for the sport at the present time, if only people would satisfy themselves with it.

Let’s outline how it’s worked over the years.


In the old days, you only had polls…primarily the AP (dating back to 1936), UPI/USA Today (started in 1950, changed to USA Today in 1991) and Coaches Polls. These certainly haven’t been without controversy, as it is not uncommon for the teams to have different ranks between the polls, even having different teams ranked #1. These polls have always been “human” polls, using no formulas but were the result of polling sports writers on their observations, intuitions, and, yes, biases. This has good points, but very obvious bad ones.

Now, bowl games have historically not been about hashing out who is number one, but making money by presenting the best teams for the best games. They’d ask different schools to play in their games for X amount of money, and schools would essentially have the option of where or whether they’d play. Eventually a number of the bowls established ties with various conferences to add financial incentive and consistency from year to year. But it was more concerned with getting lots of eyes (not to mention money from ticket sales and television rights) on the game.

This sorta brings us to the Bowl Championship Series…except there’s the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance systems that preceded it. But they were essentially agreements among the bowl committees and sponsors that set about changing their criteria. Essentially, if there was a split in the polls for number one, those two teams would play for an unofficial championship. There were other considerations, of course, but that was the ultimate end. Of course, not having universal conference support doomed these systems. There was a hue and cry for a more or less official poll to give a more defined championship game and overall champion, and the result was the Bowl Championship Series.

The concept was and remains a nice one, particularly in light of the fact that college football is heavy on tradition. It uses the human polls to help generate a new poll that incorporates various and sundry statistics and rankings from other polls to come up with a formulaic, unbiased ranking system that uses most of the traditional bowl structure and conference tie-ins to create a definitive ranking and a single number one verses number two game to crown the best college football team in the world. However, in practice, this has proven less than ideal…what happens when you have a bunch of undefeated teams? None? One undefeated team with lots of single-loss teams? Overranked teams from weaker conferences skewing matters?

To use this year’s setup as an example, Ohio State is number one and undefeated, and they will certainly play in the BCS Championship Game. But who will they play? At this point, the field has been narrowed, as USC conveniently lost to the unranked (but pretty good) UCLA team. That leaves us with only two teams: Michigan and Florida. Who do you choose, and who do you tick off? Florida lost to a quality Auburn team in the most competitive conference in the country, the Southeastern Conference. Michigan lost their one game to Ohio State, a case of #1 beating #2. So, again, the question is, who do you choose, and who do you snub?

However, I’m of the opinion that this is not the only reason for the debate. I can’t help but notice that most of the yah-yah comes from ABC and ESPN, who naturally pull for such teams as USC, Ohio State, Michigan, etc., as they have broadcasting agreements from those conferences and stands to gain in viewership and therefore revenue. So they echo the opinion of those who believe Ohio State and Michigan should play again, despite the Buckeyes defeating them earlier, because of how close the game was.

I disagree for the following reasons. First, they had their shot and blew it. Second, I feel that the regular season should count for more than contributing win/loss stats to the BCS. Sure, the regular season match-up was a good game, but it should count for something in the end. Third, they screw the Rose Bowl out of having the option of inviting Michigan to play USC, which would also be an excellent and worthwhile game. Fourth, having a team play for an overall championship when they didn’t win their own conference championship makes the whole thing look stupid. That said, this is another reason I’m against allowing Notre Dame in any BCS consideration, but that’s a personal bias. Fifth, if it were a case of having established #1 Ohio State and #2 Michigan, why’d they promote USC in the polls? Whatever happened to elimination? What good would a playoff have done in this case? Zero.

I’m of the opinion that Florida should go on to the National Championship. Why? Again, their single loss was to a quality SEC team. Look at who they played… Southern Miss, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State, Arkansas. All of these are typically quality teams (granted, this year USM, UGA, and FSU were less so) who could play anywhere in the country and win. This is pretty much their yearly schedule. They just won the SEC Championship! And, most importantly in my mind, Ohio State hasn’t already beaten them. It’s not fair to OSU, and it’s not fair to UF to keep them out. Do I think they have a chance? Of course, but they’re going to have to leave the stumble-around-is-okay-as-long-as-you-just-win game in Gainesville.

So what do I suggest they do? I certainly don’t believe an NCAA playoff system should be instituted. Otherwise, why bother playing a season at all? Is the BCS flawed? Nothing and nobody is perfect…and I feel that too much is expected from it. Restricting the championship to those who win their conferences is one way of making it work out right. If you can’t win your conference, why should you be allowed to compete for the overall championship? Another means would be to use the existing bowl system to narrow down the options in case there’s a wide field for the championship, and add another couple games if necessary. I’m sure the networks would love it, and anyone who thinks ticket sales would be a problem is a dunce. Never underestimate the unreasonable and uncompromising flexibility of college football fandom.

The older I get, though, the less I see a need for a championship game. I really don’t care as long as the games are quality…that’s what bowling’s all about. Just going back to the old polls and leaving things alone would suit me just fine.

Scott

This on-again, off-again, would-be commentator proves that attitudes are contagious, and that some can even kill. To this end, every written word is weighed carefully to ensure the precise delivery of the author's intent while inflicting blunt force trauma to the psyche of the reader.

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