At the 1997 Final Four, I attended a business meeting that included the commissioners of the major conferences. I wasn’t there to cover it, not that there was anything to report.
That year, I served as president of the Football Writers Association of America, and the commissioners wanted to know if I thought our group would be interested in conducting a weekly football poll.
The Associated Press poll of media representatives and the coaches’ poll had long been established. I wasn’t sure why an additional one was needed. The commissioners said something about contributing to the game’s interest and engaging a voting panel of longstanding reporters who regularly covered the sport.
But the real motive, we all learned later, was the Bowl Championship Series. The sports’ leaders were looking for ways to find the final two teams to meet for what they believed would be an undisputed — or at least, less disputed — national championship.
I told the commissioners the membership would be surveyed, and later told them prospects appeared good. But, for reasons I cannot recall, the poll never took shape.
The BCS did, however, and today, the final game operated under college football’s championship system since 1998 will be played between Florida State and Auburn.
There’s symmetry to the matchup. In January 1999, the Seminoles met a Southeastern Conference team for the first BCS title, won by Tennessee.
With the handoff of the crystal ball from BCS president Bill Hancock to either Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher or Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, an era in college football will conclude, and the immediate consensus will be, good riddance.
In the last few years, the BCS grew so unpopular in some circles that the system could have delivered an ideally matched title game and four major bowls of exquisite drama and not escape ridicule.
Like this year.
Nobody has disputed Florida State and Auburn in the championship, and there was little to grouse about the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange matchups. Yet, the prevailing sense here is the BCS outlived its usefulness about 15 years ago.
“People forget,” Hancock said.
Yes they do. They forget that before the BCS, certain national championship games could not be arranged. If the Big Ten or Pac-10 was involved, forget about it. They had their Rose Bowl.
But then-SEC commissioner and BCS architect Roy Kramer persuaded all the conferences and major bowls to go along. Fans wanted a final clash of top teams without pollsters deciding the champion, the BCS founding fathers argued, and they were right.
The problem was, the BCS got off to a confusing start. Difficult-to-explain computer polls damaged the system’s credibility.
Simply, the perception was the BCS wasn’t getting it right. For 2000, Florida State played Oklahoma for the championship, even though the Seminoles had finished with the same record as rival Miami, had lost to the Hurricanes and trailed them in the polls.
The next year, Nebraska lost its regular-season finale at Colorado by nearly four touchdowns, but the Cornhuskers found their way to the title game.
Oklahoma got crushed by Kansas State in the 2003 Big 12 championship game but had enough computer rating favor to advance to the title game.
“That’s the one that people had a difficult time understanding,” Hancock said.
After every season, BCS leaders — commissioners — had to explain and justify the system, and complaints grew louder. The book, “Death to the BCS,” written by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan, was billed as “taking down the great Satan of college sports, the BCS.”
But inside the game, the system worked.
“We were excited,” said Florida State defensive-tackles coach Odell Haggins, the only member of the Seminoles staff who remains from the inaugural BCS game. “We were proud to be in it.”
The BCS era produced two of college football’s most memorable games: Ohio State over Miami in double overtime for the 2002 title, and Texas over USC for the 2005 championship. Neither would have happened without the BCS.
The BCS period will be remembered for SEC dominance, the beginning of greatness for coaches Nick Saban and Bob Stoops, the Reggie Bush-led Southern California run and scandal and Miami’s powerhouse team of 2001, the best of the first 15 BCS years.
It also will be known as the bridge for the College Football Playoff, four teams starting next year, and eventually a larger field.
Ultimately, the BCS will be remembered as an idea with some flaws, but a major step in the right direction of determining a college football champion.