BCS will vanish, but the playoff system will have critics as well

08/26/2013 12:00 AM

08/26/2013 8:30 AM

After 16 seasons of constant controversy that featured a Justice Department inquiry, saber-rattling of lawsuits, mass contempt for a selection system some found bewildering and others unfair, and even a book, “Death To The BCS,” dedicated to its demise, the BCS will be laid to rest after the college football national-title game on Jan. 6, 2014, at the Rose Bowl.

No one will mourn the passing of a system whose name, Bowl Championship Series, was a misnomer and that even the likes of President Obama and other prominent politicians advocated against and that evoked accusations it was in violation of antitrust laws.

Legally, anyway, that notion never stuck.

But “antitrust” might be the right word for how many people came to feel about the elusive enterprise, which was hamstrung from the start by its confusing metrics and awkward ambitions to have a hand in four (and then later five) elite bowl matchups instead of just the one that mattered most.

And that’s all too bad.

Because detest the BCS if you must, but its most substantial goal of aligning No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the national-title game in itself was a quantum leap in the evolution of a game that had no meaningful postseason structure until 1992 as well as an imperative link to the impending four-team playoff.

Most clearly, it meant this:

From the inception of The Associated Press poll in 1936 through the formation of the BCS-forerunning Bowl Coalition in 1992, AP Nos. 1 vs. 2 had been matched in conference-formatted and/or prematurely set up season-ending bowl games eight times in 56 years.

Since then, the AP 1-2s have met 15 times in season finales, including in 12 of the 15 BCS championship games.

To be sure, there were ugly exceptions that exposed flaws in the system.

In 2001, Nebraska failed to even reach the Big 12 title game after being pulverized by Colorado in the last regular-season game but went to the title game against Miami.

In 2003, Oklahoma was jackhammered 35-7 by K-State in the Big 12 title game but nevertheless given the chance to play LSU for the national championship.

All of which led to the AP feeling compelled to disassociate from the BCS in late 2004, a year after its top-ranked team, USC, had been left out of the BCS title game to set the stage for a split national championship that was supposed to be a thing of the past in the BCS era.

“By stating that the AP poll is one of the three components used by BCS to establish its rankings, BCS conveys the impression that AP condones or otherwise participates in the BCS system,” a 2004 cease-and-desist letter said, as reported by CBSSports.com. “Furthermore, to the extent that the public does not fully understand the relationship between BCS and AP, any animosity toward BCS may get transferred to AP.”

In a subsequent statement, the AP added, “To preserve its reputation for honesty and integrity, the AP is asking the BCS to discontinue its unauthorized use of the AP poll as a component of BCS rankings.”

Harsh stuff.

But despite the disavowal, the penultimate AP and BCS 1-2s have tracked the same ever since, even with the Harris Interactive poll replacing the AP to go along with the coaches’ poll and the computer component that many found so troubling.

In fact, there were many flaws and many tweaks needed to the computer element along the way although one of the complaints about it always seemed circularly flawed:

Computers were introduced to the formula in part to offset, or at least supplement, human bias. But when the computers differed from the human assessment, outrage typically ensued over how misguided and inadequate the computers were.

But that’s all behind us after this go-round.

A four-team playoff begins next year, and it will appease and thrill many until about the time the new selection committee picks the final four, a team or two is left out with an argument to be in and the playoff no longer is a panacea but seen as an inadequate number that must be expanded to eight and then 16.

That all might take a few years — the four-team version is contracted through 2025 — but don’t doubt that inflation is on the way in response to popular demand.

Whether it’s actually a more fair and equitable way to determine a champion, who’s to say?

Expansive playoffs are the coin of the realm and generate incredible excitement, not to mention revenue, even as they reward mediocrity and dilute the meaning of achievement during a regular season.

So the bigger they expand, the more they could threaten the meaning of regular-season games in college football.

Any consequences remain to be seen, though, and for now there is nothing but anticipation and excitement about a change that may not have come to pass without the transition phase of the BCS.


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