Time to End the BCS

Frequent VodkaPundit guest blogger Will Collier has to be crushed at Auburn’s omission from the Orange Bowl and a shot at the Bowl Championship Series title.

As an Alabama fan, it’s hard to get too worked up about arch-rival Auburn getting shafted, especially when there is a good argument to be made for both Southern Cal and Oklahoma. Unlike last year, when USC was ranked number one in both polls and yet got left out of the BCS title game by the computers, there is no obvious injustice here–if one begins with the premise that there can be no playoff and thus only two teams can vie for the title.

SI’s John Walters observes that, “Auburn’s Q rating doesn’t stack up with USC, OU.”

Are Tommy Tuberville's Tigers a team the nation wants to watch more than Oklahoma or USC?While everyone is sending out their condolence letters to Auburn this week — I haven’t seen such an outpouring of empathy since Tom Cruise ditched Nicole Kidman — everyone is also quick to point out their reasons for why Auburn, its 12-0 record notwithstanding, has been elimi-Dated from the Orange Bowl. Here’s one I have not heard, although deep down I think it’s at the heart of the matter: People feel that Southern Cal and Oklahoma are just plain more fun to watch.

First, the Trojans and Sooners have national reputations and great tradition. The Tigers also have great tradition but, fair or unfair (and it’s the latter), they just lack the same national Q rating. Folks in Sylacauga and Opelika are spitting mad at that assertion, but they’re in Sylacauga and Opelika. They aren’t in Chicago. Or Denver. Or San Francisco. Or New York. If they were, they’d understand that their school just doesn’t have the same national cache.

Second, USC and OU each have not one but two Heisman finalists. People, and AP voters are people, get excited about Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush and Jason White and Adrian Peterson. They don’t get as excited about an awesome defense and a quarterback who, as sublimely as Jason Campbell has played this season, nobody outside the SEC knew a year ago (Quick, is Jason Campbell black or white? If you don’t know the answer, you’re who I’m talking about).

Walters is probably right. Auburn has been a significant football power for decades but has always been in the shadow of its cross-state rival. Alabama is, after all, home to twelve national championships and a whole passel of SEC titles, not to mention the legendary Bear Bryant.

It was inconceivable to me a dozen years ago, when the SEC played its first league championship game (Alabama beat Florida 28-21 and went on to beat Miami 34-17 in the Sugar Bowl to win the mythical national championship) that a team could go undefeated through the brutal SEC schedule and not win the national title.

Oklahoma may well be the best team in the country this year, but they have played a much softer schedule than Auburn. USC’s schedule was quite difficult, but still didn’t match up to the Tigers’. All three teams–and even lowly Utah, for that matter–beat all the teams on their schedule, though.

ESPN’s Pat Forde, among others, is calling for a return to the pre-BCS bowl system.

[I]f the bowl system is inevitable, and an eight-team playoff is the impossible dream, then let’s at least go retro with it. Let’s reconnect with traditional values — political buzzword! — and bring back the old-school bowl lineup.

Forget trying to manufacture a title game. Send the teams to their traditional bowls and let the voters sort it out. (Sorry, coaches, but in this bowl system your final Top 25 ballots will be public.) If a consortium of computer rankings wants to award its own title, that’s fine — just leave them out of the king-making process. Let’s have Auburn play in the Sugar Bowl against, say, California. Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl against Utah. USC in the Rose Bowl against Michigan. Virginia Tech can play Texas in the Orange Bowl for sun. Then play them all on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — none of this drip-drip-drip of games over a course of four days — and let the chips fall where they may.

That way, all three still have a chance at a national title in the polls. Auburn’s season still would matter; it could finish No. 1 if both the Trojans and Sooners lose. Even Utah conceivably could wind up saying “We’re No. 1!” if it beat Oklahoma and the other two unbeatens were to lose. And that way, more than one bowl means something. As it stands now, we have the BCS championship bowl and a 27-game undercard of diminished importance. That’s why New Year’s Day is dullsville now, packing nowhere near the punch it once did.

Indeed, the only bowl games I watch now are the BCS title game and (in years they’re not on probation) the one featuring Alabama. A playoff is obviously the ideal situation but, as this year’s mess makes clear, even a two-step playoff involving the top four BCS teams wouldn’t necessarily end the controversy.

There’s no perfect way to crown a sports champion. Playoff systems have their own vagaries, such as having teams win the title despite a long, mediocre regular season if they happen to get a hot goalie or two really good starting pitchers. Or the current mess in the NFL, where a team might win 10 games and be shut out of the playoffs in the AFC but an 8 win team will likely get a wildcard bid in the NFC. But almost everyone agrees that the BCS is an incredibly poor way to pick a college football champion. Everyone, that is, but the college presidents and networks, who are laughing all the way to the bank.

Update (1134): Terry Oglesby takes heart that Auburn has been released from probation.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. skillzy says:

    Aw, shucks, I have to settle for an undefeated season and 4 nights in New Orleans, including New Year’s Eve. Woe is me!

    Yes, the BCS is dumb, but people only care when it affects their team.

  2. melvin toast says:

    There is always controversy no matter what you do but in sports, controversy is settled by what happens on the field, not by polls and computers.

    A 2 round playoff would give the top 4 teams a chance at the national title. That still means that either Cal or Texas would get left out and Utah who is undefeated would get left out.
    But you’re no longer arguing over who’s number one or two. You’re arguing over who’s number 4. And number 4 teams generally aren’t national champions.

  3. bryan says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Walters’ name on some checks in the BCS offices the way he’s been defending the system. This is the same guy who said ND was right to fire Willingham. In short, the sports equivalent of Walter Duranty.

  4. denise says:

    I never thought the BCS system would work, and I am glad to be proved right. When Nebraska and Michigan split the “championship” in 1998,* everyone said that it wasn’t going to be a problem after that because there would be a championship game. I knew it was BS all along. 4-team play-off, 8-team playoff, it’s never going to come out right on a consistent basis. Give up. Quit worrying about who is the national champion and just enjoy the game.

    The only reason it works in basketball is because teams can play 2 games a week (so they can havea 64+ team tournament in 3 weeks), and they play enough games in the regular season to make a meaningful evaluation.

    And Melvin is wrong about the number 5 team. That’s the equivalent of a No. 2 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament. In 6 of the last 10 years, a 1-seed did win the championship, but in 4 of 10, it went to a lower seeded team. In 2 of the last 10, it was a number 2 seed; once it was a 3, and once it was a 4.

    *Michigan was the rightful champion that year and the only reason Neb. won in the coaches’ poll was because Tom Osborn made a well-timed retirement announcement to gain sympathy. I favor going back to the old system, but I would institute a rule that retirements cannot be announced right before final polls come out.

  5. Yeah. Roll Tide! (Well, maybe next year.)

    Other than that, I don’t even care. Like skillzy said, “Yes, the BCS is dumb, but people only care when it affects their team.”

    Besides, I hate Auburn.

  6. bryan says:

    The thing that bothers me about the BCS is the total lack of concern with the BCS members for the people who pay their paychecks – the fans of the teams – for anything approaching a sensible playoff system. For instance, Denise mentions that the playoff only works in college basketball because they can play two games a week, but the playoff system also works in Div. I-AA, II, and III college FOOTBALL!

    In short, it’s not that these poor, struggling student athletes can’t handle an additional three games (try cutting out the first two games of St. Mary’s Prep. School for the Blind and South Carolina College for the Differently Abled). It’s that the fat cats in college football have people hoodwinked with their “tradition” of bowl games that don’t mean anything, don’t make any money, but hey, they give Tommy Bowden a chance to keep his job at Clemson despite going 6-5, 7-4 every year.