The BCS Mess

Once again there will be controversy over the selection of teams playing for the BCS National Championship. Unless the computer rankings differ significantly from the polls, the title game will between Ohio State and LSU. This should be a good game and both are deserving contenders for the national championship. The problem is that several other teams also deserve consideration.

Ohio State is number one because they are the only team from a major conference with only one loss. However with Michigan unable to compete with Ohio State due to injuries to both its quarterback and tailback, Ohio State had a pretty easy schedule, and even lost to Illinois late in the season. I’m not so sure that they are better than the champions of other conferences who have two losses such as Oklahoma and Southern California. It also isn’t entirely clear that LSU is the most deserving of the two-loss teams to play Ohio State. We also have Hawaii who is the only unbeaten team but played a weaker schedule, making it difficult to determine how good they are compared to the major conference champions.

The inability of teams other than Ohio State and LSU to compete for the National Championship is only part of the problem, again assuming that the computer rankings don’t create even more controversy by choosing a team different from the poll rankings. Another problem is that the system created partially to preserve the New Year’s bowls is actually making them increasingly irrelevant.

We have had many exciting weekends during the regular season such as three, including the last two in a row, in which both the number one and number two teams were beaten. Multiple games each weekend were important as they had a bearing on who had a shot at getting into the National Championship game, and others still had an impact as to which teams would win conference championships and go to other BCS Bowls.

New Year’s Day will not have this much excitement. There might be several good games but they won’t matter as they will not influence who will play for or win the National Championship as the teams in the championship game will be determined later today.
The BCS system is the worst of all possible systems. In the past we would have four major New Year’s Day bowls and the winner could come from any of the four, and rarely such as when BYU went undefeated, from other bowls. It is possible for the top two or more teams to lose, opening up the National Championship to several other teams. I can even recall a year when the number five team jumped up to number one after the bowl games. New Year’s Day was important, generally with a number of games which mattered.

This system naturally led to controversy as there would often be two or more teams with major victories and it came down to a vote as to which would win the mythical National Championship. Sometimes there was even a split championship as different teams wound up number one in different polls.

The current system was devised to attempt to have the National Championship settled on the field instead of by a vote. The problem is that if there wasn’t a clear number one team after the bowl games, there isn’t a clear number one and two pair before the bowls. At least the bowls provided further reasons for selecting the best team as we got to see a variety of games between teams from different conferences. I would prefer to return to the old system as opposed to the current if these were the only options. This year we would see a variety of conference champions play each other and could then choose the best. Even undefeated Hawaii could be considered if they could beat a major team. There might still be controversy as to which bowl winner deserves to win, but New Year’s Day would matter.

Many argue for a full scale play off but this is unlikely to happen. One idea which has floated around since the BCS was created which makes sense is to use the New Year’s Day Bowl games as the start of a mini-play off. Eight teams would play in four major bowls, and from there we’d have the winners continue to play until we were down to only one. This way New Year’s Day would still matter. While there could still be controversy over which teams deserve to play in the four major bowls, it is unlikely that the best team in the country would be excluded.

So far there hasn’t been enough support for this many games after New Year’s for this to occur, but there does seem to be more talk of going to a “plus one” system. This would return to a system like the pre-BCS system of bowls on New Year’s Day. After New Year’s Day two of the bowl winners would be selected to play for the National Championship. This would also be preferable to the current system as New Year’s Day would again matter. While any selection of only two teams could also lead to controversy, a selection after the major bowl games would also be more meaningful than it is now. Under the old system when there was disagreement over who should be number one, the controversy was generally between only two teams. While not perfect, a “plus one” system could solve many of the problems the BCS now creates.

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