I hate the BCS. Hate, hate, hate it. It's an awful system that lends itself to corruption and worse yet, it has made the regular season less and less meaningful. Their slogan is "Every Game Counts", but this season shows that every game simply doesn't count.
Conference titles used to matter. Teams used to schedule tough cross-regional games with frequency. Now, thanks to the BCS, they don't. The BCS claims to make the regular season more meaningful, but under the BCS, college football's regular season has become less meaningful. The quality of out of conference schedules have steadily declined under the BCS as teams have learned it is more important to not lose than to go out and prove your worth. The BCS has consistently rewarded teams, as it has this year, for avoiding tough games.*
*Ed Note - Before we go any further, this is not about Alabama making the title game. This is entirely about the method of selection and the BCS itself. I reject the entire system, not because of who it spit out as LSU's opponent. I do think Oklahoma St deserved it over Alabama, but I'm a resume voter. A power poll voter would likely take Alabama. I don't find the result of Alabama in the title game all that objectionable, as there are valid arguments on both sides. I find their method of selection terrible for football - this is about the BCS itself.
The BCS, and its supporters, claim the purpose of the BCS is to match up the two best teams. That's not true. To quote the BCS's website:
The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a five-game showcase of college football. It is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game, and to create exciting and competitive matchups among eight other highly regarded teams in four other bowl games.
How does the BCS ensure it gets the two "top rated" teams? It has invented a formula that is the illusion of objectivity when really it is a fancy way of distracting the rubes that it is simply selecting the top two teams in the human polls.
Only once has the BCS picked a team for the title game that was not in the human polls' top two, and it was so controversial that the AP crowned the team that missed the title game its champion. Oh, and then the BCS revamped the formula so that would never happen again.
The other goal of the BCS is to create "exciting and competitive matchups" in the other BCS bowls, and it has largely failed at that goal. It also has selected teams for those bowls who have not performed as well in this season as the teams getting passed over. The regular season certainly didn't matter in the selections this year.
This is what the BCS says their goal is, but that's not the true goal. The real goal of the BCS is in its name: Bowl Championship Series. The purpose of the system is to preserve the bowls. If you sat down and created a postseason from scratch, there's simply no way you'd come up with the bowls, much less the BCS. The BCS exists to matchup #1 and #2 within the framework of the bowls. The bowls come first, and don't ever forget that.
After the break, let's review how each BCS bowl game demonstrates a major flaw in the system.
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
LSU v. Alabama
This matchup exposes two major flaws, only one of them having to do with the BCS. Let's deal with that first. There's a legitimate argument over who should be in the title game. Oklahoma St won a conference title and has more quality wins. Alabama passes the eyeball test and only has one loss - to the best team in the country in OT. There is a an honest and legitimate debate over which team deserves that one slot in the title game -- and the method we used to decide is awful.
The BCS essentially leaves it up to the human voters in the Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll. Does anyone honestly believe that more than half of those voters had even seen Oklahoma St. play a full game until last weekend? Hell, if the coaches are doing their job, they probably haven't seen Alabama play either. We use two voting bodies who have absolutely no idea which team is more deserving.
These voters are not sitting down and evaluating these teams with any level of detail. OK, maybe a few are, but it is surely a small minority. Voters still vote primarily by reputation -- there's not a doubt in my mind that if Oklahoma has Oklahoma St's resume, OU would be in the title game. Alabama won the vote not because they won the debate on its merits, they won the debate because they are an established brand and OSU isn't. It's absurd.
The second big problem exposed here is the problem of ESPN's massive influence over the sport. ESPN is a network that thrives on conflict. It has flooded the airwaves with talking head shows of varying levels of quality. ESPN is so desperate for conflict it once made it a news story that LeBron James wore a Yankees cap.
But on ESPN's Saturday morning showcase, not one of the analysts on that show made a case for OSU in the title game. I generally like College GameDay, but I could not believe that the network was actively campaigning for Alabama over OSU, even giving Nick Saban a platform to plead his case. I don't blame Saban for campaigning, OF COURSE he should campaign for his team. Alabama's guilty of no wrongdoing here, but ESPN couldn't find one person on air to at least lay out OSU's case?
As infuriating as the morning's coverage was, ABC/ESPN's coverage of the night games was far worse. Alabama's nightmare scenario played out before our eyes, and twitter and the blogosphere exploded with debate between Bama and OSU. ESPN responded by pretending the debate wasn't happening. Throughout OSU's blowout win, the announcers consistently told the viewing audience that this win couldn't dislodge Alabama, even running that LSU-Bama was the title game matchup on the Bottom Line scrawl. ESPN didn't just set the narrative that Alabama deserved the bid, they refused to even admit there was any controversy over this selection. It was blatant campaigning for, let's face it, a team that didn't really need the help. Alabama doesn't have a problem getting recognized.
Oregon v. Wisconsin
The Rose Bowl, above all other bowls, values its tradition. The Rose Bowl worships at the altar of the Big Ten and Pac-12 matchup, and the conferences worship the Rose Bowl in return. If there is one roadblock to a playoff above all else, it is the Rose Bowl and its tie ins.
Hey, at least somebody respects tradition. College football is all about tradition and the Rose Bowl stands staunchly for tradition. I'm not against that. In fact, I'm completely for it. If we're going to preserve the bowls, let's actually preserve the bowls. Winning the Big Ten or the Pac-12 and earning a Rose Bowl trip actually means something. It values the regular season and winning the title of your conference. The reason the Rose Bowl does so is that it is the bowl that the BCS has the least control over. Let that be a lesson - the less influence the BCS has, the better the bowl.
Oklahoma St. v. Stanford
I'm sure this is disappointing for Cowboy fans, but it's still a pretty good matchup. OSU gets a reward for winning the Big 12 and they get a matchup with highly rated Stanford. Stanford is #4 in the BCS, ranked ahead of Oregon, despite losing head to head to the Ducks and also failing to win the Pac-12 title. Why are they ahead in the polls? Because they have one loss and Oregon has two.
This demonstrates precisely why touch cross-regional games are on life support. The difference between UO and Stanford, other than the Ducks winning on the field and taking the conference crown, is that the Ducks lost to LSU and Stanford didn't play them. Stanford is being rewarded in the polls for NOT playing LSU while the Ducks are being punished. Had UO scheduled Louisiana Tech instead of Louisiana St, the Ducks would have only one loss right now and would unquestionably be ranked ahead of Stanford. Hell, they might even be in the national title game. Oregon is absolutely being punished in the polls for going out and playing someone. We like to say the BCS has made the regular season more meaningful, but the incentive is to win, regardless of opponent. There is little incentive to go out and play top tier teams. The regular season might be more "meaningful" in the sense that your record matters more, but the quality of the regular season has been harmed.
Clemson v. West Virginia
Can we stop treating the Big East as a BCS conference? The BCS guarantees bids to the conference champions of the power conferences, which I generally support. I like valuing conference titles, but we need to stop promoting the Big East to the same level as the other power conferences. Hell, the ACC has not exactly set the world on fire in the BCS era, but at least their conference isn't falling apart at the seams.
The biggest loser of the BCS era has arguably been the Orange Bowl, which has a litany of terrible games, thanks to its ACC tie-in. Hey, at least this game isn't Louisville v. Wake Forest again. But it's not just the matchups, it's the schedule. January 1 used to be my favorite holiday. You'd sit in front of the TV all day with your family and watch a cornucopia of college football. I'm okay with moving the title game to different day, but each BCS game? By stretching out the schedule like that, the juice has gone out of the non-title BCS games. Worse yet, it has ruined January 1st to such a point that hockey has moved in on college football's turf, and they schedule their showcase event on New Year's Day. That's right, the BCS is so stupid that it allowed college football to be outsmarted by the NHL. Let that sink in.
Michigan v. Virginia Tech
This game is an abomination. From 1950 until the creation of the Bowl Alliance(the predecessor to the BCS - and yes, it was even worse), the Sugar Bowl invited a SEC school every year except 1973 (OU v. Penn St). From 1995-2000, the SEC only sent a representative to the Sugar Bowl twice in six years. Thanks for maintaining tradition. The BCS has largely righted itself since then, and this will be the first Sugar Bowl without an SEC team since 2000. And the matchup sucks.
BCS rules prevent more than two schools from a conference going to the BCS bowls, which tied the Sugar Bowl's hands. The Sugar Bowl passed over teams ranked 6 through 9 to take a #11 vs. #13 matchup. By rule, the Sugar Bowl couldn't take Arkansas or South Carolina (or Georgia). So the Sugar Bowl reached out and picked Michigan, who didn't even make the Big Ten title game. Michigan St finished ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten and beat them head to head, and wasn't even allowed to be considered for the bowl by rule. Think about that, Michigan St was punished for having a BETTER SEASON than Michigan. Michigan demonstrated, on the field, that they were the inferior team to Michigan St, and because they missed the title game of their conference, the BCS rewarded them. The regular season, once again, didn't matter. More people would be making a stink about this if it, but this was, by far, the less objectionable selection.
Secondly, Kansas St. has already sold out their Cotton Bowl ticket allotment. That's right, KSU got hosed on the bowl selection, and their fans still sold out the inferior bowl in less than four hours. So the Sugar Bowl decided that no one would watch KSU on TV and took a Virginia Tech team that did not beat a single team ranked in the top 25. In fact, the only team in the top 25 VT even played was Clemson. VT lost to Clemson twice by a combined 48 points.
You don't want KSU? Fine. Why not Baylor? Baylor actually beat teams with a pulse and only features the Heisman front-runner in Robert Griffin III. Think the Sugar Bowl could sell a Denard Robinson - RGIII matchup? Can't imagine anyone who would want to watch that game.
Instead, the BCS rewarded a team for playing a joke of an out of conference schedule, avoiding any meaningful games against good teams. When VT finally played a top 25 team, they didn't just lose, they lost by blowout.
The regular season matters? This season clearly demonstrates that it does not.
A MODEST PROPOSAL
Look, I understand we're not getting a playoff because of the Rose Bowl and the tradition of the bowls. You know what? That's not a bad thing. The Rose Bowl might be the last bastion of tradition in college football, and even they have partly sold their souls. So let's preserve the old bowls and chuck the ridiculous BCS formula, which means nothing anyway. Actually, keep the BCS rankings as a guide, but stop giving it this exalted meaning. No one bitches about the polls in college basketball because, well, they don't matter.
Go back to the traditional bowl tie-ins and just add a plus one. Have the participants selected by a committee, like they are in every other college sport, picked among the big bowl winners. Get rid of the Big East tie in, but keep some sort of rule that the BCS bowls have to take a non-AQ conference champion that finishes a certain level in the polls (the Boise St. rule). If that system were in place this year, we'd have these matchups:
ROSE: Oregon (Pac-12 champ) v. Wisconsin (Big Ten champ)
SUGAR: LSU (SEC champ) v. Stanford (at-large)
FIESTA: Oklahoma St. (Big 12 champ) v. Alabama (at-large)
ORANGE: Clemson (ACC champ) v. Georgia (at large)*
*Yes, Georgia. The Orange Bowl, which doesn't have a stake in the title this year, would kill themselves to get a matchup of these two traditional rivals who now rarely play each other in this BCS era. Georgia also gets rewarded for actually winning something, instead of rewarding USCe and Arkansas for not winning.
All of the BCS bowls would be played on New Years Day (January 2nd, this year). The next day, the NCAA committee would meet and set a title game, which rotates just as it does now, between the top two winners. We may have ended up with precisely the same matchup, LSU v. Alabama, but at least it would have largely been determined on the field while also preserving the tradition of the bowls.
The current system just flat out sucks. The regular season doesn't matter. despite what the press releases say. Let's make it matter again.