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27 Dec 2005

BCS Isn't Perfect, but It'll Have to Do

by Russell Levine

People evaluating the Bowl Championship Series tend to fall into one of two camps: either the system failed entirely, or it got lucky. Even in a season such as this one -- when the BCS championship is a highly anticipated, controversy-free matchup between the nation's only undefeated teams -- most college football observers are loath to give the eight-year-old system any credit.

But consider the alternative for a minute. Had this season played out as it did, say, 15 years ago, before the existence of the BCS or either of its precursors, the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance, #1 USC would be playing in the Rose Bowl, and #2 Texas would be in the Cotton Bowl.

In that scenario, the national title would be very much in the hands of the sportswriters and coaches who vote in the two major polls. USC would almost assuredly win the title -- an honor so subjective it was routinely referred to as the "mythical national championship" -- with a win in Pasadena, but a sloppy victory coupled with a Texas blowout might have allowed the Longhorns to sneak into the top of the polls.

The BCS represents a vast improvement over that scenario. By lifting conference tie-ins for its title game, it is able to at least put on a game between somebody's idea of the top two teams. The problems have been in picking those teams when there is either a lone worthy candidate or more than two.

This is the eighth season of the BCS, and it's currently batting .500 in terms of avoiding controversy. The four contentious years -- 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004 -- occurred for a variety of reasons. In 2000, Florida State was chosen to oppose Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl despite the fact that Miami finished with the same record and beat the Seminoles head-to-head. Miami fans cried foul -- though they conveniently overlooked that Washington also finished with the same record and beat Miami head-to-head. Formula changes rewarding wins against top teams were subsequently instituted to prevent such a scenario from occurring again, and thus far it hasn't.

The ugliest years for the BCS were in 2001 and 2003, when Nebraska and Oklahoma, respectively, reached the championship game despite not winning the Big 12 title. The Nebraska scenario was particularly galling: the Cornhuskers were annihilated by Colorado in their regular-season finale and failed to even qualify for the Big 12 championship game. Oregon, meanwhile, finished 10–1 and won the Pac-10 title, but was relegated to the Fiesta Bowl against Colorado.

In 2003, Oklahoma was the nation's only undefeated team entering conference championship week, but was routed by Kansas State for the Big 12 title. Despite the 28-point loss, the Sooners remained atop the BCS standings and went on to lose to LSU in the Sugar Bowl, while USC failed to qualify for the title game despite being #1 in both human polls. When USC won the Rose Bowl, the Trojans and LSU shared the title -- the exact scenario the BCS was created to prevent.

A simple BCS rule change could have prevented the problems of 2001 and 2003, yet it still hasn't been made. The BCS should require participants in the championship game to come from the list of automatic qualifiers -- conference champions of the six BCS conferences, or Notre Dame, or any mid-major conference champion that meets the requisite qualifications. Doing so would have relegated those Nebraska and Oklahoma squads to at-large berths in other BCS games, rather than unseemly appearances in the title contest.

Of course, like anything that makes perfect sense in college football, that rule change is unlikely to occur. And just like every other nonsensical thing about the sport, this one is also driven by money. To eliminate teams that fail to win their conference from title-game contention would be to unfairly punish the conferences that stage league championship games (like the ACC, Big 12, and SEC). And since the BCS serves at the behest of those conferences (as well as the Big East, Big Ten, and Pac-10) it certainly isn't going to ruffle their feathers by discouraging revenue-generating league title games.

Last year was the ultimate nightmare for the BCS. For the first time in its history, three major-conference teams finished undefeated. Auburn went 12–0 in the regular season, but was ranked third in both human polls and by the BCS, and was left out of the USC-Oklahoma Orange Bowl. Since nobody has yet figured out how to play a single game with three participants, this scenario is likely to occur again under the BCS system. At least Auburn was a consensus #3, somewhat mitigating the controversy.

* * *

The greatest failing of the BCS is that it changed the nature of the college football debate, and in doing so, set itself up to be perceived as far less successful than it actually is. College football is a unique sport, and survived -- thrived even -- for over a century without much concern about how its champion was crowned. Even as the proliferation of games on cable TV increased attention on the sport, most fans seemed to accept that some years, the bowls would provide a championship matchup, while in others, the writers and coaches would have the final word.

But by placing all the emphasis on creating an annual #1 vs. #2 game that it didn't always have the ability or the wherewithal to create, the BCS has turned itself into little more than fodder for late-night comedians. Most of the criticism is spawned by what the BCS isn't and will never be: a playoff.

Perhaps that's about to change. Beginning next season,the BCS will add a fifth game -- the plus-one game. For now, this just increases the number of participants from eight to 10. But the most interesting thing about the new game is the logistics. Rather than add a fifth bowl partner, the BCS will continue to rotate the title game among the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, and Rose Bowls, each of which will host two games once every four years. The first game will be the regular bowl game, on or about New Year's Day, and the second will be the title game, played on the same field a week later.

If you think that sounds like laying the groundwork to somehow pick two lucky teams from among the four BCS-bowl winners for the title game the following week, you're not alone.

The pace of change in college athletics is nothing if not glacial, so we should probably give the BCS four to eight years to kick the tires on its new five-game model before the championship gets turned into a one-game playoff. If it can pull it off, the BCS may finally have found the optimal balance between maintaining the traditional bowl system and providing an annual, undisputed champion.

For now, the BCS will probably continue to bat .500, which is maybe not as impressive a feat as it is in baseball, but it's also not the miserable failure it's perceived to be.

John L. Smith Trophy

Falcons coach Jim Mora picks up his second JLS Trophy honor this season for his actions in the closing minutes of Atlanta's OT loss to Tampa Bay Saturday.

Mora received a lot of attention for the cell-phone call he made at the two-minute warning of OT, trying to determine how a tie might affect the team's playoff chances. Failing to receive an adequate answer, Mora elected to go for the win in the final two minutes. Fine -- no problems there. I won't hold Mora responsbile for not knowing every single playoff scenario. Someone else in the team administration should have had that angle covered. Where Mora truly dropped the ball was in electing to punt three plays later, on fourth-and-2 from deep in his own territory. If the Falcons truly were "going for the win," then why punt at all? Why not go for it? It was their only chance at victory. Sure, failing to make it would have all but assured a loss, but that's what ended up happening after Tampa Bay returned the punt to midfield. With just two yards to go, the Falcons had to go for it. Instead, they'll be going home.

Portions of this article appeared in Friday's New York Sun.

Posted by: Russell Levine on 27 Dec 2005

60 comments, Last at 04 Jan 2006, 9:25pm by Rich


by noahpoah (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 10:45am

Weren't the polls, and thereby the whole idea of a national college football champion, instituted to engender controversy? The idea was to generate interest by spurring debate about who the 'real' champion is.

I can't remember where I read this (maybe in a King Kaufman column), but, if this is the case, then the BCS (or its predecessors) represents a much bigger change than you propose, Russell. It didn't just change the nature of the debate - it changed the system from one meant to cause debate to one meant to end it.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 11:10am

Except, of course, that after 70 years, everyone had gotten used to the concept of the polls - sure, there was controversy (Penn State '94? Alabama's undefeated-yet-no-threepeat year?) but it was just "the way the polls worked."

The problem with the BCS is that if you're going to replace something people were comfortable with that had existed for decades, you need to be an improvement over the previous process. In the "big controversy" years, the BCS has been worse than, or, at the minimum, equivalent, to the previous process.

Any primate (or, for that matter, most fungi) could have come up with the matchup this year. Two undefeated teams? What a concept! And in this, yes, the BCS is an improvement (as Russ has pointed out), because the old way, USC and Texas would never play.

And every time there has been "controversy", all they've done is change the formula in such a way that the previous result would not have happened - in 2003, changing it so significantly that it would have avoided every one of the controversies in the previous BCS years.

But here's the real thing, as I ramble on. Why was there controversy? I mean, why did people think one team was undeserving? How did they know? Why was it bad that a 1-loss USC was left out, but there was hardly a peep outside of the Southeast for Auburn?

They knew because the polls told them so. The polls still rule college football, regardless of the BCS. And if the BCS comes up with an answer that doesn't match the answer the polls give, then there's "controversy".

The last revision to the BCS formula, after the 2003 split championship season, essentially was the last straw in tearing away everything the BCS was supposed to take into account, as the top spots will mirror the polls 99% of the time at the end of the season. Why bother with the computers? I guess for the case when the polls don't agree on #1 and #2 - but 2003 taught the BCS a lesson...

The polls still rule college football, the BCS does not.


by noahpoah (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 11:22am

And in this, yes, the BCS is an improvement (as Russ has pointed out), because the old way, USC and Texas would never play.

But no USC-Texas game is only worse than the BCS if you feel like you must have a clear champion and that a head-to-head matchup is the best way to get it. Like I said above, if the original point of the polls was to generate debate about (and attention to) college football, no matchup may well be better than a definitive outcome.

And anyway, if the polls still rule college football, then who needs the matchup? Whichever undefeated team polls higher is the champ, right?

by DNL (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 11:41am

The objection to the BCS, as seen in the posts above and elsewhere, is simply that the following statement is a less controversial and much simplier solution to the pre-BCS problem of not having the top team teams face:

"The #1 and #2 in the Coaches Poll shall play at a rotating site each year. The winner shall be declared the National Champion."

The argument that the BCS has given us previously impossible matchups is a hollow one. No one is seriously suggesting that we return to the pre-championship era.

by noahpoah (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 11:55am

No one is seriously suggesting that we return to the pre-championship era.

I am, but then no one is listening to me (rightly so), and I don't particularly care if there is a college football champion or not.

Now, clear winners of arbitrary matchups between geographically distant conference winners is another matter entirely (bring back the meaningless tradition of the PAC-10 vs. BIG-10 Rose Bowl!).

by noahpoah (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 12:05pm

I am the king of odd numbered posts!

Aw, crap...

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 12:11pm

I would say that we're in no more of a championship era than we were pre-BCS. If we've still had a split national title during the BCS era, and undefeated teams having zero championship chances, then I think we can still say that we're still in the era of the mythical national championship.


by peachy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 12:24pm

USC started 2004 as the #1; Oklahoma was #2; Auburn was #17 or #18 depending on your flavour of opinion. Starting the BCS in October is meaningless as long as the dead hand of the preseason human polls continues to rule - in any scenario with three unbeatens at the end, the one that started with the least buzz is invariably going to be out, regardless of their merits. (And in most cases with three one-loss teams - though 2004 was an exception, caused at least in part by the BCS' fiddling of the computer parameters - the one that loses last is going to be out...)

by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 2:08pm

Honestly? I'd be thrilled to go back to the 'mythical' days of traditional bowl matchups that might or might not determine a national championship. Yeah, USC-Texas is going to be a great game, and Michigan-USC was a great game last year. Can you tell me that USC-Penn State wouldn't be a great game this year?

I don't mind that the BCS exists; I mind that it does things so arbitrarily but claims to be so precise. There is only one reasonable way to determine a national champion if that is your goal. The BCS is not it. If your goal is bowl game matchups there are a lot of other ways to do that. But you won't get a national championship game all the time, and that's just going to be the way it is.

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 2:14pm

I've always been really confused by the constant yelling about "those damn computers." Part of the argument for the original BCS system was that it tried to rank the teams in a way that was at least a bit more objective. Combining the polls and the computers always seemed like a great idea to me, but people are really scared of change - even when it was they themselves that railed against the old system.

by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 2:18pm

I actually like the computers a hell of a lot more than I like the polls. Computers don't care about streaks or perceived power or anything, and as a result they're more likely to remove biases inherent in voting.

It's those damn people I can't stand - not those damn computers. But it doesn't matter - even a computer is going to get things wrong simply because the formula is subjective and not official.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 3:03pm

I like the idea of a +1 game... and I don't care how they figure out which teams are #1 and #2 after all the games are over.

Of course unless its mandated that #1 plays #4 and #2 plays #3, it will still be open to controversy.

This year for example... one team in the plus one game is going to be Texas-USC... but who is the 2nd? Is it Penn State, or the Fiesta Winner?

by HLF (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 3:16pm

As USC and Texas both failed to lose a game, in your system every other Div 1-A team played the entire season with ZERO chance of playing for the championship, regardless of who was on their schedule and regardless of whether or not they won every game they played.

The absolutely logically and morally absurd arguments the apologetics allow themselves to get talked into astound me. There is no justification for awarding your "championships" the same way figure skating and the WWE do, or with the integrity of boxing judges; and there is even less justification for otherwise moral and rational people to apologize for this corruption.

by NF (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 3:50pm

What i don't get is why they pretend there are 4 BCS games every year. There is the Rose Bowl, which is the #1 vs. the #2, but none of the other matchups are actually based on BCS rankings.

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 4:37pm

HLF- I wiokld noit use the wiord mioraklioty,. because yiou cklearlky have nio iodea what the wiord means,.

And yes my kleyboiard ios maklfunctioionoing

by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 5:01pm

Re #13: This is exactly the problem with the current system. Any system where a team can win all of its games and still not have a chance to win the national championship is severely flawed.

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 5:21pm

I don't know why the BCS attempts to do with hundreds of teams what the NFL can't do with 32. There are too many teams and too much talent and I have a hard time believing any of the 1 loss teams are dramatically worse then the teams that went undefeated. Even if a team suffers a loss, fluke losses happen all the time and are not always indicitive of a teams ability.

I don't think I'm saying an unpopular view here when I say I wish they'd just go to a playoff system that at least allowed the teams to play each other instead of simply saying "Well, these X number of teams suffered a loss - they're clearly not good enough to compete for a national championship".

by Falco (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 5:51pm

All the talk that a playoff would destroy the tradition of the bowl games rings a little hollow. It is really all about more tv games over more dates now, not tradition.

Exhibit A: there are ZERO, NADA, ZIP college bowl games on New Year's Day. When was the last time that happened? They have been playing the "BCS bowls" after Jan 1 for several years now. I can also do without the bowl games including the Fort Worth Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and the Poinsettia Bowl. I would rather have a playoff system, but if that can't be done because of "tradition", then I would rather it be like it was, with matchups all day long on New Year's Day.

As for the computers, they are not objective. They are not tested to insure accuracy, they are set up to insure the big conference teams finish as high as possible, and the smaller schools have little opportunity to crash the party by finishing at the necessary level to qualify. The BCS computers don't take any margin of victory, or ratio of points allowed to points scored, into account. (In fact, one (Palm?) has a separate non-BCS rating that does, but prepares a BCS version for use in the formula). They dont take where games are played into account. I know we dont want to encourage running up the score, and it could be capped or diminishing returns used, but a 30 point comfortable win does in fact tell something about Team Strength compared to an OT win over the same opponent, though the computers dont account for that. It is absurd that who wins a TCU-Southern Miss game in OT decides two top teams' fates, or that Auburn is suddenly a worse team after destroying Louisiana Tech, suggesting that the team is worse by merely playing the game. A Computer Ranking that tells you a team is worse the moment it walks on to the field for the coin flip, without even seeing how they play against who they play, is not a good system. There is no logic to that.

by Kevin Pelton (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 5:52pm

A little part of me dies every time the Rose Bowl is played and it is not Pac-10 vs. Big Ten.

Beano Cook too.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 8:15pm

Generally, when New Year's Day is on a Sunday, the big bowls are played on Monday. This isn't new - the 1922, 1928, 1933, 1939, etc. up to 1995 Rose Bowls were played on the 2nd because the 1st was a Sunday.

Long ago, this was primarily because it was, well, Sunday. Blue laws and such. These days, it's much more because of the NFL.

But moving the bowls to the 2nd due to the 1st being Sunday is not new nor against the longstanding bowl game tradition (note that 1995 was the last time, prior to 2006, that January 1st has fallen on a Sunday).


by dave crockett (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 8:15pm

three essentially random points:

1. to the TV dunderheads who trip over themselves railing against the BCS as an affront to the very notion of competition (and the 18-34 year old men who love them): if and when college football goes to a playoff format the BCS doesn't go away. just like in college hoops, some BCS-type system will be used to choose then seed playoff participants.

2. the logistics of putting together a viable playoff system are not nearly as trivial as many make it seem. it will be interesting to see, once the plus-one format is implemented, which schools can travel 50,000+ fans two weeks in a row after the holidays. putting actual fannies in the seats is far more meaningful in college football than any other sport (except maybe NASCAR).

3. i rather the like the stream of "who-gives-a-damn" bowls for two reasons. first, i'm all for spreading the wealth in college sports and exposure is wealth. second, as an nfl fan and draftnik i love to get a sneak preview on the draft.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 8:16pm

(Now, moving games to the 3rd or 4th etc. and beyond to make them "bigger", as the BCS does with the title games, is certainly nontraditional).


by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 8:45pm

The computers are objective - they do treat every team "the same" in the formula. For example, you don't have the significant bias towards "traditional powers" in the computers that you do in polls. If a "mid-major" played the exact same schedule and had the same record as a "major", the computers would generally rank them equally, while the polls wouldn't.

The most significant (polls-wise) is Notre Dame, which, regardless of the quality of the opponent, gets a bigger boost for beating any team and a smaller drop for losing to any team than any other team in the country. Earlier in the year they were in the top 10 or so in the polls, while the computers had them around ~25 (and in some computers, unranked).

That said, so many things that the computers could take into account have been forbidden by the Powers That Be. At the inception of the BCS, the computer rankings were allowed to take into account almost anything they wanted, including whether a game was home/away, scoring, defense, even gameday weather conditions.

The problem was that some of the computer operators could (and did) put in weighting factors that biased their ranking towards one team or another, yet was still "objective".

The most egregious example was the one from one Pacific northwest newspaper, which always vastly overranked Washington and Washington State. There was no "If (team = (UW || WSU) {rank=better}" kind of math - they simply added points for winning games in rainy conditions (which helps many teams, but it's often raining up there) and gave a boost for high offensive production (which benefits the Pac-10 as a whole in comparison to other conferences) and that's all it took. Sure, any other team that played in such a rainy area, and in an "offense" conference would be ranked similarly, but there weren't as many.

So sure, the computer operators could 'tweak' their formulas to favor one conference or set of teams while still treating all teams "equally". To prevent running up the score, they capped margin of victory at 21. Then they got rid of it entirely after complaints from defense-oriented teams. Weather was taken out because of the above examples. These days, only two things are taken into account:

1. Wins and losses.

2. Schedule strength, which some computers giving extra-heavy weight to [i]nonconference[/i] schedule (which leads to the "Step onto the field vs. a lousy non-con team, and immediately drop" phenomenon Falco brings up).

Some of the current computers don't even taken into account whether a game is at home or away.


by Joe (not verified) :: Tue, 12/27/2005 - 11:51pm

It is worth noting that Division I-A College Football is the only NCAA team sport that lacks a playoff system. The university chancellors who continually deny any changes in the championship system use tradition to mask the desire to fatten the universities pocketbooks. They fail to realize the great interest of fans that would be developed through even a 4-team playoff.

by Acetone (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 12:05am

Since learning about the DVOA rating system, I've often wondered why such a system couldn't be used in college football. I have not even seen it mentioned on this site. Is using DVOA in college football an impossibility for some reason, or is it merely impractical/unrealistic?

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 12:19am

Re: #25

I believe FO is looking into DVOA-type statistics, and more in-depth analysis, for college football on FO starting next season.

I believe the presidents/chancellors freely acknowledge that there'd be a lot more money in a playoff system...but perhaps for fewer teams/conferences. Or, even worse from their perspective, the power conferences wouldn't have as much control over the money. If it goes to a playoff, the NCAA might (heaven forbid) want to get involved (a la NCAA basketball) and keep some of the money.

If they go slowly, and go from what they have now, to the +1, to the "The two participants are chosen after the bowls", to a 4 team playoff, they have the greatest odds of keeping control of all the money, which is what they want more than anything else.


by ElJefe (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 1:28am

Re: 21

The logistics of a 16-team playoff wouldn't have to be all that difficult. The first round could be played at campus sites, rewarding teams that win their conference, finish with the best records ...

The quarterfinals (round of 8) would be a little tricky, but could likely be played at a regionally-appropriate site. (Houston for SW, Atlanta for SE, Detroit for MW, San Fran for W) (Nope, no east regional in college football. :) ) I don't think tickets would be that hard to sell at a neutral site for a game guaranteed to have 2 of the top 8 teams in the country playing.

The semis would probably be a big enough event to sell at a neutral site, and the final (for better or worse) would have the "Super Bowl"-corporate crowd.

But ticket sales would be a drop in the bucket compared to TV revenues. You could even price the neutral-site games cheap just to have a full house and not put much of a dent in your revenues.

by ElJefe (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 1:30am

Heh ... who knew "8"")" was a smiley.

Obviously I didn't. :(

by ElJefe (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 1:58am

Now for my real follow-up post ...

There are a host of reasons why there won't be a Div 1-A football playoff anytime soon, and none of them are the ones you ever hear about. It's not about players taking too much time away from classes, or else why would there be playoffs in the football divisions where the athletes are actually students? And it's not about any romanticizing of the bowl system.

Tarrant brings up an excellent point (#26). If you wanted 16 teams, you couldn't exclude the non-major conferences. I assume the NCAA acts like enough of a democracy that the smaller conferences would have to sign off on a playoff, particularly if the bowl system went away at the same time. Those smaller conferences would have to get some of the money, and in a 16-team system would likely get semi-guaranteed spots. (MAC/C-USA/WAC winner with 9+ wins instead of 4th place team in Big Ten/Big 12/SEC ... )

That sort of playoff is not in the best interest of most coaches. There is enough pressure inherent to the job when it is possible to keep the alums happy with "7-4, We're going to Shreveport!". Being put in a position to have to finish top 3 (or even top 2) in a major conference to even go to a post-season game ... that's more pressure than the NFL.

I think some of the admins would oppose a playoff because it would be worth too much money. The combination of higher financial stakes and lower job security would likely lead more coaches to push for more societally-marginal players. This isn't really a problem in basketball, because between asst. coaches and student/graduate assistants you only have to be able to sit on 8-10 guys. Football might require keeping an eye on 50-60 at a time.

The players may not want a playoff either. If a starting tailback in the D-III title game blows out a knee, it means he'll have to wear a brace when he plays company softball at the accounting job he'll have after graduation. If the same thing happened in a D-1A game, millions of dollars might be lost. I actually think this is the major sticking point, as the people with by far the most to lose have absolutely nothing to gain from a playoff system. I don't think the NCAA really cares about the athletes, but they do care about not getting sued for potential loss of income.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 2:17am

I don't think the NCAA is scared of a lawsuit for loss of income - after all, players are not forced to play NCAA football, and one runs the risk of injury in any sport - I would almost believe that makers of safety equipment would be far more scared of such lawsuits (helmet manufacturers and such are common targets) than is the NCAA or its member schools.

That's one reason that the NCAA offers insurance to cover loss of potential future income due to injury - and even runs a program to loan high-profile NCAA football players the money for the premiums (which would then be paid back when the player is drafted, or, if injured, is paid for out of the insurance payment). I believe there are maximum amounts that the program will loan money to cover, which depends on what the projected NFL draft position for the player is. However, any player projected for the high first round will also have no trouble getting bank loans to cover the premium for additional coverage, under the same deal (it'll get repaid either by future NFL salary or by the payout if a catastrophic injury ends their career).

It is true that coaches like the fact that they can say "Hey, we did get to a bowl game." But there were 56 bowl teams this year, out of 119 (including provisional teams) 1-A teams. That's positively NBA or NHL-esque in terms of 'postseason participation'.

On the other hand, I'm not sure for big programs that getting to a bowl game is enough anymore. There are so many bowl games that no one cares anymore. The real gain from minor bowl games, and the reason coaches like them so much, is no longer the game (that's a hassle), it's the fact that bowl teams are allowed an extra few weeks of practice that other teams do not get - and ask any college coach, those weeks do matter in these days of severe limitations on workouts and such. Hell - many teams lose money on those low-payout bowl games, but they accept bids anyway for the practice.

I would put forth the theory that if the NCAA suddenly said "OK, all teams can have those 3 weeks of winter practice, bowl-bound or not" that you'd start to see a lot of teams declining invitations to the NoOneCares.com Bowl.


by chris (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 2:30am

RE: #1

For 50 or 60 years, we were good with the "debate" of who won the national title in a given year.

We blew off steam with our neighbors, realized that they didn't really care and then -- if our team wasn't affected -- we shut up about it for eight months.

That would be healthier, but don't make the mistake of thinking that the nature of the debate has been changed by the BCS. The bowl system has never been satisfactory from a fan's standpoint, it's just that the venting outlets are far greater.

Given the whining about about '03 USC and '04 Auburn, I wonder who would burn at the stake for BYU's 1984 title if you had 25 regional sports channels, 5 ESPNs, an endless supply of sports talk radio, websites, message boards and blogs, in addition to the three networks.

Instead, I remember Gumbel's "Who did they play, Bo Diddley Tech?" That was it. That was your debate on BYU's title, won in its bowl game against a second-rate Michigan team. (No offense; just not a vintage UM squad.)

What led to the Coalition, Alliance and finally the Championship Series -- with its unceasing tweaks -- is more about debate becoming consensus, which is that "This is crap, and please stop bs-ing us." That's been the case since the early 1990s, and that's why we've seen the baby steps that D-Is have taken.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 2:37am

I don't want an 8 or 16 game playoff. It makes the season less meaningful. 4 teams at most are deserving any year... for example this year none of the 1 loss teams deserve a shot, but 2 would get one in a 4 team playoff. I'm wouldn't cry for the other teams who lost 1 game...

by chris (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 2:56am

RE: #s 21, 27, 29, 30...

#21 -- In most cases, a playoff game is going to have more general appeal than a bowl game. So you're less dependant on teams that "travel well".

#27/29 -- What's wrong with using bowl games for all of a 16-team playoff? It keeps the bowl games on radar. You use the other 13 bowl games for the other 26 teams out there. If you're a 7-4 team in one of the major conferences, you're going to get in a bowl... I kinda buy into the "fewer games, the better" approach to avoiding injuries, but that possibility looms every time you step on the field. It's a good point, tho.

#30 -- I'm still trying to figure out how the smaller conferences have allowed the larger conferences to get away with what amounts to a loophole on the number of practices, in the form of bowls.

by chris (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 3:11am

#32 -- You still have the problem of possibly leaving out an undefeated team from the non-equity conferences.

To me, that's what makes the regular season less meaningful.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 11:17am

What an 8 or 16 team playoff makes less meaningful is nonconference games.

You think teams schedule crappy teams and don't care about nonconference games now? Imagine what would happen the moment you say "OK, all you have to do is win your conference to get in, and nothing else matters." It would be worse than your average NFL Week 17 when teams have cliched their seeding.

As it stands now, when you have multiple "tied" teams, their ranks can be significantly different in the computers - sometimes 5 ranks or more - based primarily off of nonconference schedule. Many of the computer rankings heavily weight nonconference schedule strength because it's the only thing a team can actually control.

It's common to blame poll inertia (which did play a significant roll) and nothing else for Auburn being left out in 2004 - but Auburn was actually *tied* with OU in the polls one week last year (although not at the end). Auburn was this close (less than .02 in each poll) to Oklahoma in the final polls last year, but was a distant 3rd (.07) to Oklahoma in the computers. (In contrast, the difference between USC and Oklahoma in the polls was greater than .02 apiece, and this year, the poll separation between USC and Texas is greater than .03 apiece).

Ask any of the computer ranking administrators and every one, to a man, said something to the effect of "Auburn could be #1 in our computer if they didn't play such a pathetic nonconference schedule."

Perhaps it's stupid, as Falco pointed out, that simply by going onto the field against their nonconference schedule, Auburn was handicapped. It was worse that they actually had a more decent schedule planned, but some teams backed out (and one - Bowling Green - was bought out - by Oklahoma). It's stupid because any elite team is going to demolish a I-AA/low-level CUSA team, but they're also going to demolish some middle-of-the-pack BCS conference team that they would have been given much more credit for beating.

Oregon this year was in a similar situation, by the way - a few of the computer operators have mentioned that OSU playing Texas (even with a loss), vs. Oregon playing whatever Division I-AA team they played really affected things. Would things have been different if Oregon had played a decent team and won? What if OSU had played the I-AA team and Oregon played Texas? Who knows. But it is undeniable - nonconference schedule matters, although winning your games matters more.

If the system was setup such that winning one's conference got you in, no one would ever care about nonconference schedules again (unless there were at-large berths for which such a schedule mattered).


by Wes M (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 2:25pm

I don't think the "+1" game will help all that much. First, as mentioned above, you'll have four BCS-game 'winners,' how will the top two be picked, and how many supporters of the other two teams are going to be happy? (Especially when there are multiple one-loss teams.)

Second, what about seasons like this one, in which there is a clear #1 after the first round of BCS games? Won't the "+1" game be anti-climactic? (And not just for fans, how excited would Leinart/Bush be for a game against Penn State for example (provided USC and Penn St won their games, of course...))

by J.S. (not verified) :: Wed, 12/28/2005 - 8:03pm

R.E. #10:

So why don't we institue the FO inovate DVOA rankings for College Football?

I mean if we use all kinds of statictics and take out all of the human emotion of human polls (not to mention the big money from all of the Div 1A confrences)
out of the rankings. But this is once agian a huge leap forward in how you would choose a Bowl Contender and would probably be said to fall flat on its face the first year if by progamming it pitted Idaho St. vs California State University Sacramneto in the BCS championship game.

The biggest reason that I see that the Bowl system will never change is this:


College Sports have for a long time walked a very fine line. they are there to represnet the unbiased talent of the Young Male/Female in that particular sport/endevor, howvever how can college football say that they represent this in an unbiased way if the BCS championship teams are set to make about $11 million (just a rough guess) for thier schools for just going there?

and for the non BCS games the schools are only set to make about $1.5-3.5 million?

some may argue that the old system was better or say that rankings are still driven by the humans creating the polls, but what about college basketball?

they have AP/ESPN/AT&T?USA today polls but yet at the end of the season they have a thing called march madness where they pit 64 teams against each other. how many bowl games are there, 41? that means that we could take the top 20 teams and have a playoof system represented in those 41 bowls with the last one being the BCS champion. Think about it we could call it December Diziness.

Not only would this showcase the top twenty teams, but all the bowls would get a fair shake at being able to get in the "big" powerhouses of college football.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 1:57am

It's being reported today that USC has come to terms on a long-term contract extension with Pete Carroll.

Well, one could certainly opine that Carroll has earned whatever extension they could give him - two titles (with the potential for three in a week), three Heisman Trophies in four years, four BCS games, a 3-0 record so far in BCS games, with only 3 losses in the past four seasons.

One wonders what the monetary details are, but the articles don't say - but man, if Weis managed $40 million over 10 years for a 6-2 record in one year, I wonder what USC is giving Carroll for all he's managed to accomplish.


by DGL (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 2:14am

#37: DVOA for CFB rankings is a great idea. Then we could see:

"Penn State is clearly ranked too low because the refs stole the Michigan game from them and they should be undefeated. Ranking teams based on how long the head coach has been there is way better than this. Your obviously sucked in by the media bias for USC."

by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 3:03pm

RE: #39
or better yet,

"Quincy Morgan of the Texas Longhorns had a terrible day, but according to current DVOA, Texas is still ranked #1 because all other teams still have a DVOA rating of under 30. Yes thats right even Penn State and Notre Dame who are both undefeated this year have a lower DVOA rating than the now 9-1 Longhorns."

by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 3:05pm

OOOOPPPS I menat to say Vince Young of the Texas Longhorns

Who the heck was I thinking of?


by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 4:29pm

#30, I think you've got things completely backwards on the effect of real playoffs (16+ teams with guaranteed bids for conference champions) on non-conference games. The handful of teams that don't win their conference, but are battling for a small number of at-large bids are all going to have similar records, and the only way the pollsters or computers or selection committee will have to tell them apart is "who did they beat?". And that means more tough OOC games, not fewer.

by buddha (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 4:44pm

So. Was the Michigan-Nebraska game the worst officiated game of all-time?

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 4:54pm

Re: #42

And the fact that there's only two BCS at-large bids (vs. a likely 5 in a 16-team playoff) and the fact that nonconference schedule can tip the scales (see: Auburn) when there are multiple undefeated or 1-loss teams vying for a spot in the championship game has sure increased the number of big-time nonconference games!

Oh, wait.


by Russell Levine :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 5:36pm

Re: 37

You'll never get a playoff bigger than 16 teams. 16 teams is already four weeks worth of games .. remember, in March Madness everyone is able to play twice per weekend.

Also -- don't lose site of what happens to the $11-$14 million payouts. Except for Notre Dame, conference teams share that money with everyone else in the conference. You get a travel allowance so you can take 100 players, the band, and all your golden-handshake boosters, but the rest goes into a pool that is shared equally by all conference members. That's why you're not going to get a playoff. Why would the AD at Vandy stand for a system that's going to dry up all his guaranteed revenues thanks to the SEC's eight bowl tie-ins?

by Russell Levine :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 5:37pm

Oh, and Notre Dame gets to keep it's full bounty this year, but next year a new rule goes into effect that will limit their BCS take to what the second BCS teams from a single conference get -- roughly $5 million

by J.S. (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 8:38pm

RE: 45 and 46

But that is just the point,

MONEY and alot of it goes to SEC.

so why not spread the wealth and allow the other Confrences get into all that money sharing as well.

Look I understand that all of that money is used to help finace all of the travel that the teams and all the extras do (not to mention the salaries that the head coaches and staff are paid), but as a purist for the game, it just pains me to see some confrences get all of the money and alot of the confrences are left in the dust.

but i see where you are going as far as the at most 16 team playoff so that is 16 bowl games used for the playoffs (the four current BCS bowls and 12 at random) combine all of that money together for all of the teams and then spread all of that money equall between the confrences that get those 16 spots.

so if you figure that the 4 BCS Bowls are worth at minimum 11 million a pop and the other twelve are worth at minimum 2 million a pop that would give you at minimum 68 million to share amongst probably only 6 confrences plus the "Notre Dame" style schools so each confrence still is going to make about 1 million per school in thier confernce and Notre Dame for the forseeable future will still walk away with about 5 million like it will next year.

I think that this is a plausable solution to giving us a true #1 NCAA DIV 1A football team

RE: 43

considering the refs were walking off the filed before the play had ended i have to agree with you

by chris (not verified) :: Thu, 12/29/2005 - 8:57pm

1) So in general, Notre Dame will be getting the rough equivalent of two schools in a league with two BCS teams?

2) In the case of the Vandy AD/president,
my guess would be that the revenues from an actual playoff might be greater. But for those in the doghouse of their conference, the greater scare is getting another version of Miami or Florida State which earns its reputation on the field and leaves a program like Mississippi State vulnerable to a kick to the curb.

by HLF (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:33am

Defend the lack of a playoff -- the idea that 100+ Div 1-A teams are eliminated before the season even begins -- morally, please. Thank you.

by HLF (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:43am

Oh, and the idea that people with the qualifications of figure skating judges decide who wins, not plays on the field.

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 5:01am

Okay, here's what I don't understand. The money angle.

Bowl games now are actually a losing proposition for most teams - unless they're fairly well-known games. Many teams end up spending more money than they make to get to the bowl game. A lot of bowl games go out of business or are changed or bought around. Only the biggest ones are consistent revenue-makers.

Why is this the case? Because fans have to travel. Fans have to go down to see a game, and most people who aren't in that region of the teams don't care at all about watching CFB.

With a playoff, however...you get home fields. Which means sellout crowds, basically guaranteed. You get a lot of games that actually matter, not just one. The home teams can do what they normally do, and give a payout to the visiting team - and I suspect with the nature of these games, they could pay a LOT more.

Who wins? Well, the schools involved would make a lot of money - probably a lot more than going to bowl games. The fans don't have to travel, and they get multiple bowls potentially in a season. The conferences could probably make a lot of money this way as well.

Who loses? The bowl organizations. And...that's it, I think.

by chris (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 11:16am

Does it have to be all or nothing? Why screw the bowls if you don't have to?

Just like the MBB tournament, sub-regional neutral sites seem to do well with local fans as long as the teams are good. The bowls need massive support from the schools because the matchups are generally terrible in the current system. You're just not going to get the local fan base interested. Bowls wouldn't have that problem with a playoff.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 12:54pm

Re: #51

You forget that, right now, all bowl proceeds are split between every team in a conference.

The smaller schools in a conference - the ones that are never really in the hunt for a conference title, the ones that go to a bowl only rarely - would never sign off on a playoff system that destroys that system. Many schools that never go to bowls depend on the revenue that comes from the bowls attended by other teams in the conference.

Additionally, I don't see the various university presidents/chancellors ever (or at least we're talking not for decades) signing off on a system where a school gets the 'home' gate revenue from a playoff game and makes a payment to the visitor (like regular-season games are now). I think that any playoff games, were one to be instituted, would be considered neutral-site games (even if they weren't at neutral sites) and the money would still have to be split between schools in a conference.

Re: #48

Starting next year, if Notre Dame goes to a BCS game, it gets the same payout that a BCS conference does if it sends a second team (~$4 million), instead of the full $14 million or so (like it gets this year and has gotten in the past).

Re: #49

HLF, you do this every year in the college threads, asking people to justify, justify, justify the current system :) This must be a very personal thing for you or something. Almost no one (save perhaps some university administrators here and there) thinks the current system is better than a playoff. And I don't see many arguments claiming so.

But the fact that one admits that a playoff system would be better than what we have now also ignores the reality that a playoff system is not here and isn't going to be here for a while longer and we can discuss the current system (as this article has) taking that reality into account.

Even when (and I do believe it is "when", but we're talking years down the road) there is some sort of playoff (probably 4-team), the nearly a century of mythical national champions will not be wiped off the books.


by J.S. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:07pm

RE: 52

But I am not saying to srew the Bowls,

I am saying to use 16-20 of the bowls that we have today for the Playoffs and the othe 12-8 bowls for those that did not make the playoff cut.

in this secnario you would have the #1's from all of th confrences show up to a bcs title bowl playoff plus probably 4 at large berths for those outside a confrence with best record giving them the invite to the tile playoff.

from there the rest of the bowls would invite who ever they want from outside those who got invited for the title bowls, this would still allow for the infamous 7-5 teams to beat each other up and would allow many head coaches to say look we got into a bowl and that would still help thier recruiting, and retaining of players for the next season.

My whole thinking is that many people are confortable with being able to argue about who was really #1 in DIV 1A football, and many are scared of changing the system so that there would be no arguement.

I.E. IF and this is a very big IF,(lets switch gears to the NFL for a momnet), the Superbowl (notice bowl at the end?)
comes down to the Redskins and the Steelers, and the Steelers win, then they are the best team in the NFL no questions asked, and even though Indi may have a better record the Stellers still get last pick in the draft because they won the Superbowl. I just think that alot of people would be scared of that scenario happening if you got a 9-3 versus a 12-0 team in DIV 1A FB playoff

and by people I mean Boosters, Alumni, and Conference Presidents

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 1:50pm

I agree to a point.

One of the biggest arguments made by pro-current-system people is that if there was a 4-team playoff, "What about this year, when it's obvious that there are 2 good teams? Why should USC or Texas have to play someone else after beating the other?" They said the same thing about it when Miami and OSU played "If there was a +1 game, why should the undefeated winner of Miami/OSU have to play USC or Georgia?"

Those arguments make a fundamentally bad assumption: that the two undefeateds would still be playing each other in the first game. You see, most playoffs have things called seeding, which would probably mean that this year, USC would be playing OSU and Texas would play Penn State in the first round.

Now one common proposed "compromise" solution for now is the "+1" model, where all the bowls go back to their traditional matchups (Rose would be Pac 10/Big 10, etc.) and after all the traditional games, THEN you determine the two teams for the championship game. That could indeed lead to the 'two undefeateds' being from the Big 10 and Pac 10. But that would be the only time that could happen (none of the other BCS bowls have two conference tie-in teams).

Now it's true that there'd still be issues with finding what the extra teams would be and there'd be controversies over being #4 and #5. Maybe a selection committee a la the NCAA Tournament would be better in that situation than simply a formula (especially given poll inertia - for example, last year Utah wasn't #4 at the end of the year, but a selection committee might have chosen them for a playoff even if the BCS formula would not). But it's a lot easier to tell a #5 team with a loss that they're left out than it is to tell an undefeated #3 that they have no shot.


by chris (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 5:41pm

RE 53 (on 48): Thanks for answering the question on Notre Dame's future take...

RE 53 (on 49): Is HLF preaching to the choir? Probably. Is "Plus-One" something worth settling for? I'm not sure. Are we even in the ball park of "Plus-One" without the multi-media nudging? Probably not, and that's why I don't mind HLF's persistent reminders.

Finally, is it me, or are the CFB commentators in the Disney family far more strident on the playoff issue than they've been in recent years? In other words, is ABC/ESPN able to run more smack on the BCS now that it's FOX's turn to ignore the gorilla in the corner?

by J.S. (not verified) :: Fri, 12/30/2005 - 7:15pm


People evaluating the Bowl Championship Series tend to fall into one of two camps: either the system failed entirely, or it got lucky. Even in a season such as this one — when the BCS championship is a highly anticipated, controversy-free matchup between the nation’s only undefeated teams — most college football observers are loath to give the eight-year-old system any credit.

I happen to be one of the ones that belive the system has failed completly and that something new needs to come forth. That is why I say we


by Adam O (not verified) :: Sun, 01/01/2006 - 3:28pm

The only reason that people get huffy about the BCS is because the media tells them to.

The computer polls don't match the media and coach polls. Sportwriters can't admit that just maybe the computers are right and they are wrong. They want a computer system that agrees with everything they say, even though they went to college to learn how to write articles, and not to actually learn anything about football.

by J.S. (not verified) :: Wed, 01/04/2006 - 1:17pm

Trust me I am not getting "huffy" because the media is telling me to, I am getting "huffy" because every other major college sports program has a playoff system in place. this incldes basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, etc.

How can DIV 1A football programs, tell us that they would be better off with the current system than with a playoff system.

I think that it is possibly the last remnant (well maybe not the last)of the good ol' boy system in college football that has persisted for around 50 years.

I belive that if they opened thier eyes to the money possiblilities they would come around.

by Rich (not verified) :: Wed, 01/04/2006 - 9:25pm

Here is a perfect system. That keeps all bowl games intact. Here is how it would of looked this year based on the BCS Rankings. First Round Jan 2, Sugar Bowl #3 Penn St vs #6 Notre Dame. Jan 2, Fiesta Bowl #4 Ohio St vs #5 Oregon. Semifinal Jan 9, Rose Bowl USC Vs winner of #4 vs #5. Jan 9, Orange Bowl Texas Vs winner of #3 vs #6. Jan 16 Rose Bowl Championship Game.