Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What You Don't Need To Win A BCS Title? Touchdowns, Apparently.

Yes, yes, I know. Trent Richardson scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter and so the BCS National Championship Game wasn't without six-pointers last night. But at this point I should note that with a missed PAT after the score, even that was screwed up.

You can save all your salvos about great defense and the toughness of the SEC. Frankly, I'm pretty tired of it. I don't care if both of these defenses were great -- and make no mistake about it, the Alabama defense is great -- but anyone who watched last night could tell you that the offenses were absolutely, utterly, without qualification, completely pitiful. Seriously. They were bad. They were unbelievably, ridiculously bad. LSU last night gained less than a 100 yards of total offense, and I don't care how good the defense you're playing is, no No. 1 team should have an offense that gains under 100 yards in any game let alone a national championship game.

So here's my big point with all this complaining. The BCS sucks. Really, it does. It's a heartless, monopolized cabal that obfuscates suggestions, ignores criticisms and when someone makes a good suggestion for fixing the system it performs the rhetorical equivalent of pointing into the distance, yelling "Look over there!" and running away. It is a pitiful, pathetic, obstructive organization that not only prevents college football fans from getting a logical champion but also works against its own self interest for reasons I can't begin to comprehend because a college football playoff would bring in a ridiculous amount of money.

Have they seen what kind of money the NFL television contracts bring in? The BCS conferences seem intent on holding the current system as it stands -- despite multiple challenges that are currently gaining steam due to restrictions of interstate commerce inherent in the system -- because they want the money to stay within the power conferences. Will the little guys get a taste of the cash more regularly if the current system is swapped out for a playoff? Probably. Will the big guys still get more actual money if this happens anyway? Certainly.

But before I get into why the BCS is stupid and how it could easily be changed to something more equitable, entertaining and ultimately more profitable for everyone, I'll explain why last night's game in particular, well, sucked. We were told these were the two best teams in the country, and indeed their defenses were phenomenal. But the offense was terrible, and in the case of LSU this was almost certainly not solely a result of the defense being great. I said all that earlier. Here, however, is the issue. The No. 3 team in the country in the final polls was Oklahoma State, a highly entertaining team with an offense to match that lost one game all season and did so on the road in double overtime.

Oh, and their coach is a man.

Why should this team, which arguably had just a strong a claim to the championship game as any other, not have gotten its shot? Why should we be deprived the chance to see if Alabama's incredible defense can lock down Oklahoma State's which topped 50 points six times this season? Why shouldn't we get the chance to see if Oklahoma State's offense can score on the vaunted Crimson Tide defense? Why was this not even a possible result of the games on the field in college's postseason? Instead we were treated to a boring, slobberknockery clusterfuck of a game in which the score in the fourth quarter was 15-0 with no one even getting a whiff of the end zone.

This is what we get with the BCS. Some of the national championship games have been great, but many have been less than exciting and rarely have they been satisfying or clearly resolved which team was the best in the country. And yet the BCS continues to insist that it is the best system we've had yet and the best we possibly can have -- though ESPN is reporting all day that they are meeting this afternoon to finally discuss some fundamental changes.

That said, I'll believe these changes when I see them. In the meantime, I'm going to clarify why we need a new system by presenting every stupid argument BCS head Bill Hancock typically comes up with, and explaining why each of them are utter nonsense.

1. Did you know the BCS is the only system to have matched up the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country every year?

Really? Says who? I'm pretty sure those rankings they have over time become more and more based on subjectivity than anything else, and if we look back in history, there are plenty of instances in which the BCS probably didn't get things exactly right. First and foremost, lets take a gander at the end of the 2003 season. If the BCS was so spot on by pairing LSU with Oklahoma -- a team that was thumped in its conference championship game by Darren Sproles and Kansas State -- then why was there a split national title between the Sugar Bowl-winning Bayou Bengals and USC, which had beaten up Michigan in the Rose Bowl? This may be the only split national championship since the BCS was instituted, but it certainly isn't the only instance of controversy. Why not take a look at 2004 one year later, when a grand total of five teams finished the season undefeated, but three of them (Auburn, an SEC team no less, Utah and Boise State) all had to watch USC beat the living crap out of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl? Maybe we should take a look at 2000, when Washington didn't get a bid to the title game despite beating No. 2 Miami and No. 5 Oregon or having the same 10-1 record as No. 3 Florida State. Oh, and did I mention that No. 3 Florida State got the honor of getting whipped by Oklahoma in the National Championship despite being ranked lower than Miami, which the Seminoles lost to in the regular season, in both the AP and Coaches' polls. Maybe we should talk about Tulane in 1998, Marshall in 1999, Boise State in 2006 and 2009, Utah in 2004 and 2008 or TCU in 2010, all of whom had perfect regular seasons and didn't sniff the BCS Championship.

So yeah. No. 1 and No. 2. No doubt about it.

2. Making a playoff would render all of the other bowl games completely meaningless, and that wouldn't be fair to the student athletes who are having a once in a lifetime experience.

Let's ignore for a second that a playoff could potentially make more bowl games impact the National Championship rather than one of them. Raise your hand if you knew that Marshall doubled up Florida International in the 2011 Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl. Now put your hand down because you are absolutely lying. You didn't watch this game. I didn't watch this game. It didn't matter. It was meaningless. All of the games that were played other than last night's were, too.

3. The bowl system is what makes college football unique!

A drooling problem and a particularly pungent body odor issue are what made Billy in my third grade class unique. It didn't make him good.

4. Having a playoff during the month of December would be an unfair distraction to the players during finals.

Oh, so you're saying the reason Northwestern has never made it to the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament is because the Wildcats have finals in March due to the quarter system and no one else does. Well that makes me feel quite a bit better about my alma mater. The fact of the matter is that we shouldn't pretend college football is something it isn't. College football isn't an idealized scholastic enterprise by dedicated students seeking to build pride for their educational community. The major programs are essentially a minor league feeder system for the NFL and big business as well. Everyone knows it. Let's not pretend it isn't. And let's not pretend that most of these student athletes are in particularly challenging majors, either. But if we really want assume that these people are in challenging courses that require dedication to their studies, why are there bowl games throughout the month of December when these players should presumably be studying? Why is the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament played over the course of a month when many athletes should be studying for finals or midterms? The inconsistency of this argument causes it to hold very little water.

5. Opening up a playoff to multiple teams would devalue college football's regular season, which is the best of any sport.

Well, they may be right in that college football's regular season is the best of any sport in America due to, if nothing else, the potential zaniness and sheer enormity of the schedule. But let me get this straight. The current system is the best at preserving the sanctity of the regular season because every game matters. This season the BCS produced a national champion that didn't win its conference championship, didn't win its division championship, and lost to the very team it beat in the national title game at home during the regular season. Now I have no problem with this happening if the championship matchup is produced organically by what happens on the field, but this was a cherry-picked faceoff that one could argue had already been decided on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. In fact, many made that very same argument in 2006 after No. 2 Michigan lost to No. 1 Ohio State in their season finale. And I haven't even brought up the 2007 national championship game which featured a two-loss LSU team instead of a one-loss Kansas team. This season's championship game more than any other crystallized why this argument is completely bogus.

6. Everyone talks about how great a playoff would be, but no one wants to talk about any of the questions it would raise. How many teams would play in it? How would you determined who gets in? How would you seed the teams? These issues just complicate the system and are simply too subjective, potentially unfair and mysterious.

Well, they're difficult questions to answer when you refuse to try to answer them. And it's particularly unnerving that you refuse to try to answer them when a clearcut, viable solution, is really quite easy to make. For one, there are 16 Division I-A college football conferences. Even Bill Hancock himself has argued that any playoff would have to involve all 16 conference champions. Even I think that's a bit too grandiose at the start -- and also somewhat unnecessary, but really Hancock is just trying to confuse the issue and make it too difficult to approach.

So let's do this: There are six power conferences in Div. I-A college football, the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, PAC-12 and Big East. Make an eight-team playoff that grants automatic berths to the regular season conference champions and two at large bids as determined by the BCS formula. Seeding, too, is determined by the BCS formula, because if it's good enough to determine who the only two teams that can compete should be, surely it can determine the top eight. The first round games can be played at the home fields of the top four ranked teams. The Final Four, a third-place game and the National Championship Game can be played at the sites of the BCS Bowls on a rotating basis. The rest of the bowl games can still be played since they'll be as meaningless as they always were, the play on the field determines your National Champion, and with the added emphasis on winning your conference the regular season becomes even more important because virtually any loss can knock you from playoff contention.

There. Playoff. Done. If you want to get fancy, add in four more at larges to cover multiple undefeateds from non-automatic qualifiers and give the top four teams byes, I'm fine with that too. The point is a playoff is logical, easy and should happen, while still maintaining the tradition of the bowl system and allowing the big boys to harvest much of their money.

What's more is that the other BCS games that have been great over the years will actually matter. In 2006 Penn State beat Florida State in three overtimes in the Orange Bowl. In 2007, Boise State gave us maybe the greatest ending to a bowl game we've ever seen with its wild win in the Fiesta Bowl. This season, Oklahoma State topped Stanford in an overtime thriller of its own at the Fiesta Bowl. These games were all phenomenal, and none of them had any impact on whom the national champion would be.

What if they did?

But that makes too much sense for college football. Remember that next year when you're watching highlights of last night's borefest of a game. Hopefully by then, the NCAA will have gotten the picture. But don't put your money on it. The BCS won't be putting its money on it either.

They'll be too busy counting it.

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