Monday, December 04, 2006

The BCS Trainwreck

Throughout the season Ohio State and Michigan distanced themselves from the rest of the field and positioned themselves as the top two teams in the country. Unfortunately the rest of the contenders all lost games along the way leaving a mess behind, especially if Michigan lost a close game to its rival. We all saw the game of the century unfold as a wild shoot out with number two Michigan falling just short as time expired. It was an instant classic.

That's when the BCS hype machine went into overdrive. A clear number two team had to be picked from the pile of one loss hopefuls and the anointed program was USC. Even though Michigan retained its ranking after the close loss, USC had could convince the voters and the computers it was worthy of a title shot if the Trojans could beat Notre Dame handily. Since Notre Dame was more than a little overrated USC prevailed and secured the second place spot. The BCS title game was a virtual lock with only the lowly UCLA Bruins holding a slim chance in tripping things up.

You see, USC was the only team besides Michigan that has shown enough firepower to challenge Ohio State. The Trojans gave one game away when they looked past Oregon State and struggled with a few games while key players nursed injuries but when the team was healthy they looked unstoppable. Until they faced UCLA. In that final Pac 10 game USC looked very average. UCLA didn't exactly look like a team for the ages, but the underdog did what it needed to do and USC was knocked from that coveted number two spot.

That opened up the debate over who should get a title shot. Michigan's loss was to an Ohio State team that seemed unbeatable all season long and the Wolverines proved to be up to the task. Florida won an allegedly tough conference and suffered only one loss to a team that was supposed to be pretty formidable at the time. In the end it was subjective criteria that won out. Florida got the nod because they hadn't played Ohio State.

After all the games had been played the talking began and the people esteemed to have their opinions factored into the BCS formula fabricated a national title game that made sense on paper. One conference champ against another. That's the way it has to be. Essentially Michigan and Florida were tied for second place so a handful of people who allegedly know what they're doing have broken the tie for us. Thanks. Of course those same people thought USC would beat UCLA and long before that thought Notre Dame would dominate Michigan.

From a marketing perspective it makes sense. Why would anybody pay to see Michigan and Ohio State play round two? Why would the BCS want to offend the other conferences? More importantly, could the Big 10 generate enough revenue on its own to make the BCS title game profitable?

And don't discount the fact that people were thinking about how much more money could be made if the collective fan base of Ohio State and Michigan were spread out over two BCS games instead of just one. We are talking about two universities that have been very large for a very long time and both have a long history of athletic success. That means money. Both have proven themselves capable of carrying a bowl entirely on their own. Ohio State pulls in 80,000 people for its spring intra squad scrimmage! Split the ticket and double the money, right?

Sadly, it's all about money and politics. The fans are subjected to an arbitrary process where talking heads and stuffed shirts dictate the post season. In every other level of college football the champion is determined through a tournament where teams aren't punished for one or two regular season setbacks. It's not a 12 game playoff, it's a six month crap shoot where teams hope that they can avoid injuries, bad calls and unlucky bounces long enough to secure that number one ranking. Is the BCS champion really that good, or just lucky?

Thanks to the BCS we're splitting hairs over Jim Tressel passing on voting in the final coach's poll. Instead of looking forward to seeing if Ohio State can live up to the hype by facing challengers who built momentum throughout the year, we have crowned Ohio State as the champion and allowed one lucky suitor the chance to prove us wrong. Sadly it's Boise State, unbeaten and untied, who will suffer the most. Even if they emerge from the post season the only unbeaten team, they'll still fall short of the national championship. Their fate has been decided on paper.

UCLA proved how faulty that logic is. Nobody gave them a chance. USC fans were booking trips to Glendale and Fox Sports had their BCS Championship graphics package edited and ready to air. On paper the Bruins didn't have a chance, not if USC showed up. The best sports stories are always about the monumental upsets nobody saw coming. It's so pervasive UCLA winning shouldn't surprise us and so important that we shouldn't be eager to settle things on paper.

Until we rectify the problem, we'll never have a real champion at the highest level of college football. Real champions win games not polls.

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