Like most college football fans, I don’t particularly like the Bowl Championship Series. If nothing else, the BCS routinely fails to live up to its stated goal of crowning a true national champion in college football.
Thus, I was extremely interested to hear that the BCS is finally facing legal action over possible violations of antitrust law. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff filed a lawsuit against the BCS, and the Department of Justice, led by standout prosecutor Christine Varney, opened its own inquiry into whether the BCS is an illegal monopoly.
The BCS’ response to these legal inquiries has been twofold. First, Executive Director Bill Hancock made a somewhat silly statement about how, in essence, the government should have better things to do than look into college football—which doesn’t make too much sense to me, seeing as how the majority of bowl game participants are public schools that are owned by—you guessed it—the government.
However, the second threat leveled by BCS supporters is more interesting to me. They have claimed (correctly, as it happens) that the destruction of the BCS would not necessarily lead to the creation of a playoff to determine the national champion. Unlike having a playoff, which most fans agree is the best way forward, there is no clear answer to whether or not the BCS is superior to the system it replaced.
For those of you who are unfamiliar: prior to the creation of the BCS, each bowl game acted as its own independent entity and selected its participants through agreements with conferences (rather than five games coming together with six conferences to set the rules, as with the BCS). There was no guarantee that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final rankings would meet in a bowl game, which often resulted in split national titles, with multiple undefeated teams claiming the top spot.
The original intent of the BCS was to correct this flaw by ensuring that a national title game between the sport’s top two teams was staged each year. However, the BCS has failed miserably in this aspect, as there are almost always more than two teams worthy of playing in the national championship game. This year, TCU went undefeated and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but didn’t get a crack at the title despite never losing.
So the question remains: would it really be all that terrible to go back to the bad old days of the free-for-all bowl system? I’ve already established that the BCS’ claim that it crowns a true national champion rings hollow; the only reason to keep the BCS, then, would be that it ensures more compelling matchups than the old bowl system would.
In a little thought experiment, I’ve guessed at what I think the four marquee bowls would have looked like this past season if there were no BCS.
Rose: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Stanford*
Sugar: Auburn vs. Ohio State
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Arkansas
*This is the only one I really agonized over; the spot could have easily gone to Michigan State or a third SEC school.
In my opinion, the differences between this slate and the BCS are small enough to be irrelevant; regardless of which system you use, you will get a very good set of games. Sure, the smaller schools of the world like TCU get left out, but with TCU and Utah joining major conferences in the near future, that will become less of a problem—not to mention the fact that preferring the BCS on the basis of the fact that it better represents non-AQ schools is far too rich with irony for me to even contemplate.
Thus, the scare tactic of reverting to the old bowl system wouldn’t be that bad even if it did happen. We might lose the No. 1 vs. No. 2 title game, but that game stopped delivering a controversy-free national champion a long time ago. The bowl season would be just as compelling, and each game would be free to uphold its own tradition—the Rose Bowl could stage its Pac-12 vs. Big 10 matchup every year, without having to host some team from Texas that is going to jump to the Big East. Of course, the BCS will continue to come up with excuses to justify its existence—but now that I refuse to be cowed by the threat of returning to the old bowl system, I’m excited to see what its PR spin doctors cook up next.
It may be May, but for Kabir Sawhney, it’s football season! Let him know that your football season never ends either at ksawhney “at” stanford.edu.