Nine years in, BCS still faces bevy of criticism
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Year No. 9 of this Bowl Championship Series is almost finished, and again it featured its usual chaos. There was the expected -- Hawaii got thumped -- and the unexpected -- Kansas didn't. There was the thrilling -- Bill Stewart b...
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Year No. 9 of this Bowl Championship Series is almost finished, and again it featured its usual chaos. There was the expected -- Hawaii got thumped -- and the unexpected -- Kansas didn't. There was the thrilling -- Bill Stewart bringing West Virginia to its biggest victory -- and the tedious -- a USC intrasquad scrimmage would have made for a better Rose Bowl than the game against Illinois.
And, of course, there was controversy and bickering over who belongs that trumped anything that happens on a football field the first few days of January. Missouri, 11-2 and champs of the Big 12 North, was left out in favor of Illinois and Kansas, both of whom the Tigers beat this season.
Arizona State, the 10-2 Pac-10 champion, was left out as well. And a two-loss LSU, selected from among a bevy of two-loss squads, one-loss Kansas and undefeated Hawaii, sneaked into the national championship game despite losses to unranked Arkansas and barely-ranked Kentucky.
The past month has featured a stream of questions about those decisions and another trip through the fundamental issues behind major college football -- is the BCS the best way to determine who can compete for the national championship? And if not, is there enough support around one plan that can solve everything?
"We're fooling ourselves if we think there is a perfect solution out there," California athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a telephone interview. "Ultimately, the goal is to get the 1-2 thing right. But does everybody agree on that? No."
This year's chase for No. 2 created some ill feelings during selection weekend in early December. LSU, USC, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma clinched conference championships and felt they boasted impressive enough seasons to face No. 1 Ohio State for the title. Georgia, 10-2 and idle that Saturday, joined the fray.
LSU's victories (including a thrashing of Virginia Tech in September), and the credit it received for losing its games in triple overtime, gave it the nod for No. 2. But the furor around that selection didn't rival 2001, when Nebraska took No. 2 without winning the Big 12 North, or 2003, when Oklahoma reached the national title game after losing the Big 12's title game by four touchdowns.
More often, the controversy extends to the participants in the four other bowls in the series. Fans everywhere couldn't understand why the system prevented a USC-Georgia matchup, or Oklahoma facing Virginia Tech. Maybe Missouri fans had the biggest beef, after seeing the Jayhawks (Orange Bowl winners) and Illini (Rose Bowl losers) enjoy the BCS prestige. Their Tigers, meanwhile, went to the Cotton Bowl.
"We understood that those other bowls had the opportunity to pick anybody available between No. 3 and No. 14," Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said by phone. "But initially, we were disappointed."
Disappointed -- maybe there's no better way to sum up the nation's attitude about the BCS. The results sometimes work out, and a blowout either way tonight would place this year in that category. But most years, college football finishes with at least a few "what ifs" floating among fans.
The best way to answer the questions would be an eight- or 16-team playoff. Everyone in college football -- from BCS coordinator Mike Slive to Alden and Barbour -- said such a scenario is not under consideration. But figure on at least some tweaks to the system by the end of the decade. There is history for change, from the elimination of the Associated Press poll, to the addition and elimination of a "strength of victory" component, to the various computer rankings used in the formula.
Those small tweaks appear to have a much better shot of success with the commissioners who run the BCS than an overhaul that would place the bowl system in jeopardy and risk damaging the excitement of the regular season. In that spirit, here are three tiny adjustments to the BCS suggested to the Orlando Sentinel this past week:
1. More protection for at-large teams: Under this system, teams ranked third and fourth in the BCS earn automatic bids to one of the five games, even if they do not win their conference. That privilege could be extended down as far as No. 6.
"I think we need to keep looking at the formula," Barbour said. "You could literally be the No. 5 team in the country and not get in. Are we OK with that? A couple years ago, I wasn't."
In 2004, Barbour's Bears faded from the Rose Bowl to the Holiday Bowl after Texas vaulted them for fourth in the final BCS standings. A safeguard for such teams would help the system, Barbour said.
2. The addition of a sixth BCS game: This switch wouldn't affect the current system much, but would provide two extra teams the chance for a big BCS payday (as much as three times the check for the highest-paying non-BCS bowl). And the perfect candidate seems ready to emerge -- the Cotton Bowl, which will move to the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium starting in 2010.
"The best bowl experiences are the weeklong, festival-type environments," said Alden, who watched his Tigers rout Arkansas in this past Tuesday's Cotton Bowl. "When you have the resources in the Dallas Metroplex, the new facility, everything is there."
Other cities, including Orlando with a renovated Citrus Bowl, could contend for such a game. It likely would be a January bowl and feature a pair of top-20 teams from the BCS standings. It also would join the rotation for the national championship game, hosting it once every five years.
3. A non-BCS league school invited every year: This idea might go hand-in-hand with the extra game. Each year, the highest-ranked team from a non-BCS league, regardless of its place in the BCS standings, would be invited to a BCS game and earn the eight-figure payday.
"There have been some very soft, hallway conversations about a structure like that," Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson said by phone. "But that hasn't been anywhere fully vetted."
It seems as though a non-BCS team must go undefeated to reach the BCS, as Utah, Boise State and Hawaii have in three of the past four years. But Thompson admitted it is tempting for teams to dumb down their nonconference schedules to guarantee wins, then take their chances in conference play. The annual inclusion of the five "coalition" leagues would avoid that phenomenon.