Delenda Est BCS!
Ooh, honey, you should have been here 10 minutes ago," said the clerk at the Atlanta hotel where I stayed the other night, courtesy of overbooked Delta Airlines. "We had us a knockdown drag-out."
She wasn't kidding either. A throng of similarly waylaid travelers, anticipating a scene at Hartsfield International that would make the evacuation of Saigon look orderly by comparison, began clamoring for the nine seats in the hotel's airport shuttle as soon as it pulled up. The clamoring led to serious jostling, which degenerated into oaths and shouting, which quickly led to shoving, which prompted the formidable woman behind the desk to rush outside and threaten to "get western" with everyone who refused to settle down.
If she ever tires of her day job, maybe this no-nonsense, no-prisoners woman could help straighten things out for college football, where a similar fracas is going on, thanks to the Bowl Championship Series. A lot of teams besides the two authorized passengers, Miami and Nebraska, wanted on the BCS' bus, and they're howling (with justification). As a result, we have a real-live, hoo-daddy mess in college football, which is exactly what college football needs.
At the Rose Bowl, this year's national championship will be determined on the field. Who gets to play on that field is determined by expert opinions, statistical models and computer geeks, all of whom play a part in the BCS' byzantine formula. (Show me someone who can accurately explain it to you without a chart, and I'll show you someone pitiably in need of a life.)
Almost everyone agrees that undefeated Miami deserves a title shot. After that, it gets hairy.
By the BCS' tortured calculations, Nebraska is the second-best team. Except that the Cornuskers didn't even win their own division, much less their own conference.
That honor belongs to Colorado, which ripped about 10 new orifices for Nebraska when they met last month. But the Buffaloes have two losses (Nebraska has just one).
Oregon has only one loss, and the Ducks actually WON their league. But they're left out because, according to the BCS computer says they played a weaker schedule. Same goes even more for Illinois and Maryland, both 10-1, who can only be insolent bystanders. Then there are Texas and Tennessee, either of whom might be playing for the national crown had they not first had to play an extra game to decide their conference titles, against teams they'd already beaten.
Aren't you glad the BCS has a computer to sort all this out?
By the logic of this whacked system, we could eliminate the present carping with computer simulations of all the possible matchups of all the contenders. We could crunch numbers instead of running backs, then declare the winner on New Year's Day. Sure, you'd lose the pageantry (and revenues) the big BCS bowls provide, but you'd at least have a fairer result.
Alternatively, and here's a radical noggin-thunker of a concept, we could let the contending parties settle things themselves. It's time to renew the annual call for a playoff system: "Delenda est BCS."
The BCS, as Cato the Elder would have put it, must be destroyed in the interest of fairness. And for you dwindling number of mossbacks - largely drawn from the demographic tribe of WMABOS (White, Middle-Aged Bowl Organizers and Sponsors) - who defend the Old Order, let me explain one more time how a playoff could work without upsetting things or filching money from your pockets.
First, take 16 teams. Pick the top 10 from the polls, then use a selection committee - the way the NCAA basketball tournament does - to determine the remaining six. This year, such a formula would include every major team with two or fewer losses and still leave room for a couple of small-conference underdogs like 10-1 Marshall or 10-2 Fresno State and Louisville.
Use your precious computer to establish seedings. Start the tournament on the second Saturday in December, and the championship game will still fall just after New Year's. (And please don't trot out the pitiful argument that forcing athletes to play more games will compromise academics; the bowl participants are already on campus practicing throughout December.)
Speaking of bowls, keep using the ones we have. We'll need 15 for the playoffs. As always, save the biggest (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta) for last, and rotate, as we do now, which among them will host the ultimate game. Enough bowls remain to accommodate the 8-3 and 7-4 teams that don't reach the playoffs.
Under this arrangement, the big bowl games would loom even larger, while some of the lesser galas that struggle to sell tickets (or prostitute themselves by choosing mediocre, big-conference teams with big followings) will prosper. Ask yourself who you'd rather see: Georgia versus Boston College, or Florida against Oklahoma in an early-round playoff game.
Most of all, a playoff format involves the rough, Darwinian justice that appeals to us - not some statist, data-driven abomination. So I say it's time that college football became true to itself and to the American way. Pull up the bus, open the doors, and let the pushing, biting and eye-gouging commence.
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