I Hate the BCS and You Should, Too

By on December 12, 2012


At nearly every level in every sport across the world one thing is consistent: the best of the best is determined by a playoff system. From high school to the pros and from baseball to soccer, playoffs are in place to determine a sport’s champion. The one sport that doesn’t utilize a playoff system is also one of the biggest: the Football Bowl Subdivision of college football (formerly known as Division I). It wouldn’t be a big deal if the system in place, the BCS, didn’t take away from how great a playoff system would be for the fans. It’s been in place since the 1999 bowl season, but many people are still confused by the system and unaware of its pitfalls.

5. Teams Get Left Out

With the BCS system there are five bowl games (the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and a championship game that rotates between the four sites) that determine a national champion. It’s as simple as whoever wins the championship game is the champion—except it’s not that simple.

Since the addition of a championship game plus the four other games in 2007, there’s been only one championship game where the two teams had the two best records (12-0 Auburn vs. 12-0 Oregon in 2011). In 2008 there was an undefeated team (Hawaii) left out for two teams with worse records (11-2 LSU vs. 11-1 Ohio State). Also, under the BCS system there are stipulations to pick who gets to play.

There is a guarantee that winners of the Big Ten, Pac-12, Big-12, SEC, ACC and Big East are one of the ten teams to play in the BCS. There is also a deal that a team in the top four of the BCS rankings automatically plays in the BCS. If one team that isn’t in one of those conferences finishes in the top 12 teams OR is top 16 AND ahead of one of the “big 6” conference winners they automatically gain a spot in one of the BCS games.

After the six or seven automatic BCS spots are determined the next three, or four, highest teams in the BCS rankings get in. However, only two teams from each conference can play in BCS games. Confused yet? Since the BCS started there have been many times when a team in the top ten was left out of the BCS. Last year two teams of the SEC (Arkansas at 6 and South Carolina at 9) were left out basically because the conference was too good. This year there is four such teams (#7 Georgia, #8 LSU, #9 Texas A&M and #10 South Carolina) that will be playing in lesser bowl games rather than the group of games that is supposed to determine the best 10 college football teams.

4. All Neutral Sites

I’ve always been a fan of having big games played at one of the team’s home stadiums. Nothing beats seeing something like the New Orleans Saints playing in the Superdome or the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau field in the snow in January. It creates these awesome home field advantages that change sports history. How about the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks in 2011 when they beat the Saints … all because they had home field advantage. Imagine if the vaunted SEC faced a real challenge and traveled north to play a team like Ohio State or Oregon in the snow. Many SEC teams haven’t played above the Mason-Dixon Line in years. The neutral site games are usually in warm weather areas which are more suitable for warm weather teams and their fans. It’s an element I think is cool that is lost in the BCS system.

3. Style Points

Humans aren’t perfect and that is a fact, so it’s impossible to create a system without human error or bias. The BCS rankings are made up three aspects: the media poll, the coaches’ poll and a computer system. Yes, we rely on computers to pick the best teams in college football.

I honestly don’t know how to perfectly explain how the computer system works to rank teams, but the algorithms used take into account a team’s record include the strength of their schedule and the score of their games. Here’s a passage of how the computer system works posted on Wikipedia:

For the portions of the ranking that are determined by polls and computer-generated rankings, the BCS uses a series of Borda counts to arrive at its overall rankings. This is an example of using a voting system to generate a complete ordered list of winners from both human and computer-constructed votes. Obtaining a fair ranking system is a difficult mathematical problem and numerous algorithms have been proposed for ranking college football teams in particular. One example is the “random-walker rankings” studied by applied mathematicians Thomas Callaghan, Peter Mucha, and Mason Porter that employs the science of complex networks.

Scary stuff, I know. These computer math equations use the score of games to help determine the best teams and coaches know this. That’s why you’ll see teams try to beat another quality team by 100. It’s to get more “style points” to please the computers.

2. Creates Awful Matchups

The BCS has had some exciting games. Think of the 2003 double-overtime National Championship Game between Ohio State and Miami and the 2010 game with Auburn and Oregon. However, many of the games have been lopsided blowouts. There have been a total of 28 BCS games where the winner wins by more than two touchdowns and at least one in every season since the BCS started. This year should be no different. Four of the five games this year have a point spread greater than a touchdown including Alabama a 9 point favorite against Notre Dame in the title game, according to SportingNews. Florida State is a 13.5 point favorite against Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, Florida is a 14.5 point favorite in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville, Oregon is an 8 point favorite in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State and Stanford is a 6 point favorite against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl (Wisconsin won eight games, went 4-4 in the Big Ten and is unranked).

1. The Teams Are Picked

I’m a fan of playoffs and playing it out. The BCS is a process that picks teams: I hate that. Yes, you want to have a perfect scenario where the No.1 and No.2 teams face in the title game and the other BCS games are made up of teams 3 through 10. But it’s not a perfect world. There are ridiculously bad matchups created that can be avoided through a playoff system … well, sort of. Since there is no guarantee one of the highest rankings or a conference winner is truly one of the best teams in the nation, even with the four team playoff that is coming in 2014, there still may be a very deserving team that gets left out.

My Solution

I think the best way to go is an eight team playoff. You get your six conference winners and two at-large qualifiers, determined by the two best teams by BCS ranking who didn’t win their conference. Also, you give the higher ranked team a true home game (so you can get that true home field advantage like in the real playoffs). You can either have the highest four BCS teams that won their conference play at home or simply the highest four teams at home. After the two weekends of playoffs you reseed the teams not in the championship and play out the rest of the bowl season leading up to the championship game as normal.

 I think it could work, but the BCS isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. ESPN and ABC pay more than $150 million per season for the BCS games through 2014. There was recently a contract extension signed through 2025 at nearly $500 million per season. In the end the BCS is all about the Benjamins.

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