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A Defense of the BCS’s way of Determining a National Champ
I have read this blog religiously for 2 years but this is the first time I have been compelled to write a diary. I realize this is not a topic people are thinking about all the time right now and that is why I am writing it. I am really tired of the tate/denard/devin and omg wings freakout. Also, I realize this is against the general opinion of most so all I ask is you wait to neg bomb me into oblivion until you have read my arguments. Feel free to rip my arguments to threads in the comments. Finally, as a proud LSA student I am using a blue book essay like format and trying to give an answer the way I would if I got a “Defend the BCS” essay on an exam.
Over the last few years, it has become the popular opinion that the current BCS system needs updating and that that update needs to result in a playoff. Just the other day I was with a group of people and somebody blurted out, “I assume you all agree we need a playoff in college football.” My comment to that was that we actually do technically have a playoff, it is a 2 team playoff. Furthermore, I don’t even like the current system, however I do believe that it is the better than the other options. Also, this is not a defense of using computers to determine the top 2 teams in the land instead of a selection committee.
The major argument you hear against the BCS is “it is not fair.” It is my belief that a 4 team and an 8 team playoff would be unfair for the same reason people claim the current 2 team system is. The first major argument I hear people bring up the 2008 Utah team because they beat one loss Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and finished undefeated. First off, people conveniently ignore the fact that the Alabama team looked like they would rather be anywhere else but playing in the Sugar Bowl instead of the national championship game. This was made painfully obvious when one of Alabama’s best players (if not their best), LT Andre Smith, decided he would rather talk to an agent and get ready to play on the NFL than play in that game. His backup was eaten alive for some unreal stat like 5 sacks. Also, I got the chance to watch that year’s Utah team live as they barely beat an awful 3-9 Michigan team by only two points and in my opinion they did not look that impressive in person. Even if you ignore those points, and still argue for either a 4 or 8 team playoff, it is still unfair because that undefeated Utah team may not have made it into either of the playoff systems. At the end of the regular season in 2006, Utah was ranked 6thin the final BCS poll behind USC (5th, PAC 10 champ), Alabama (4th, at large bid), Texas (3rd, at large bid), Florida (2nd, SEC champ), and Oklahoma (1st, Big 12 Champ). (http://espn.go.com/college-football/rankings/_/year/2008/week/16) In a four team playoff (or the plus one idea), the four teams to go would be the top 4 and Utah would be left out. In an eight team playoff, 6 slots would go to the automatic bids for the BCS conferences and then the 2 at larges would go to the top 2 BCS at large teams (Texas and Alabama) leaving Utah out. There are 2 ways for Utah to get in. The first is to give an auto birth to a non-BCS provided they are top 6. In this scenario you would have to leave Alabama (a top 4 team out of the playoff), which in my opinion would be even more unfair them omitting Utah. The other option is to drop the worse BCS auto bid team, this would not happen for monetary reasons because the big 6 conferences need their team represented. What we have in the 8 team situation is no better than the 2 team option because you still don’t get Utah in. This is why we added a 5thBCS bowl; it was just too hard for mid-majors to crack into 8 teams. So where we are now at is needing some version of a 4 week playoff to find a “fair” championship.
I also believe that from a straight logistical standpoint, a 4 week playoff will not work. While I realize the four week format works at the FCS level, I still just don’t see it as an option in major college football. First off, college football is a very dangerous sport and adding 3 extra games ups risk. With conference championship games, the team that reaches the finals will play a mind boggling 17 team games as an amateur athlete. That is literally more games than are in the NFL regular season. Furthermore, I am not sure how people expect student athletes to go through the media craze of a major college football playoff for 4 weeks in December that happens to overlap with fall term finals. If you are willing to dismiss those points, I still don’t see it working because of the ultimate sticking point. Where would these games be held? There is no way the teams from the north would be willing to play all the rounds at traditional bowl sites because that means the #1 team in the nation (if it is from the north that year) would have to play 4 road-like games to win a national championship (which is so unfair it shouldn’t even be mentioned). The only reason the Big Ten agrees to play these road games now is because it is one game and the beauty of one game is northern families and the team themselves will take a weeklong trip to the bowl location making it much less like a road game atmosphere. The teams would be unable to stay on sight for a week all 4 games due to exams and fans would not be able to take 4 separate vacations. This means that the at least first 2 rounds would have to be held at a regional site (bad for attendance) or home sites of the higher seeds. This means eventually Southern teams like those from the SEC would have to take their vaunted speed up north into the cold December weather. Seeing as SEC teams currently almost always refuse to cross the Mason-Dixon Line even in September, I don’t see them signing off on this. This effectively eliminates the four week idea.
Where we now are at is a situation where 2 team, 4 team, and 8 team playoffs are all “unfair” and four week playoffs are a logistical impossibility. At this point you have to select the best of the unfair systems and I submit to you that the best of the 3 is a two team system. The reason for this is you generally get an absolutely great championship game. Even if you disagree with the top 2 teams in the rankings every now and then, you are going to get a game between 2 of the top 3 teams in the country. This means you are going to get a great championship game between 2 great teams. One of my problems with the beloved college basketball tournament is there are too many upsets. It is too random. This makes it exciting to watch but doesn’t promote the best of possible finals. I realize people love Butler but I would have much rather watched a seven game series between Kentucky and Duke, that would be great basketball. It also means you can never take a week off during the regular season because it acts as a 12 week playoff in a way keeping the season exciting. If you had a large playoff you would get a situation where conference championship games may become boring because both teams are locks for the playoffs (similar to how some great college basketball teams yawn during their conference tournaments). To be honest, I don’t think there is one team in the nation that even had an argument that they were more deserving for a championship game then either Texas or Alabama because going undefeated in a major conference is far more impressive then doing it in the WAC. I would be willing to bet if you swapped last year’s Michigan schedule with Boise State’s schedule, that awful Michigan team would have been about 10-2. Basically, in the current system, we determine the championship by having the two best teams play for it. I love this.
In conclusion, while I readily admit that the current system we have to determine a college football champion it far from perfect and can be perceived as unfair, I believe it is the best system that is actually logistically possible. This is because a fair four week playoff would not work and of the remaining options, I would much rather see the one week version that guarantees us a premier national championship game between 2 elite teams.
There is no scenario that is 100% "fair". The goal cannot be to have a full-proof way to determine a unanimous national champion, but to do everything possible to mitigate the inherent inadequacies of the existing system. The existing system, in my mind, should be replaced by some kind of playoff (in my mind, a 6 team playoff with byes for the top two teams is a system I could live with).
A lot to read but skimming through points
4 weeks is fine by me, and again...the most glaring argument for a playoff is how well it works in FCS. FCS runs a multi-week playoff fine without any excuses of "missed class time" or "finals"
Honestly the best way is just to have 8 teams in the playoff, just have all the BCS teams duke it out for the #1 title. Even something like that would be better than the current system, and they would just rotate around BCS arenas.
...that the current BCS is the worst of both worlds. It lacks the simplicity of the previous poll based system, while leaving in place the potential for split national championship and undefeated teams standing on the outside looking in.
First of all, I don't buy your assertion that in order to make it "fair" we need a 4 week playoff. Fairness is subjective, so to suggest that 8 teams is unfair, but 12 or 16 is the threshold at which the system magically achieves "fairness" is disingenuous. In my opinion, fairness is proportional to the number of teams with a shot at the crown. That is, 4 is better than 2, and 8 is better than 4.
As you point out, you soon run into a problem, because as the system becomes more fair (by my definition), the season gets more drawn out, opening the players up to injury risk and academic difficulties. I would argue that this longer season is acceptable, however. Especially with an 8 team playoff. Four of those teams will bow out in round one, so their season will be as long as it would in the bowl system. Two teams will add one more game, and the other two will add two more games. So that's 4 teams out of more than one hundred who will be playing extra games. Surely the NCAA could work out a postseason schedule that is accommodating to the athletes' academics and well-being. Also consider that, while two teams in the whole NCAA will play at max 16 games, all 32 NFL squads play 16 games every season, and their players are considerably older and more injury prone.
Logistically, I don't have enough knowledge to speculate on how the NCAA or SEC or B10 whoever would attack the problem. Surely there is a solution that would satisfy all the major players. To throw your hands up and declare it futile is quite defeatist. That's not how problems get solved, and, IMO, the BCS is a damn big problem.
Any system that claims to produce an undisputed champion yet gives unbeaten teams no chance to earn it (as the BCS has done on at least three occasions) is a fundamentally broken system. Either abandon all pretense of naming a single champion on the field, as the old system did, or do it right with a playoff large enough to include all teams that have a reasonable claim to being the best.
Any system that claims to produce an undisputed champion yet gives unbeaten teams no chance to earn it ... is a fundamentally broken system.
That argument is not convincing. The reason the undefeated team had no chance to become champion is because of their schedule, which they certainly had a lot of control over.
So, they did have a chance to become national champion (by scheduling aggressively) but they decided to setup their schedule so the couldn't credibly become National Champion.
So, say you have USC, Michigan, Florida, Texas, VaTech, and Pitt all go undefeated while playing 2 BCS OOC games. Sending two of those teams to the NC game over the other 4 by perception of their SOS isn't broken?
Utah in 2008 didn't schedule especially aggressively, but they scheduled well enough that being unbeaten when no BCS-conference team was should have been more than enough. (Prior to the SEC title game, Sagarin had their SOS actually higher than Alabama's.)
Auburn '04 didn't do themselves any favors with Citadel on the schedule, but that alone should not have disqualified them.
The BCS only works when there are two, and only two, deserving teams. Off hand, I can think of two times in 12 years that it's happened: Miami-OSU and USC*-Texas.
Here's one man's idea of "fair:"
There will soon be fiveBCS conferences with championship games. Hold them on the same day and pick two "at large" teams from outside the conference. The only requirements would that they have to have won their own conference or be undefeated, and would have to come from outside the five conferences playing championship games. This produces a de facto 12-team playoff.
Reseed after the games. The two top teams get byes, while the other four play the quarterfinals. The semis are played the next week, and then the bowls are chosen exactly as they are now. The only difference is that the two teams playing in the championship actually had to earn their way in.
It's easy and there are two extra games in December for two teams and one extra for four teams. Another variation would be to have the semis played in rotating bowls with the final played exactly when it is now: January 8.
The main defense that the NCAA nabobs and their supporters use right now is that the current system makes every game "important," but that is really a self-perpetuated myth. If your team schedules two difficult OOC games and loses them both, how "important" are the rest of their games? Even with one early loss, a team is pretty much out at this point. A system involving conference champions would keep more teams in it longer, and would encourage playing tough OOC games to prepare for the conference.
I guess seeing the best play the best OOC isn't "important" enough. Apparently, neither is determining a true National Champion.
How important were Utah's games in 2008? They won every one of them, and it didn't matter.
(One quibble, though: There will only be four BCS conferences playing title games: Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, ACC. The Big XII won't have enough teams to continue playing one.)
If you parachuted in with no prior knowledge, the current system is probably not the one you'd come up with, since every other sport, and every other division of Football except I-A, has some kind of playoff. (And no, a 2-team championship is not a playoff.)
You are correct that even an 8-team playoff does not entirely eliminate the risk that a team deserving to be there, is nevertheless excluded. But it reduces that risk. Supporters of an 8-team playoff don't need to prove that it is perfect in all circumstances, only that it is better than a 2-team system.
Some of your arguments are simply, "The schools would never agree to it." But even the current system, flawed as it is, took years to set up, because there were entrenched interests against it. Remember when all the conferences had locked-in bowl commitments, and there was no assurance that #1 and #2 would meet? The conferences and the bowls did not readily give that up.
If you go back far enough, you'll find that some schools objected to the introduction of the forward pass. What they claim they'll agree to is irrelevant.
I would be willing to bet if you swapped last year’s Michigan schedule with Boise State’s schedule, that awful Michigan team would have been about 10-2.
Sorry, that's ridiculous. Boise State defeated the eventual Pac-10 champion Oregon, and in its bowl game defeated the then-#3 TCU. Its other wins (in a 13-0 campaign) came against non-BCS competition, but Boise State obliterated most of those opponents, while Michigan was struggling to beat the likes of Indiana. The Wolverines barely beat a Notre Dame team that finished 6-6, and their three other wins came against mid-majors (EMU, WMU) and a I-AA school.
No one is more eager than I to see Michigan return to dominance, but let's not imagine that the Wolverines would have been 10-2 with somebody else's schedule. It's just not so.
The best team that Boise State beat outside of the two you cited was Nevada, who was destroyed by Notre Dame early in the year, and by SMU in the Hawai'i Bowl. The other teams that weren't totally terrible were Tulsa and Fresno State. Michigan could have easily won ten games with that schedule.
Boise State at least had two quality wins, while Michigan had zero. Much as we would like it to be otherwise, Boise State at least has some positive evidence on its 2009 resume, and Michigan does not.
I don't think anyone is saying Boise State was not a good team and may have beat us, if they played the second half they probably would have killed us, first half would have been close.
The thing is if Boise State played our schedule they would not have been 13-0 if they played, PSU, Iowa, Wisco, and OSU. Though they probably would have beat Purdue and Ill.
I'm not disagreeing, it's just that Michigan would not have picked up those two quality wins, but they would still have gone 10-2 against that schedule.
we lose to oregon and blow one other game ... thats 10 and 2 ... the wac is god awful ... you dont count tcu because its a bowl game, not part of the original schedule
ESPN's been shoving a playoff down our throats, so I really don't know if there's a consensus or not. Personally, I think four teams should play for the title, as there are rarely more than four undefeated teams, and this way, there is very little chance that a two loss team makes it in. Once we get to eight or sixteen teams, it's almost like the NFL where teams can rest their starters.
selected by a committee, with some constraints (like <2 losses, conference champions only, etc). In years like last, we could have a 5 team playoff with the top 3 getting byes. In years like 2007, it'd just be OSU and LSU. It would require a lot of flexibility, and may require compressing the season back to 11 games and finishing it on Thanksgiving weekend. It's also a little bit crazy
Either way, a playoff wouid require a significant amount of change, and while I'd love to see it, I understand why the major powers are so hesitant to move towards it - and it's not just money.
I agree. I think that if a team finishes undefeated, they deserve to be in. If a team has two losses or more, they don't. I like your idea in theory, but I don't know if it could work logistically.
I see Hobbes napping in your avatar, but is your handle also meant as a reference to Aravind Adiga's book, or the white tiger concept in general?
It's more of the white tiger concept in general, it started out as a joke between my friends and I. It could also work as a reference to the book, I guess, but it wasn't originally intended that way.
I think the best approach right now is a +1 system that takes the two best BCS bowl winners and puts them in the NC game. A selection committee would be good too.
The plus one sounds good until you think about it. You're just as likely to have a three way dispute after the bowls as before. Also it punishes a team that plays a great opponent verses a team that plays an easy one (there's always a weak BCS team ie. Hawaii). Also it's a punishment if there is clearly a best team after the Bowls. Should Alabama have had to play another game after beating Texas last year? Who would they have played? Should they have had to beat Florida again? The plus one doesn't accomplish what people claim it would accomplish.
They wouldn't pair up #1 and #2; they'd probably add a fifth bowl (otherwise the MWC-area senators would turn the heat up on an inquiry) and go with traditional matchups (which means Bama in the Sugar Bowl, Texas in the Fiesta).
Besides, a plus-one with that format isn't a big improvement; what if you have the five unbeatens last year scattered among five different bowls and they all win? (For that matter, even if you pair four of them up, if the fifth one wins their bowl you've still got 3 unbeatens before the title game.)
I think the NCAA should just declare everybody who finishes undefeated as a "NCAA Champion" and then let the ADs and Presidents do what they want.
You forgot to mention that another starting O-Lineman for Bama suffered an injury early in the Sugar Bowl. That also contributed to Utah's pass rush.
I understand some of the frustration with teams being left out, but in the current system I never have to worry about a team with a lot of losses winning the National Championship. The biggest proponents of playoffs usually say that they want teams to win it on the field. I can't really see a champion yet that hasn't. Only 1 year can I remember a champion having more than 1 loss. Oakwood stated above that there are holes in the argument, that an 8 team playoff only has to prove that it is better than the current system. To that I say, I accept your offer. If you truly believe that an 8 team system is better, than please come up with one, with how teams quality, and then show how the results (by who would have gotten in where at the end of the season and who would be matched up with who) and compare that to the current system, and the matchups we saw in the BCS games. If you can show me a system that works better, than I am man enough to concede. I just think that playoff proponents make the argument seem too easy, and tend to brush aside a defense of the BCS like this. I just believe that you'll see other systems will run into a lot of problems as well.
Like the author said, he believes he got to see atleast 2 of the best 3 teams line up against each other every year to play for National Championship.
And just as an aside, I know the bowl system is old and considered flawed, but something makes me feel good about knowing that these kids who entertain me for half the year, get to end the year at a cool location, and half get to end on a win. With a playoff, I'm not so sure I get a chance to watch Lloyd get carried off the field after a great bowl win over Florida. Truly one of my favorite fan moments brought to me by the current system.
I've actually been in favor of a 9 team playoff(6 BCS 3 at larges). As long as you guarantee a spot for the non-BCS people if they are in the top 9(in some BCS type formula) and have a selection committee similar to March Madness decide it, you would get the most fair system. If any BCS team gets left out, tough you should have won your conference. And I don't see any undefeated non-BCS team not getting into the top 9 by the end of the year.
The only thing that REALLY bothers me about the current system is that we start the season with loaded dice so to speak. Pre-season rankings really sway the computers the whole season. Being unranked going into a season makes it nearly impossible to get a BCS Berth.
It doesn't really affect getting a BCS berth as much as getting to the nat'l championship. I also agree that doing away with the pre-season rankings would be a great idea. If we started voting around October 1 that might also encourage teams to play harder non-conference schedules to impress voters and get a higher initial rank.
You are right. That would be nice.
I think a playoff negatively affects the regular season. There would be the "resting your starters" issues that we have in the NFL. How much would it suck for Ohio State to rest its starters against a 5 win Michigan team because they have nothing to gain by beating us? "it's a rivalry game, that would never happen?" Wanna bet? All of a sudden playoffs become more important than the regular season, and college football has the most exciting regular season in all of sports. Every week is make it or break it. What happens if UM/OSU is a guaranteed repeat the following week regardless of the regular season winner? (Happens often in the NFL, week 17 matchups/1st round playoff) Does that make the !st game vanilla and bland? There are too many things to take into account with a system that is going to be just as effective as the current one.
I mean which of the last 12 national champs do you disagree with? 1? maybe 2? I can live with that.
I mean which of the last 12 national champs do you disagree with? 1? maybe 2? I can live with that.
Most of them are probably right. But there's a fair amount of doubt about virtually all of them. Would Utah have won in 2008? Would Boise last year? Would Auburn in 2004? USC in 2003? Kansas in 2007? (Okay, that one's a little bit of a stretch, and 2007 was a clusterf$%k anyway.)
If you operate under the assumption that two and only two teams deserve to play for the title each year, the BCS usually gets the best two. But I reject that assumption.
you state that the current system "acts as a 12 week playoff in a way keeping the season exciting", but contradict yourself later in that same paragraph saying "I don’t think there is one team in the nation that even had an argument that they were more deserving for a championship game then either Texas or Alabama". How can the regular season be considered a 12 week playoff, or any playoff for that matter, if two teams have already been "chosen" as the best teams at the beginning of the season?
Last year, if Texas and Alabama ran the table, there was zero chance of anyone else playing in the MNC game. How is that exciting? Exciting to me is giving TCU, Boise and Cincinatti a shot. We saw what happened with Boise and Oklahoma a few years ago in the Fiesta Bowl, right? That, my friend, was exciting and no one gave Boise a chance. I just don't agree, not having a playoff just doesn't make sense.
Here's my idea:
It is possible to keep the BCS and still have a "playoff" of sorts.
Take the top 4 teams in the BCS standings. For instance, let's say it's
3. Boise State
4. Ohio State
Alabama plays Ohio State in the Sugar bowl (because they're the SEC champs). Texas plays Boise State in the Fiesta bowl (because they're the Big 12 champs). The winners advance to the National Championship game. BCS bowls that didn't have their conference champ in the top four keep them (for instance, the PAC 10 champ would still end up in the Rose Bowl; ACC/Big East in the Orange bowl, etc).
It is by no means perfect, but it keeps both the BCS bigwigs and those striving for a playoff happy.
I rest my case.
...as a way to keep the BCS bowls and also determine a undisputed champion.
Except here's what I would do -
Drop one non-conference game and eliminate divisions: every division has 12 teams (dont' care who) every team in the conference plays each other.
Add a 6th BCS Bowl: winners of BCS bowls will move on to a 6 team playoff with 1&2 seed byes.
This keep Bowl tradition intact, decides a sole national champion, and the financial benefits of both playoff games and even non-BCS bowl games would be tremendous. Plus with the elimination of a non-conference game, there is only potentially two extra games games on the schedule - at the max. This way irrelevant "official scrimmages" like Delaware State are avoided and cupcakes like Appalachian State don't have to be added (wait, oh that's right...never mind).
Since seeding and matchups will be determined by the regular season, this keeps the importance of the regular season, discouraging teams from "resting" players and also gives teams outside of the top 12 a chance for postseason play as Capital One, Cotton and Alamo bowls are kept.
Keep the season and BCS bowls the same. The 4 current BCS bowls act as the first round of an 8-team playoff.