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Confederacy of Dunces

How does the BCS continue to defy logic despite everyone's wishes?

Posted: Tuesday December 28, 2004 6:25PM; Updated: Tuesday December 28, 2004 7:58PM
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Cal coach Jeff Tedford has plenty of reason to be upset this season.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

We are, in the eyes of America, a bunch of geeks in cheap clothing -- a grotesque procession of uncoordinated oafs utterly unqualified to comment upon the nation's most graceful athletes.

We are, from my personal experience, largely a subculture of bitchers, moaners and complainers who've never met a free meal we didn't try to devour -- and then go back for seconds.

And now we sportswriters are also, as of last week, the paragons of virtue and integrity in a mad, mad college football world -- one otherwise populated by thieves, scoundrels, rapscallions and lunatics.

When the sports media are the ones on the front lines of the fight for justice and sanity among the NCAA's Division I-A football postseason poobahs, the non-Olympics-world's answer to figure skating and gymnastics judges, you know the situation is pretty dire. This will not come as news to most readers, because I'm willing to wager that about 0.0003 percent of you support the current system, but the BCS as it is now administered (and forgive us if we're not completely clear on the current concept, because the rules change every six minutes) makes about as much sense as Michael Jackson.

The BCS is bogus, crooked and stupid -- stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.

Have I mentioned that the BCS is really, really dumb?

These are not merely the words of a bitter Cal alum, though the black, hooded robe and gothic makeup I'll be wearing at Thursday's Holiday Bowl in San Diego (and not removing until after New Year's Day) might cause some to question that assertion. Based on my robust e-mail sampling from recent weeks, most Texas fans feel precisely the same way, their school's Rose Bowl appearance notwithstanding. Other than the certainty that the world is round -- and that keg beer, on the morning after a fraternity party, is exceptionally flat -- the lameness of the BCS seems to be the only thing on which Golden Bears and Longhorns agree as 2004 comes to a close.

This is one issue on which Bruins and Trojans, Sooners and Huskers, Fighting Illini and Fighting Irish, Hurricanes and Hokies, Ducks and Buckeyes, Utes and Cougars, Blue States and Red States, chicks and dudes, Good N' Fruitys and Good N' Plentys, Jans and Marcias, PhDs and dropouts, Shaqs and Kobes, Santas and Bad Santas, Palms and Blackberrys and virtually everyone not on the payroll of one of the six major conferences can come to a consensus: The BCS blows.

Because of this, its billing as the arbiter of major college football's national champion is a travesty. Now, thanks to The Associated Press, which pulled its media poll from the three-pronged equation that had been used to decide such matters, the BCS's authority has been called into question. As in the years before 1998, the AP will crown its mythical national champion based solely on the opinions of certain people in my business -- and that, scarily, seems like a return to the good old days, not to mention a blow for legitimacy. Meanwhile, for the sixth time in eight years, the BCS will change its formula in an attempt to placate some disgruntled party, though this time the issue was forced by somebody on the outside.

It was telling that the AP, in its letter to BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg, used such strong language in imploring the organization to cease and desist. Calling its relationship with the BCS a "forced association," the AP said the use of its poll was "unauthorized and unlawful."

For those of you without law degrees, let me attempt to put this legalese into plain English: You toucha my poll, I breaka your face.

It's tough to fathom why the AP would feel so passionately about the issue.

Is it the fact that, by being commissioner of both the BCS and the Big 12 Conference, Weiberg has replaced Bud Selig as the living embodiment of the term conflict of interest?

Is it that 19th-ranked Pitt, as the Big East champion, has a spot in the Fiesta Bowl despite its 8-3 record?

Is it that with Miami and Virginia Tech having defected to the ACC, the Big East may be less deserving of a guaranteed BCS spot than, say, the MAC?

Is it that 11-0 Utah, as the first team from outside a BCS conference to qualify for one of the series' four bowls, has been given no chance to prove it belongs by being placed in the Fiesta Bowl, where the Utes are 16 1/2-point favorites over Pitt?

Is it that, with three other undefeated teams all staking legitimate claims to the No. 1 ranking, the only means of settling the debate is to let two of them play in the Orange Bowl while the other faces a team with two defeats in the Sugar Bowl?

Is it that the coaches' poll, by preserving its voters' anonymity, practically begs for shady maneuvering? For example, other than projecting a dignified image while representing his esteemed university and avoiding potential outside accusations of fraud, what exactly was Texas coach Mack Brown's incentive for not doing everything in his power to ensure that the Longhorns passed Cal -- given that Brown reportedly received a $50,000 bonus for his team's appearance in a BCS bowl?

Is it that Michigan lost to Ohio State to fall to 9-2 yet still got its automatic Rose Bowl bid, while two 10-1 teams, Cal and Texas, both felt pressured to justify their credentials?

Is it that Weiberg and his fellow BCS officials' grand solution, floated even before the AP's pullout, is to rely on a selection committee to decide the two teams which will play for the national championship?

Wow, that's a splendid idea. Just think, if a search committee had been in place this year, it'd have resolved the three-team logjam at the top by ...  doing what, exactly? Most likely, Auburn would still have been left out of the Orange Bowl, and the Tigers still would have felt snubbed. If not, either USC or Oklahoma (the latter not likely, given Weiberg's obvious allegiances) would have gotten the shaft, and how, precisely, would that have improved the situation?

This is what happens when you rely on self-serving morons to solve something that should be organic and simple. It's amazing how every other major sport in our society sets up a playoff system to decide its champion, and every other level of NCAA football does as well, but Division I-A is so special that these normal rules can't apply. Heaven forbid the bowls be disrupted, lest the fabric of our society be irrevocably frayed. I mean, we've survived wars, scandals, fat Elvis and thin Oprah, but the end of the Fiesta Bowl? That's just too horrific to contemplate.

Let me fill you on a little secret -- the Rose Bowl is only the bowl with a tradition worth preserving, and that tradition has been so trampled upon since the advent of the BCS that even the granddaddy of 'em all has lost some of its luster. The Orange Bowl jumped the shark when it stopped staging its game in the actual Orange Bowl; the Cotton Bowl died with the Southwest Conference; the Fiesta Bowl merely bought its way into the party during the 'Wall Street' '80s; and the Sugar Bowl is only about the 14th biggest annual event in New Orleans.

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That leaves the Rose Bowl which, as usual, didn't get the matchup it wanted. Having sold their souls until 2014, the Pac-10 and Big Ten have screwed themselves royally in this regard, but the two conferences might want to develop some backbones and get their lawyers to look into the actual contract. Now that the AP has pulled out, might there be a way for the Pac-10, Big Ten and Rose Bowl to buy their way out of the BCS -- the Rose Bowl, after all, does negotiate a separate TV contract -- and go back to their old format of matching their two conference champions? That way, the AP voters would be free, as in the past, to declare the Rose Bowl winner as its national champion if they so believed it justified.

It's not perfect, but it certainly serves the needs of the two conferences' members a hell of a lot more than the soon-to-be-newly revamped BCS will. It's true that the 2006 season will feature yet another knee-jerk tweak, the institution of a fifth game. Remarkably, given the supposed sanctity of the bowl system, the fifth game will not have its own name but will instead rotate among the four BCS bowls, meaning that there will be two Rose (and Orange, Sugar and Fiesta) Bowls on a once-every-four-year basis.

Only the BCS could come up with something that stupid.

It is equally illogical that there is no serious talk of making the fifth game a 'plus-one' national championship that could take place after the four other bowls are completed. At least under this scenario, the Rose Bowl could go back to its Pac-10/Big Ten model and feel secure that if its winner is good enough, it is likely to have a legitimate shot at No. 1.

All of this, though, is dancing around the real solution, which is so obvious that I feel sheepish even asking you to read on for an explanation. Before I do, let me address some of the tired arguments for keeping the current system.

If you believe that college football is great because "the regular season is the playoffs," I think you're dreaming. All I can tell you is that, as a Cal fan, if the Bears are trying to beat Washington or Arizona State or another Pac-10 rival in October, I'm contemplating the hypothetical merits of giving up a toe to avoid losing that game, regardless of the potential postseason implications.

If you honestly think that the precious student athletes who play Division I-A football can't possibly play an extra game or two -- or that the college presidents who resist a playoff sincerely care about these young men's academic interests -- I have a deed to the Golden Gate Bridge I'd like to sell you.

And if you believe a debate over who the top eight or 16 teams are is as odious as one that tries to ascertain the top two or one, then you're as delusional as the people who run the BCS.

Or would you like a taste of what the world in 2004 would have been like if everyone lived in BCS Land?

Eagles vs. Patriots (Super Bowl XXXVIII).

Stanford vs. St. Joe's (NCAA basketball championship game).

Lakers vs. Pacers (NBA championship game).

USA vs. Yugoslavia (Olympic men's basketball gold medal game).

Yankees vs. Cardinals (World Series).

Bill Clinton vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger  (Presidential election).

Actually, I like that last one -- but not as much as I like this next idea, which is not exactly the discovery of gravity.

I'm talking about a playoff. (Cue the Jim Mora greatest-hits CD: Playoffs? PLAYOFFS?)

Mine would feature eight teams, with the top four seeds hosting first-round games, and then the Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls rotating as the hosts of the semifinals and finals.

Like discounted, out-of-fashion shirts or free lunches, it's a concept so clear that even a sportswriter can wrap his or her disheveled little head around it.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Silver sounds off weekly on SI.com.