Posted: Friday March 5, 2004 1:41PM; Updated: Friday March 5, 2004 2:17PM
So far, nothing has been done to avoid another Oklahoma-LSU fiasco.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
When we last checked in on college football's Bowl Championship Series, two teams were winning national titles in the same year and the public's demand for a cleaner system was more shrill than ever.
This, you'll recall, was barely two months ago, when the BCS somehow failed to bring together the top two teams in both polls (USC and LSU) and instead sent LSU and Oklahoma to the "National Championship Game" in the Sugar Bowl and USC to the Rose Bowl. USC and LSU each won, and the national title was split, which is precisely the type of embarrassing situation the BCS should have been able to avoid. (Even if that is not why the BCS was created, which it is not. Keep reading.)
There was widespread sentiment -- presumption, almost -- that the keepers of the BCS (the major conference commissioners who run this pseudo-monopoly) would feel the winds of discontent and make appropriate changes. Most logically, this would involve an extra game at the end of the season, matching the teams ranked first and second after the bowls. Nobody who knows the BCS crew and the college presidents expected a sudden move to a playoff. At least not yet.
Last weekend, BCS officials held meetings in Florida and announced a change: A fifth bowl would be added to the BCS "rotation." But this fifth bowl will not take place on the weekend after the first four are played for the purpose of deciding a semi-undisputed national champion. It will simply stand alongside the other four.
The purpose of adding a fifth bowl game was ostensibly to satisfy the Coalition for Athletic Reform, led by Tulane president Scott Cowen, which had succeeded in dragging the BCS in front of Congress to answer for its exclusionary policies. Cowen's group was acting on behalf of the conferences -- the MAC, Conference USA, Mountain West and others -- who are not part of the BCS contract and have never gained access to one of the BCS bowls. Cowen called the addition of a fifth bowl "a significant improvement from where we are right now."
Baloney. The BCS has done to Cowen what it does to everyone who challenges it. It tossed him a bone and told him to chew it for a while. Granted, the fifth bowl, which probably will be included in the rotation beginning with the 2006 season, will increase from two to four the number of at-large bids available to non-BCS conferences. So, logically, more non-BCS teams will have a shot at getting into a minor BCS bowl and pulling down some of the money that goes with it. (Cowen said that had this system been in effect, teams from non-BCS conferences would have played in bowl games in four of the past six seasons).
Point No. 1: There is a huge difference between adding at-large bids and adding conferences. The keepers of the BCS are fully aware that in most seasons it is a difficult for teams outside the loop to get ranked high enough and score enough computer points to qualify for a BCS bowl. There's a little more room with four at-large slots, but those opportunities are ever more likely to go to non-champions from BCS conferences. If the BCS was serious about including the MAC or Conference USA, it would have included them in the contract. After all, the watered-down Big East (without Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech) kept its precious BCS slot.
Point No. 2: The keepers refused to change the basic system, turning their cheeks (not the ones next to their noses) at the public. Even many of the coaches who so love the bowl system seemed to agree last winter that something had to be done to avoid a situation where the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation can't meet in the national championship game.
Perhaps the keepers will "tweak" the selection system in the coming months, weighting polls higher than computers. (After all, it was the computers that botched the issue in 2003.) The keepers are good at tweaking. It's what they do best, after protecting their own financial interests.
Face it, the BCS was created to keep the rich and powerful conferences rich and powerful and to avoid sharing playoff money with all of the NCAA. It was not created to clear up the murkiest championship picture in all of U.S. sports. And now it looks like not even last season's disaster will change that.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden weighs in with a Viewpoint every Friday on SI.com.