System ignores 'plus-one' model, opts for ineffective change instead
Posted: Friday June 11, 2004 12:43PM; Updated: Friday June 11, 2004 12:43PM
The BCS' latest plan doesn't ensure that national-title disputes, like USC vs. LSU in 2003, will end.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave it to the Bowl Championship Series to make changes without really changing anything significant. The BCS has turned symbolic alterations into an art form, while consistently ignoring the wishes of the public that supports college football.
On Thursday, the keepers of the BCS announced the foundation of their new alignment, beginning with the 2006 season, when a fifth bowl will be added to the annual rotation. This "new'' structure includes keeping just the same core of four bowls -- the Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose -- but uses one of them to host a fifth BCS bowl in the year that it also hosts the national championship game. This would occur once every four years for each bowl.
Here is what the change accomplishes: It creates a place for the previously ostracized conferences -- your MACs, your Conference USAs -- to send their teams for a big-money bowl game, provided they meet the BCS' rankings criteria. It also keeps the four primary bowls squarely in control of the money and the power in the BCS. The "fifth'' bowl would be played in the same three or four-day period as three others, and then the site that hosted the fifth bowl would be given a short breather (approximately a week, according to the BCS's preliminary plans) before hosting the national championship game. The name of that game is still to be announced.
How about the "Still Not Good Enough Bowl"?
Because here is what the new system does not accomplish: Fair and accurate selection of a national champion on a yearly basis. It does not, with any reliable certainty, solve the problem that arose last year when USC was ranked first in both polls and excluded from the national championship game. It turns its back on the fans and the television network that carries it. Even ABC was in favor of the very logical "plus-one'' plan that would have used the fifth bowl game as a playoff between the top two teams in the post-bowl rankings. Last year that would have been USC and LSU.
BCS people offer the following reason for keeping the new plan so close to status quo: "Adamant opposition'' from college presidents to moving the BCS closer to a playoff, according to University of Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer, chairman of the presidential oversight committee.
Rather than jump ugly on the presidents, let's say that this is a sensible stand on their part. Big-time college sports (and they get no bigger than Division I-A football) are rife with hypocrisy and corruption, despite ongoing efforts at academic reform. Any president who operates a football program in a BCS conference is running a minor league operation for pro football that has precious little connection to the central mission of his university. And any president who says otherwise is dishing out B.S.
That's not to say that this makes I-A football entirely a bad thing. Quite the contrary -- major college football can be a gathering place for the university and, if properly operated, a I-A program can take marginal students and turn them into useful adults when their NFL dream dies, which it does for the vast majority. But let's be practical. The football team has little in common with the college, except for the logo on the helmet. The term "student-athlete'' is usually a joke.
Presidents are embarrassed by this. Most of them are academicians, or, at the outside, highly intelligent fund-raisers. The worst of them usually have a passion for education and they understand that college football is not about education, unless we're talking about the Ivy League or Division III. So playoff opposition is their Alamo. They will operate a hugely paradoxical football program, but by god they will not sign off on allowing the members of two teams extend their season by one week to decide a national championship. Talk about hollow symbolism.
Their energies might be better spent creating a system whereby graduation rates are increased and recruiting corruption is diminished. Of course, that's a hell of a lot more difficult than digging in one's heels against the advancing armies of the one-week national championship.
Beyond the university presidents, the conference commissioners from power conferences are doing what they have done since the creation of the BCS: Keeping the money in the hands of the few and out of the hands of the NCAA. They don't even pretend to have higher motives, like the presidents do.
In the fall, when negotiations commence for the next BCS television contract, the BCS will make clear how it plans to select teams. This will involve more of what the BCS has taken to calling "tweaking'' of the polls and computers that spat out Oklahoma and LSU a year ago and left USC to play in the Rose Bowl. We all expect more of a human factor involved, and less electronic wizardry.
The thinking is that last year's problem won't be repeated and playoff talk will be quieted if and when the right two teams make the big game. In fact, the BCS is merely solving last year's problem and selfishly turning away from the bigger issue. The BCS lords had an answer gift-wrapped and handed to them: A fifth bowl and plus-one. And they ignored it in their own self-interest.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden weighs in with a Viewpoint every Friday on SI.com.