Anti-BCS sentiment makes college football playoff inevitable
The Bowl Championship Series matches the top two teams in the title game
It is better than the old system, but still flawed beyond repair
Miami in 2000, USC in 2003 and Auburn in 2004 were all left out by the BCS
The new decade begins this week, and since it's never too early to be wrong, here is a prediction:
By the end of the decade, college football will have a playoff system -- or at least, a timetable to install a playoff system.
It seems both inevitable and impossible. It seems like it should have happened by now, which makes it seem like it never will.
But it will. The tide has shifted. It has shifted so subtly that it is truly amazing that it has taken so long. The 2000s (or whatever were supposed to call them) brought us so many innovations that we didn't know we needed: HDTV, Facebook, the Red Zone channel, Twitter, quarterbacks killing dogs in their free time (OK, so we didn't need some of this stuff).
But a college-football playoff -- everybody wanted one of those, right?
Not exactly. This is hard to believe now, but at the start of the decade, a lot of people liked the BCS. Well, OK, perhaps "liked" is a strong word. It is more accurate to say that people did not complain about the BCS as profanely as they do now.
There was a good reason for that. In the early years of the BCS, people naturally compared it to the bowl system it had replaced. In that system, remember, conference champions simply went to predetermined bowls; there was no attempt to set up a national-title game, unless one of the major independents (Miami, Florida State, or Notre Dame) was one of the top two teams in the country.
The bowl system had been modified by the Bowl Coalition, which gave way to the Bowl Alliance, but the Big Ten and Pac-10 still were not involved. Then, in 1998, everybody joined in.
In the first year of the BCS, Tennessee played Florida State in a relatively noncontroversial matchup. The next year, No. 1 Florida State played No. 2 Virginia Tech. Two years, two national-championship matchups. Wonderful.
In 2000, the controversy began: Oklahoma was matched up against Florida State for the title, even though Florida State had lost to one-loss Miami earlier in the year. But hey, FSU had been dominant for years, Miami was just coming back - it was a defensible decision.
Then, in 2001, Nebraska did not even win its conference but got a spot in the title game. Two years later, USC was left out of the title game despite being ranked No. 1 in both major polls, and then the year after that an undefeated Auburn team was left out, and both times, the team that got the bid ahead of them lost. That, I think, was when the BCS conversation really changed. People concentrated on the fact that the BCS is not a playoff instead of what it is.
This is what everybody forgets about the BCS: It was never supposed to be better than a playoff. It was simply supposed to match the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country at the end of the year. This is an inherently tricky business, because there is no set system for determining the No. 1 and 2 teams, and because the Associated Press poll is traditionally the most respected poll, but the AP pulled out of the BCS for journalistic reasons.
Under the old system, USC never would have played Oklahoma or Texas for the national title. If the old system were in place this year, Alabama would be in the Sugar Bowl and Texas would be somewhere else -- presumably the Orange, which had a longstanding agreement with the Big 8 before it became the Big 12.
On some level, the BCS has done what it was supposed to do. But it hasn't done it enough, and let's face it: nobody wants to hear anything nice about the BCS anymore.
I happened to like the old system, because -- unlike the BCS -- it never claimed to be something it wasn't. Under the old system, teams played more meaningful non-conference games, because a loss did not mean quite as much as it does today. You could still win your league and earn a bid to the Sugar, Orange, or Rose. And those bowls meant more back then.
Everybody understood that national champions were mostly a matter of opinion. Sure, sometimes a team went unbeaten and didn't get a chance to play for a national title, like Penn State in 1994. But I don't think that was as painful as, say, Auburn going unbeaten in 2004 and watching USC obliterate Oklahoma in the title game.
Obviously, college football is not going back to the old system. That ship has sailed -- into an iceberg, but still, it has sailed. And these days, people only compare the BCS to a playoff.
It has gotten to the point where I don't know anybody who really likes the BCS, unless they are professionally obligated to defend it. Sometimes you'll hear a coach defend it by saying no system is perfect, which is just a polite way of saying they don't like the BCS at all. It may take most of this decade, but the BCS is going to give way to the playoff. And then we'll all ask: what the heck took so long?
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