When Florida State finished ahead of Miami in the Bowl Championship Series rankings last year even though the Seminoles had lost to the Hurricanes at midseason, the commissioners of the major conferences that run the BCS defended the outcome. "The computers are as objective as you can get," ACC chief John Swofford said in December. After Oklahoma blew out Florida State 13-2 in the national championship game, BCS officials abandoned their defense.
So for the second time in three years the BCS guardians went back to the drawing boards. Last week they announced that their formula—which factors in record, strength-of-schedule rankings, two polls and eight computer ratings—will be rejiggered. Two computer formulas that heavily weighed margin of victory are out, replaced by two that ignore or minimize it. Also, a team's highest and lowest computer ranking will be thrown out. (Previously, only the lowest score was tossed.) The biggest change, though, is the inclusion of a reward for a win over a top 15 opponent. A team will get 1.5 BCS points for defeating the No. 1 team, 1.4 for beating No. 2 and so on. Reward points will change weekly with the ratings, meaning if you beat the No. 5 team in October, you'll get 1.1 bonus points, but those points will disappear if the team drops out of the top 15. Had this system been in effect last season, the Hurricanes would have finished ahead of the Seminoles and gone on to play the Sooners in the Orange Bowl. That's no accident. "This issue was accelerated by the fact that Florida State lost," says Swofford.
This knee-jerk reaction cheapens the performance of the Sooners. Rather than point to Florida State as an example of what went wrong with the system, shouldn't BCS officials accept the possibility that Oklahoma played an outstanding defensive game? The constant tinkering also underscores the basic flaw in relying on math as a substitute for on-field competition. But, as Swofford emphasized again last week, Division I-A presidents show no interest in playoffs, and they're certainly not going to go back to the two-poll system. That, in a nutshell, is why the BCS has to apply symptomatic cures year after year, redressing perceived wrongs of the seasons just past. The lords of the BCS insist upon relying on their ever-objective, and yet ever-suspect, computers.