SI Vault
Gene Menez
December 15, 2003
Meant to produce an undisputed matchup between the nation's top two teams, the BCS has instead been one long study in turmoil
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December 15, 2003

A Six-year Headache

Meant to produce an undisputed matchup between the nation's top two teams, the BCS has instead been one long study in turmoil

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The bowl Championship Series was created in 1998 to match the top two teams in a championship game. While it has sometimes done that, it has also produced some dubious pairings—and its formula has required constant tinkering.

The brainchild of former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, the BCS is unveiled. It's a complicated formula that takes into account teams' average ranking in the two major polls, average standing in three computer-calculated rankings ( The New York Times's, Jeff Sagarin's and The Seattle Times's), strength of schedule and number of losses.

Three teams—Kansas State, Tennessee and UCLA—enter the final weekend of the '98 season undefeated, leaving the potential for controversy. But the Wildcats and the Bruins lose, and Florida State rises to No. 2. The Volunteers beat the Seminoles 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title.

Five sets of computer-calculated rankings are added, bringing the number to eight. Late in November the only BCS unbeatens are Florida State and Virginia Tech. The Hokies are in danger of being passed in the BCS ratings by a one-loss Nebraska until Kramer alters the strength-of-schedule component. Virginia Tech gets into the Sugar Bowl, where it falls to top-ranked Florida State 46-29.

Oklahoma is the undisputed No. 1 entering the Orange Bowl, but the Sooners' opponent spurs much debate. Instead of tabbing No. 2 Miami (10-1), the BCS picks Florida State, which is No. 3 in both polls and had lost to the Hurricanes 27-24 in October. Miami pounds Florida 37-20 in the Sugar Bowl, but Oklahoma spares the BCS further controversy by beating the Seminoles 13-2.

A quality-win component is added to the formula, which would have put Miami in the Orange Bowl the year before if it had been in place. Also, two of the computer-ranking systems (including The New York Times's) are replaced by others. The season goes swimmingly until Nebraska is routed 62-36 by Colorado in the regular-season finale. Despite being No. 4 in the polls, the 11-1 Cornhuskers, aided by a series of losses by other teams, get into the Rose Bowl over No. 2 Oregon (10-1). The Ducks hammer Colorado 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl; Miami trounces Nebraska 37-14 for the title.

The BCS asks its eight computer administrators to eliminate margin of victory from their rankings, dropping two who decline to go along with the request. The New York Times's rankings return in a revised form, bringing the number of computer polls to seven. The BCS works smoothly and produces a No. 1 vs. No. 2 Fiesta Bowl matchup between Miami and Ohio State. The Buckeys win 31-24 in double overtime.

Tulane University president Scott Cowen leads a coalition of non-BCS schools that claim the format is unfair to smaller conferences. He raises the possibility of an antitrust lawsuit unless non-BCS schools are given greater access to BCS bowl games and revenue, and explains the issue to the House and Senate judiciary committees. The BCS administrators agree to continue discussions.

On Sunday, after No. 1 USC is left out of the Sugar Bowl, Big East commissioner and BCS coordinator Mike Tranghese suggests that the BCS committee will likely change the ranking formula before the 2004 season.