To hear it from the likes of Kirk Herbstreit and ESPN on Sunday, the whole college football postseason is a sham. And you could certainly make the case that it is—only two teams compete for the title out of 124 and counting, the league doesn't run the postseason, the major conferences have easier access to giant paydays, and so on.
But that's not the case anyone was making last night. No, the common complaint last night was that the SEC was being truly wronged by the two-team rule of the BCS and that teams like Northern Illinois and Louisville shouldn't be in the BCS over higher-ranked SEC teams. The have-nots have it too easy, in other words.
We have but one word to say in response: hogwash.
Okay, we have many more words to say in response.
The BCS bowls are not the playoffs. Putting the best possible teams in those bowls doesn't make them more legitimate, because they don't go toward determining the champion. That's what the BCS National Championship Game is for, and for all the complaints you can make about a two-team playoff system like college football has, it rarely puts an undeserving team in contention for the championship. This year is no exception; Notre Dame and Alabama deserve to be in the title game, and they are.
So what are the rest of the BCS bowls for? They're exhibitions. They're one-off games that were created with the expressed intent of pitting one conference against another. If they had any role whatsoever in determining a national champion, the argument for including as many of the top-ranked teams as possible would have a hell of a lot more merit. And sure enough, as the playoff system picks up steam, the two-team rule is falling by the wayside. And that's fine.
But when it comes to BCS bowls, remember that it is a system created by the major conferences for the major conferences. They've made certain concessions over the past 15 years, but those concessions have been toward the lesser conferences, and by and large they're common-sense concessions. As Michael Felder pointed out, the reason Northern Illinois is in the BCS over Oklahoma is because NIU is not only a conference champion, it's a better conference champion than Wisconsin or Louisville.
And you know what? That's a good rule. If there's a team that won its conference, hit a target BCS ranking and was better than some BCS conference champions, it absolutely deserves a place at the same BCS bowl table as the rest of the big dogs.
But even that rule protects the central tenet of the BCS: Reward the conference champions. Spread that BCS bowl money out to all the conferences. If there's a few extra elite teams that can't compete for the national championship, they should be on the big stage too, but first and foremost reward as many conferences as possible. And that's what the BCS is doing this year.
Let's also point out the obvious: There's no room for more SEC teams anyway. The presence of not only NIU as the "BCS buster" but also Notre Dame as an independent program means that there's fewer at-large slots to begin with. In fact, there are two, and those slots are going to Oregon and Florida. There, that's it, we're done handing out at-large bids for the year.
So where are you going to put Georgia or LSU or Texas A&M? Who gets bumped? Not Northern Illinois; that's one of the six best conference champions this year. Not Louisville; that's a BCS conference champion. Not Wisconsin; that team just hung 70 on its conference championship opponent to get into the Rose Bowl.
Look, we get that fans of the four SEC programs that finished in the Top 10 of the BCS and still got left out of the big bowls aren't thrilled with how their bowl situations shook down. It's normal that that's disappointing. But this has always been a system that rewards conference champions over the best teams, and the more conference champions that get rewarded every year, the more conferences get rewarded every year. That's instrumental to the health of college football as a whole.