The FBS: What Big Time College Football Could Learn from the FCS and Division II
With all of the pomp and pageantry of the BCS Championship game, it's easy to miss one central point: The team that wins is not the National Champion.
In fact, the NCAA is the first to point out that Division I FBS football is the only NCAA sport in which the NCAA does not sponsor a championship.
The NCAA does not award a trophy. The NCAA doesn't put up a banner for the winning team in its Hall of Champions. The only "Championship" recognition the winner gets is from the BCS.
It's true that most commentators, myself included, refer to the winner of the BCS Championship as the national champions, but that is simply a title of convenience. There have been years when even the BCS Championship winner had to share its moniker of national champion with another team.
I'm sure we can all recall Tulane in 1998, who ended the season 11-0, winning the C-USA championship, but were left out of the BCS—championship game or otherwise—and forced to play in the Liberty Bowl, which they won. There were calls for reform after the 1998-99 bowl season, but the BCS did nothing.
Then came 2001. Nebraska lost to Colorado and did not win the Big 12, yet was selected for the BCS title game ahead of one-loss Pac-10 champion Oregon. Nebraska lost the championship game to Miami, while Oregon beat the same Colorado team that had beaten Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl by a fairly wide margin (38-16).
The 2003 season had three one-loss teams who all deserved a shot at the title. USC was ranked No. 1 in both polls, but due to some fluke of statistical computations, it was denied a bid to play in the BCS Championship game. USC won its bowl game and claimed the AP National Championship, even though they did not win the BCS Championship.
In 2004, there were an astounding five teams with zero losses when the bowl season rolled around. USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah, and Boise State all finished undefeated and won their conference championships. USC and Oklahoma played in the BCS Championship game that year in Miami, which left Auburn, Utah, and Boise State out of a chance to play for a national title.
After the bowl dust had settled, USC, Auburn, and Utah were left undefeated, and many Auburn and SEC fans argued that Auburn, having played a tougher schedule than USC, deserved the national title as much, if not more, than USC.
Of additional note from that season is Cal's mysterious drop in the final BCS poll from No. 4 to No. 5 despite winning over Southern Mississippi. Texas fans shamefully lobbied pollsters for votes, and a number of Longhorn fans, dressed in Texas apparel, attended the Cal-Southern Miss game and openly cheered for Southern Miss—a scene that was captured by ESPN for the entire nation to see over and over.
Texas fans were successful. Cal was denied a Rose Bowl berth, and Texas took their place. The AP immediately ended its association with the BCS and forbade the BCS from using their poll as a factor in their calculations.
In 2006, there were two undefeated teams remaining at the end of the regular season: Ohio State and Boise State. Boise State was denied a chance to play the only other team that had won all of its games and instead had to play Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, and won in spectacular fashion in what many call the greatest college football bowl game played in the last 30 years.
Ohio State lost, which left Boise State as the only undefeated team in the nation that year—but alas, the Broncos could not claim the national championship.
After the 2007 regular season, Missouri was ranked higher than both Kansas and Illinois—two teams that Missouri had defeated earlier in the year. Yet Missouri was denied a BCS bowl berth. Shockingly, both Illinois and Kansas received BCS bowl bids that year.
After the final BCS poll of 2008 was released, Utah, Boise State, and Texas Christian were all ranked in the top 11. However, No. 12 Cincinnati and No. 19 Virginia Tech received BCS bowl bids, while only Utah received a BCS bowl bid from the three non-BCS conference teams ranked in the top 11.
Undefeated Boise State had to watch two-loss Ohio State take the Fiesta Bowl bid, even though Boise State was ranked higher in every poll and every computer model. Utah defeated Alabama easily in the Sugar Bowl, leaving them the lone undefeated team in the nation (Boise State lost to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl).
Finally, this year, Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, Boise State, and Texas Christian were undefeated at the end of the regular season. Alabama and Texas received the BCS title game bid, while Cincinnati, Boise State, and TCU were left out (although all played in BCS games).
Boise State defeated TCU in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl (while Cincinnati lost to Florida in the Sugar Bowl). This is the second time that Boise State has finished the season undefeated, added a BCS bowl win, yet will not win the championship.
Something is seriously wrong with this system.
While Texas and Alabama will certainly be an entertaining matchup, I doubt it has much to do with determining which team is the best football team in the nation. Boise State has a clear argument to make, and I'll bet there are a handful of other teams who would add their voices to the chorus.
Why is it that the BCS and the powers that be in the Power Six (the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC, Big East, and Pac-10) have such an aversion to a playoff system? The other two scholarship football divisions manage to make it work (FCS and D-II), and even Division III has a playoff system for their ragtag brand of football. Why can't the big boys play nice and get with the program?
There are 126 Division I FCS programs and 147 in Division II (with several more in the process of starting football programs). The FCS has a playoff system that is expanding to 20 teams in 2010, and Division II has a 24-team system.
While a straight playoff system could work for the FBS, the arguments of money and time necessary from the Power Six will invariably be made. But the FCS and D-II playoff systems are different. One did not simply copy the other; rather, they learned from each other. So too must the FBS learn from its smaller cousins.
First, I don't buy the argument of time constraints being an issue. You will always see some commentator or university president or head coach saying that the students are already out of class enough when it comes to football. Give me a break.
Is Terrelle Pryor really attending Ohio State to get a good education? Is Mark Ingram really focused on his physics class week in and week out (I doubt he even takes physics)?
When Vince Young led Texas to a BCS Championship a few years back, commentators noted that he was only taking one class that semester to stay eligible: dance. Are we really, honestly concerned with kids missing a day or two of dance class? Does that really threaten the academic credentials of the University of Texas?
If these university bigwigs were really concerned with academics, they'd do away with scholarship football altogether. Academics should be the primary focus, but in the FBS, they're not, and anyone who says otherwise is lying through their teeth or not being honest with themselves.
Second, there's the issue of money. Money does, after all, make the world go 'round—and it makes the college football world happy. It is because of the money issue that the BCS will never truly go away. But truthfully, it doesn't need to. Let's make the S in BCS actually mean something—a series.
There are four BCS bowl games, which means we have eight participants. Sounds like we have the beginnings of a nice little tournament. The Power Six can be appeased by keeping their six auto-bids into the BCS. That leaves two at-large bids. Fine.
Then, on a yearly rotating basis (like the FCS and Division II), take the four winners of those bowl games and match them up into two semifinal games. Those two winners meet in the BCS National Championship Game a week or two later.
Since there are already five BCS games (four bowls plus the championship game), we're really only adding two games—and since the championship is typically played about a week after the four bowls, we're only adding a week of games. Plus, more games equal more money.
It's a relatively simple solution to a complex problem. Adding two football games is not a major undertaking. Plus, we'd get to see how Boise State would fare against Texas or Alabama or Ohio State. What college football fan wouldn't want to watch those games? I sure would.
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