Is the BCS Fair? A Look at a Possible Solution for College Football

Stan RosenbergContributor IIMay 21, 2010

Which one is not like the other: baseball, college basketball, NASCAR, bowling, NHL, college football, and the NFL?

At first glance, this question may appear difficult, especially if you are a casual sports fan, but after some thought and consideration, you should be able to answer it. The answer is college football.

Why is college football unlike 99 percent of all sports? Because it does not have a traditional playoff system. One of the most exciting elements of sports is competition. In a competition, both sides have a chance to win and lose.

There have been many perennial upsets because of competition: just look at USA vs. Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics, Appalachian State vs. Michigan in 2007, or even when Joe Namath and the Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in 1969. Competition allows the underdog to prove themselves on the big stage whereas any other form of ranking, such as computers, does not.

In college football, teams play 12-game seasons. After the regular season, a combination of coaches, voters, and computers decides which teams get to play in which games. The top 10 teams are assigned to bowl championship games in which the bowl committees pick who plays who. After each team plays their game, the season is over. There is no continuation of the sport, no tournament, and no crowned champion.

It is a know fact that smaller-market teams have a disadvantage in the current BCS system.

Last season, Boise State went undefeated, beating teams such as Oregon (who played in the Rose Bowl) and Fresno State (who had Ryan Matthews, the second highest running back taken in the 2010 NFL Draft). Even with its impressive undefeated record, the Boise State Broncos were not given a chance to play for a national title.

Instead, the title game was between the Texas Longhorns (who almost lost to Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship) and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama was undefeated and definitely deserved to play in the title game, but what about Texas?

The Texas Longhorns were given the edge over Boise State simply because the Longhorns had a better strength of schedule (SOS). Boise State plays in a relatively weak division, the WAC, and simply doesn’t have the opportunity to show the voters that they can beat the best of the best week to week.

On a measure of quality wins, Texas easily beats Boise State, but the Broncos were able to do something the Longhorn’s could not do: go undefeated.

Being undefeated is one of the most respected accomplishments in sports. Just think of Don Shula’s 1973 Miami Dolphins.

Even though the Dolphins only played 14 games that season, and one championship game, the team is one of the most respected to ever play the game for its 15-0 undefeated record.

The New England Patriots were 16-0 in the 2007 regular season, but lost in the Super Bowl to the Giants. No one remembers New England for being 16-0; they are known for being 18-1.

Boise State’s 2009 run was not a once in a million occurrence. In the 2008 season, Utah was undefeated. The team beat Michigan, TCU, BYU, and San Diego State. Like Boise State, Utah was not given the chance to play for a national championship.

Instead, Utah played Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Many people predicted Alabama to lose badly to Utah but this was not the case. Utah won the game 31-17 and showed the world that the lower conferences can indeed compete with the big guns.

Many people also forget the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Boise State was undefeated that season and played Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. At one point, Oklahoma seemed like it would run away with the victory, but Boise State battled back, using a hook and lateral and a Statue of Liberty play in one of the greatest college football games ever played.

As Boise State and Utah have shown multiple times, the mid-majors can compete with the power conferences but the computers and human voters simply don’t give them the chance to.

If college football wants to keep its bowl system, all it has to do is have 12 Bowl Championship teams and have the teams play until a champion is declared. The 13th team will never be happy, but this problem exists in many sports (look at college basketball).

This proposal would keep the college football fans know and love while allowing for there to be a true champion, not determined by computers.

Here is how a possible playoff system would work in my mind: There would be 12 teams. The eight with the lowest computer score would play in a play-in game for the final four spots in the eight game tournament.

The eight teams remaining would play in four bowl games (Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl). The four winners would play in two more bowl games (Rose Bowl and Emerald Bowl, for example). The two teams left would play in the National Championship.

Any team who wins the championship under this format would have truly deserved it. Competition, not computers, would determine the top team in the country.

To keep the proposed playoff fair, the Big East, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and the ACC would all receive an automatic bid, and at least one team (besides Note Dame) not in the power conferences must be included. The final five teams can come from any division.

Any team that does not make the 12 team play-off would play in bowl-games as usual.

Many congressmen have been fighting on Capitol Hill for a college football playoff, citing it violates the constitution.

Regardless of whether it is unconstitutional or unfair, there is no reason college football should not institute a proposal like my own. An extended playoff not only gives small-market teams additional exposure but would also generate higher TV ratings, and thus, greater revenue for the NCAA.

The NCAA is looking at a budget deficit and transforming an unfair playoff system is the place to start.

Sometimes the most obvious things are the easiest to fix. College football is no different.