Where Pro Sports Falter BCS Can Get It Right

Peter BukowskiSenior Analyst IJuly 22, 2008

The Golden State Warriors won 48 games last season and missed the playoffs in the West. In the East, the Atlanta Hawks' 37 wins "earned" them a trip to the post-season. To be fair, the Hawks took the eventual champion Celtics to the brink, but the point is the equity of the two leagues run incongruous.

In Major League Baseball this season, the three best records in the National League all reside in the Central. In fact, both the second-place Brewers and third-place Cardinals would be front-running in three of the six divisions in the Majors. Even the cellar-dwelling Pirates, a whopping 13 games back, would only be four games back in the putrid NL West, where no team is even .500.

That means a team in the central could win 90+ games and MISS the playoffs, while the Diamondbacks or the Dodgers (no locks to win 80) will take their place because SOMEONE from the West has to go.

We hear pro sports parity has grown with the advent of salary caps, revenue sharing, television contracts, and merchandising. Actually, it appears the disparity between the "haves" and "have nots" is as big as ever, if not bigger.

TV ratings are up not because everyone has a shot, but because we all wanted to see someone take down the big bad Patriots. That is certainly not parity.

That has always been the case in college football. When Florida matches up against the Citadel at the Swamp in late November (Florida always seems to come through with the most over-matched late-season opponent), you will see what I mean.

Yet college football has always been riveting due in part to the fan passion, but also because great teams match up every week. There are 112 of them, odds are, the good ones will play a few times. 

College football draws our attention because there is no playoff. The top two teams play for all the marbles and that's it. Pressure mounts every week as one loss can mean the end of a season.

You have to watch every week, or you could miss the end of one team's season.  

Meanwhile, the BCS has come through time and again, correctly crowning the BCS Champion. When I say, "correctly," I mean the eventual champion was, in fact, the best team in college football.

We like to say that in pro sports the playoff system gives any team a chance to win it all, but that isn't quite true. Sure every once in a while a team like the Giants or the Steelers come through with clutch playoff performances to stun the world.

But the Celtics won the NBA championship this season and were clearly the best team in basketball. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series last season and were definitely the best team in baseball, particularly in the postseason.

But how can we know?

The Sox played the Rockies, who needed a Trevor Hoffman blown save and a blown call on Matt Holliday's slide at home just to make the playoffs.

The Lakers were lucky the Hornets had no playoff experience AND that Manu Ginobili's ankle was about as sturdy as Nicole Richie's in the conference finals.

We rarely get the kind of clash of the titans matchup in pro sports we want.

Not the BCS. By mid season we could see LSU and Ohio State were the best two teams in college football. Sure, LSU had lost two games, but that is why I love college football; by adding a human element via the rankings we can account for tough losses, questionable scheduling, and close outcomes.

Of particular importance is being able to separate the good teams from the great ones.

Since 1998 when the BCS began, there have been questions surrounding champions several times, but whether the best team won the title, it always seemed the right teams were playing in the big game.

Going year by year in the BCS, proving the two best teams in the country actually played would be a waste. Fans, media, players, and coaches speculate after the fact about who should or should not have been in the game, but prior to the bowl season, we tend to agree the two best teams will play for the title.

That is all we can ask for. Texas and USC were undoubtedly the two best teams in the land when they faced off in the Rose Bowl for the national title. Texas won in the waning moments, but if that games were played 100 times, USC would probably win 65 times.

Sports is fun because the "what if" game is irrelevant. Texas DID win.

That game was the perfect counter-argument for any kind of BCS playoff system. What if a freak injury robbed us of one of the greatest games in history because of a playoff game?

A playoff system would eliminate whining over who was "left out," but it could preclude us from guaranteeing the two best teams play. Maybe that is just the tough luck rule.

Would a playoff really help the BCS? Perhaps.

But let's look at it another way: Would pro sports benefit from a BCS-type system?

Certainly had the NBA utilized rankings last season and taken the top 16 teams in the NBA, there is no way the Hawks or the 76ers have a prayer of getting to the postseason, while the Warriors and Blazers would deservedly be in.

In baseball, the Cubs, Cards, and Brewers would all make the playoffs while perhaps no one from the West would play in October.

For those of you concerned about upsets, think of it this way: if the best teams are all playing, isn't there a better chance of an upset? If the eight-seed is really eighth best team available rather than the 11th or 12th, isn't that more likely to provide a better series against a one-seed?

The best of the best will likely play because their records will qualify them regardless. Accordingly, by deepening the pool of playoff teams, it elevates the overall quality of teams and quality of play.

Common sense tells us that might make series longer (God forbid) and your television viewing more difficult with so many outstanding choices, but you should have a Tivo by now anyway (they come with a Happy Meal I hear).

For the die hard sports fan it would be heaven; the best teams playing in the postseason struggling through seven-game series, coaches making adjustments, players leaving everything on the court. 

Isn't a lack of passion and vigor exactly what fans complain pro leagues lack? 

Sure, the bowl season is 25 games too long and BCS games can be anti-climactic when USC wins the Rose Bowl by 100 or Florida comes out of nowhere to dismantle the presumed top team. But for every Florida-Ohio State game, a system like this gives us a USC-Texas game.

In the NFL that would mean a Super Bowl game worth watching for something other than just the commercials.

The Giants' win over the Patriots was historic, but lucky. That was why it retained so many viewers. Had the Patriots taken off in the first quarter to a 17-3 lead, people would have turned to the Colbert Report.

A Patriots-Packers or Patriots-Cowboys game would have had the same 19-0 hype, but would have had a much better chance of presenting a once-in-a-lifetime game. Only in retrospect can we say the right teams played.

Giants-Patriots 100 times probably comes out Patriots 85 times, but it was the Giants the only time it counted. Looks like the tough luck rule does apply.

For whatever reason, people seem to believe the BCS ought to turn to the pro sports for "fixing." It appears however, pro sports could benefit from a BCS system where the best teams are assured a chance.

Pro sports have the playoff, the BCS has the rankings (even if flawed). A combination would create the ultimate sport experience where the top teams meet when it matters.

It's the draft and free agency that create REAL parity, not the playoffs. 

Luck brought us a Super Bowl for the ages and a throw-back NBA Finals, but why leave the sports we love so much to chance? Don't we deserve it?  


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