BCS Controversies Revisited: Much Ado About Nothing

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BCS Controversies Revisited: Much Ado About Nothing

The media has for well over a decade tried to gin up as much discontent as possible over the bowl system in order to apply pressure on the NCAA and university presidents to institute a I-A playoff.

I will not debate the merits of the playoff itself other than to say that as a person who attended a I-AA school, a I-A playoff would not be NEARLY as much fun OR settle as many controversies as everyone thinks.

But instead, I wish to make the case that the media-contrived "controversies" over the BCS are usually tempests in a teapot, especially when one considers that the media hue and cry is nowhere near as strong when a team that the media likes and respects comes home with the title (i.e. FSU, Florida, Miami, USC, Oklahoma) as it is when a team that the media loathes does (Nebraska, Ohio State, LSU) or for that matter DOESN'T (Auburn).

So let us go back and revisit some of the bigger media-generated outrages.

1. 2004: USC - Oklahoma - Auburn.

As an SEC fan, let me say that a fair-minded person can oppose a title game matchup between two undefeated teams that started out ranked in the top 5 due to not only one winning the AP title and the other coming within three points of winning the BCS title the previous year, but being the two best programs of the early part of the decade.

SOMEONE had to be left out, so the decision that was made was defensible. What was indefensible was the media hypocrisy.

A. The media totally rejected the arguments that they had used in the past to advance alleged "BCS victims" in the past, including USC the prior year.

B. The media refused to acknowledge that it was the changes to the BCS formula that they demanded after the exclusion of USC in 2003 and Oregon in 2001 were what kept Auburn from leapfrogging Oklahoma. And no, the media did not demand changes to the BCS system on Auburn's behalf. Why? Because a system that keeps teams that the media doesn't give two cents about - teams like Auburn - out of the title picture whenever it is possible was precisely the result that the media was aiming for to begin with.

C. The same media that declared USC's having to share the title with LSU the prior year to be some sort of crime against human decency stated that Auburn should be perfectly fine with their undefeated season, Sugar Bowl title, and No. 2 ranking. After all, THEY ARE JUST AUBURN SO WHO CARES? And where USC and Oregon fans were revolutionaries challenging an unjust system, Auburn was declared to be "whiners."

Final analysis: the 2004 mess was not due to the BCS, but rather the media's shameful hypocrisy.

2. 2003: Oklahoma - USC - LSU

Playoff proponents are hypocrites in claiming that you should have to win your conference in order to compete for the national title because every sport that has a playoff, including I-AA football and the Division I basketball tournament, allows at - large entries.

The notion that Oklahoma should be punished for losing later than USC is credible, but that was accounted for in the polls, where Oklahoma did drop below a USC team that actually had a slightly worse record (same number of losses, but Oklahoma had more wins by virtue of playing in a conference title game).

However, the BCS formula appropriately did not allow the time of the loss to completely cancel out other factors, such as the fact that Oklahoma lost to a much stronger team than did USC (8-6 Cal!) and that Oklahoma incontrovertibly played a tougher schedule. 

Seriously, what evidence do we have that USC would have beaten Kansas State had they played, as a lesser KSU team beat USC the prior year? A lot of people have forgotten that had star KSU QB Ell Roberson (who shredded USC's defense the prior season IN LA, a preview of the trouble that USC defenses would later have with Vince Young and Dennis Dixon) not gotten injured early that season, causing TWO Kansas State losses, the national title game would have been between LSU and Kansas State to begin with.

As far as the great crime of LSU jumping USC in the final poll: the only crime was the media's pretending that it was somehow unprecedented. The truth is that teams leapfrog each other when they both win—or both lose—ALL THE TIME.

Did the media complain in 1993, for instance, when Nebraska fell in the polls after a close conference road win where they had to start a third string walk-on at QB? Now in what fantasy land was USC's beating 10-3 Michigan more impressive than LSU's beating Oklahoma, the BCS No. 2? LSU had the better record (again, playing an extra game due to the conference title game) and played a more formidable foe (this isn't about USC being better than Oklahoma, just that Oklahoma would have obviously and easily beaten any team quarterbacked by John Navarre) in the bowl game. REFUSING to move LSU up merely because USC was initially ranked higher is what would have been unfair.

So, there should have been no controversy whatsoever over the shared title. Or more accurately, if ANYONE had the right to complain, it would have been LSU for being forced to share the title with USC. Why? Because even before the title game LSU had played a much tougher schedule, including but not limited to Eli Manning's Ole Miss and two games against 11 win UGA. LSU had to share their title with a team that not only played fewer games, but played them against what the BCS formula held to be clearly weaker opposition (and again not only weaker than LSU's but also weaker than the Oklahoma team that LSU beat). Now this does not mean that LSU fans should begrudge USC their AP title, but instead merely illustrates the whole media harping over "the corrupt BCS system prevented coaches from voting for who they really thought was best!" nonsense was precisely that, as was their attempt to humiliate LSU and denigrate their accomplishments by trying to convince coaches to either vote for USC as #1 in the final poll or leave the spot blank (fortunately only a few coaches, obviously those who do not believe that they themselves will ever win a BCS championship game and benefit from the same arrangement, were classless enough to follow the media's commands).

That's right...the strength of schedule component was the reason why BOTH Oklahoma AND LSU leapfrogged USC despite USC being No. 1 in both polls, and that was why the media demanded that the strength of schedule component be eliminated: it will generally work against the PAC-10 conference (that is until the PAC-10 conference actually goes out and gets better).

3. 2001: Oregon - Nebraska

See the same argument advanced in 2 ... Nebraska was appropriately punished by the BCS system for losing later than Oregon by dropping behind Oregon in the polls (again despite having more wins and the same number of losses than Oregon), and was appropriately rewarded the spot in the title game based on their superiority in other factors, including the fact that Nebraska's losing to Colorado in the Big 12 title game is much more forgivable than was Oregon's losing to Stanford.

Seriously Oregon fans, who was the best team you beat that year? Your nonconference schedule included a bunch of losing and mid-major teams, and what did any other team in the PAC - 10 accomplish during the regular season or in any bowl games that year? News flash: before Pete Carroll, your conference just wasn't that good (last national title: Washington in 1991 and before that USC in 1978). That meant that Oregon would have had to go undefeated to have any shot at the national title game just like that Jake Plummer Arizona State team did (and by the way that ASU team actually beat somebody that year ... defending national champs Nebraska).

And Oregon fans, while your defeating Colorado in the BCS game was, er, nice, please recall that Colorado lost to mid-major Colorado State, was blown out by Texas, and was playing a backup QB who could not run the option portion of their offense.

4. 2004: Cal - Texas.

Galling that the media championed this issue while telling Auburn to drop dead. Even more galling that the AP used this incident to withdraw from the BCS formula, hoping to force a playoff.

More galling still that PAC-10 fans accused Mack Brown of whining when it was the PAC-10 that stole an at-large BCS bid from more deserving Virginia Tech—whose only loss was on the road at Miami in a game where Michael Vick was injured—by threatening to withdraw from the BCS unless a PAC - 10 team got an automatic bid instead.

Be that as it may, another instance of media hypocrisy. The media was more than willing to justify excluding Auburn in favor of Oklahoma and USC based on the latter two program's longer recent history of success and (allegedly) having much more talent.

Well, where California had gone 8-6 the prior year and was generally horrible for years before (a 6-6 season under Steve Mariucci was as good as it had gotten) Texas had been winning 9, 10, 11, etc. games a season ever since Mack Brown had first arrived.

Anyone who claims that Cal was the more talented team—or that Vince Young would have done anything other than roll up 500 yards of total offense against Cal's "defense"—would be ridiculous.

The media's claim that the incontrovertibly by any measure lesser talented team led by the incontrovertibly by any measure lesser accomplished coach should have gotten the Rose Bowl berth over a team that was clearly superior in every conceivable way boiled down to two arguments: 1) whenever possible a Big 10/PAC-10 matchup should be preserved for the Rose Bowl and 2) we just like Tedford and Cal BETTER than Brown and Texas.

This decision was not merely validated in hindsight (i.e. Texas winning the Rose Bowl and the national title the next year as compared to Cal's losing the Holiday Bowl and not doing squat worth mentioning since) but was obviously the right one to begin with.

5. 2000: FSU - Washington - Miami.

Yes, 11-1 Miami beat 11-1 FSU. But 11-1 Washington also beat 11-1 Miami. And 11-1 Arizona beat 11-1 Washington. So who else were you going to pick other than the defending national champions, and why?

6. 1998: Kansas State.

While I have great sympathy for the Michael Bishop team that gave us a hint of the spread option era to come for finishing in the top 5 and being exiled to the Alamo Bowl, the truth is that under the old bowl system KSU wouldn't have gone to a major bowl game either.

But what happened to KSU, who went from being one play against Texas A&M from being in a national title game in which they would have been heavily favored to going to a third-tier bowl game, should illustrate how ridiculous the people who claim that Oregon and Cal should have received at large bowl bids are by comparison.

7. 2005: Oregon - Notre Dame.

Yes, Oregon had a better record than Notre Dame. But similar to Oregon in 2001 ... who was the best team you beat that year? Oregon didn't even play 10-3 UCLA with their one of the worst in NCAA history rushing defense that season.

And yes, the BCS was obligated to consider the fact that Oregon lost their starting QB and would have had no chance against top competition (as was proven in the Holiday Bowl against 8-4 Oklahoma).

The purpose of the BCS was to pick the strongest teams to produce the best matchups for the viewers, advertisers, and paying customers, not reward Oregon for a great season.

And incidentally, Oregon's going would have allowed 11-2 LSU, a much more talented and accomplished team, to cry foul. Bottom line: 10 and 11 win teams worthy of at large BCS bids get left out every year.

There is no reason to make it into this big controversy just because it happened to a team that the media likes. Mack Brown has had 14 teams to finish with nine or more wins, including his last 12 teams in a row, and in all that time has only received ONE at-large major bowl bid. Which one was it? See #4, 2004: Cal-Texas.

8. 2006: Michigan - Florida.

Michigan fans, please understand that not a single postseason system in memory would have given you a rematch. The old system: you go to the Rose Bowl to play USC. The Bowl Alliance: you go to the Rose Bowl to play USC.

And yes, the original BCS formula with margin of victory and strength of schedule component: you go to the Rose Bowl to play USC. Also, the idea that you should get two bites at the apple with no one else getting a shot is ridiculous.

What if you had beaten Ohio State in the rematch, especially in a close game...do you then share the title? Or go best two out of three? And by the way, your defense's inability to cover a team with a sophisticated offenses—as your three losses in a row to Ohio State, USC, and Appalachian State demonstrated—means that you wouldn't have gone anywhere in a playoff either.

Your first-round matchup would have likely been against LSU with No. 1 pick in the draft QB JaMarcus Russell and No. 1 picks WR Dwayne Bowe and WR Craig Davis and third rounder WR Early Doucet (the guy who made Ohio State's secondary look slow and clueless on that TD catch and run in the national title game) and boy would that have been fun! For LSU, that is. For you ... not so much.

9. 2006: Wisconsin.

I know, you finished 10-1. But seriously, who was the best team that you beat that year BEFORE the bowl game? No, under the old system you would not have gotten an at-large bid to a major bowl game.

No, the third place team in the Big 10 would not have made a playoff unless the field was 16 teams. Your argument is no better than the many worthy teams that miss out on BCS spots each year.

10. The ACC and Big East never receiving an at-large BCS bid.

8-5 Pitt in 2004 and 8-5 FSU in 2005 got automatic BCS berths by virtue of winning their conference and—surprise surprise—went on to lose the bowl games. I say we call it even. What about you?

11. 9-3 Illinois getting an at-large bid last year.

OK, and who else should have gone? With 10 spots for the BCS and the rules limiting it to two teams per conference, you are going to see teams worse than Illinois—which had a ton of talent and also beat No. 2 Ohio State—make it in the future.

That is really about it. Apart from what happened to Kansas State (which has been remedied I might add with the automatic qualifier rule), no one can honestly claim to have been harmed or robbed by the BCS. (OK, MAYBE Kansas can claim to have been more deserving to face Ohio State in the 2007 title game than LSU based on having fewer losses and the same number of wins. But as Kansas fans are not complaining and no one in the media is advocating their case, it does not qualify as a controversy.)

Quite the contrary, the BCS has given major bowl bids and title shots to programs that would have had no chance at either otherwise.

It has also given teams that would have gone nowhere in a playoff (which are a lot tougher than you think ... playoffs reward teams with the most depth, the best run games and defenses, and make the fewest mistakes, not the team that scores the most points, gets the most exposure, or has star players, and also it would result in the same teams going year after year, which would cause those teams to absolutely clean up in recruiting and give no one else a chance) reasons to smile and feel very good about themselves!

So while the BCS isn't perfect, please stop criticizing it based on the demagoguery of ESPN, USA Today, and the rest of the national media.

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