When the Bowl Championship Series was established in 1998, it was hailed as a marvel of college football genius, and was going to put an end, once and for all, to shared national championship and disputed between who is deserving and who is not.
After 13 BCS seasons, and 13 BCS championships, it's probably safe to say that the controversy and arguments about who is the “true” national champion hasn't gone away, no matter how much the BCS wishes it did.
In reality, the BCS is a majorly flawed system. Unfortunately, it's the system that's currently in place, and with the amount of money it generates and the supercilious attitude of some of football's elite, it might be around for some time.
But what would make this calamity of a system simply go away? What could happen to bring down this well-funded house of cards?
Boise State, TCU, Utah, Hawai'i, Reggie Bush, Cecil Newton, and a few others have done their best to unwittingly destroy the system, but still the BCS remains. So what would actually doom the BCS system? Here are 10 possibilities.
Yes, this has happened before, and, no, it didn't bring down the system.
But the last time it happened, it caused such a fuss that it's foreseeable that the next time it happens, the fuss will escalate into a down-right revolt.
In 2004, there were a staggering five undefeated teams in the FBS. Utah, Boise State, and Auburn were all undefeated and all denied an opportunity to compete for a national championship. USC eventually won the game, and later had the title stripped for cheating. So now what? Utah, Boise State and Auburn all had legit claims in January of 2005, do they have legit claims now?
It's also been the case that after all the games, including the BCS Championship Game, have been played, the BCS champion doesn't have the best record. The 2006 season ended with Boise State a perfect 13-0—the only FBS team with zero losses—but weren't national champions, despite beating a heavily favored Oklahoma team in the Fiesta Bowl.
And what about 2007? LSU had two losses, yet somehow was invited to play in the BCS Championship Game when there were more deserving teams with fewer losses.
The point is that there is so much scrutiny of the BCS these days, that any of these scenarios could lead to change being forced. You can only hold off a majority of the nation for so long before change is demanded.
At the end of the 2002 season, the Big Ten champion, Ohio State, was ranked No. 2 in the final BCS poll, and earned a trip to play in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which served as the BCS championship that season.
Iowa finished just behind Ohio State, and was selected by the Orange Bowl, who had the next pick of teams eligible for the BCS. The Rose Bowl was next, and reluctantly selected Oklahoma, as they were the highest ranking team remaining. The Orange Bowl had a higher payout that the Sugar Bowl, so they were awarded the next selection, and picked the Pac-10 co-champion USC Trojans. The Rose Bowl was left with Pac-10 co-champion Washington.
Not only did the Rose Bowl not get their traditional Big Ten champion, they didn't even get the number two Big Ten team either. On top of that, they were left with Washington State as their Pac-10 selection, even though they had lost to USC, and the Trojans were ranked higher.
Oklahoma crushed Washington State in the only Rose Bowl since World War II not to sell every ticket.
The Rose Bowl was understandably upset, and this situation helped lead to the eventual creation of a separate game to serve as the championship. The Rose Bowl also got its own rule in the BCS, giving them the first selection of available Big Ten and Pac-10 teams, regardless of the order of bowls that season.
The Rose Bowl is the “Granddaddy of them all,” and for good reason. It's the oldest bowl game, and it had been viewed as the most prestigious game for nearly a century. Now, it's an also-ran in the world of BCS bowls, and the Rose Bowl is viewed as (gasp) a consolation prize for the Big Ten or Pac-12 champions of today. Obviously the goal is no longer the Rose Bowl, but the BCS Championship Game.
The next time the Rose Bowl doesn't sell out a game or pairs two uninteresting and comparatively low-ranking opponents not from the Big Ten and Pac-12, you might see a BCS revolt from within.
The 2007 season will be remembered by many people for many different things. For LSU fans, it's remembered as the second BCS championship for the Tigers. For everyone else, it was a second LSU title that was less than unanimous.
During the 2007 season, the last few weeks of the season were nothing if not exciting. Both the No. 1 and No. 2 teams lost in the second to last week, and were replaced by two new top two teams—who promptly lost their respective games on the last week of the season.
The two teams that would emerge as the championship game participants was anyone's guess.
Hawai'i finished their season as the only undefeated FBS team, but was not selected for the BCS Championship Game, instead playing Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Speaking of Georgia, they had their own BCS beef. Prior to the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs were ranked No. 4 in the BCS. Tennessee won the SEC-East tie-breaker, and was selected to participate in the SEC Championship. LSU was ranked No. 7 in the BCS, but catapulted all the way to No. 2 after narrowly beating Tennessee in the SEC title game, 21-14.
LSU had two losses on the season, the first time the BCS had ever (or since) selected a two-loss team for the championship game. Virginia Tech began “Championship Saturday” ranked ahead of LSU, but ended up at No. 3 even though they had won the ACC Championship Game in convincing fashion (although LSU had crushed VT 48-7 in September).
In the end, the completely subjective and easily manipulated “strength-of-schedule” argument came into play, and LSU went on to win the BCS championship by beating perennial choker Ohio State.
In the final poll, LSU was again not a unanimous No. 1 selection, receiving only 60 of a possible 65 first-place votes in the AP Poll, the fewest total since (you guessed it) LSU in 2003-04. Two-loss Georgia, USC and one-loss Kansas received the other first-place votes.
It's worth mentioning that out of 88 NCAA-recognized sports across all divisions, the NCAA awards a national championship in 87 of them. The only sport the NCAA does not award a championship is Division I-FBS football.
With increasing calls for the institution of playoff system, the NCAA, through the presidents of the member institutions, may sooner or later decide to take action.
In order for a change to be made to the way the NCAA views the football championship question, a majority of presidents from the current FBS schools would need to propose, debate, and vote. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the FBS membership—soon to be 124 with the addition of Texas State, UMass, Texas-San Antonia, and South Alabama—could find the 63 votes necessary to institute an official NCAA championship in FBS football.
There are current 66 members of BCS-AQ conferences (69 when TCU joins the Big East in 2012). All of the current AQ members are currently on record supporting the BCS and its current system. But with only a swing of six votes, the entire system could be turned upside down.
One of the interesting things about the NCAA is its sense of finality. The NCAA is, in effect, a private members-only club, and if you don't want to play by the rules as set forth by the NCAA, then you don't play. And while 63 programs doesn't seem like a lot in terms of college football (especially when you consider that these teams are those like Tulane, Western Michigan, Utah State, and the like), there are other sports to consider. Stanford might not be a perennial favorite in football, but they win a truck load of NCAA championships.
While it's unlikely the NCAA will take action while the current BCS system is in place, any fluctuation in the stability of the current system might spur the NCAA to act.
The US Justice Department has also officially asked the NCAA to explain why it does not sponsor a championship in FBS football...
In a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert, asking that the NCAA submit to the DOJ reasons for a lack of an NCAA championship, and whether or not the NCAA has any reason to believe the current BCS system best serves the needs of fans, schools, and student-athletes.
This all stems from an on-going investigation of the BCS by the Justice Department for antitrust violations. A number of state attorneys general also have said they plan to file lawsuits against the BCS, including the most vocal opponent, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
Just last month, the DOJ summoned BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock. Hancock spend over ninety minutes explaining to Justice Department lawyers why the BCS isn't a bad idea and why it isn't violating US antitrust laws.
With as much money as there is in college football, it's no surprise that the BCS has hired lobbyists in Washington, hoping to stave off any governmental interference in its lucrative stranglehold on college football. But whenever you have one group of lobbyists, there's bound to be another group lobbying for the opposite position—and college football is no different.
There's actually a Political Action Committee, or PAC, that was created with the sole purpose of destroying the current system. Playoff PAC was co-founded by Matthew Sanderson, and the PAC's contention is that for all of the great things the BCS says it does, they don't tell you about the other side of the coin.
One example is Utah's 2009 Sugar Bowl appearance earned the MWC a $9.8 million payday. Were it not for Utah's selection to the Sugar Bowl, they would have played in the Liberty Bowl, and earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million. That's very true. But Playoff PAC contends that the other side of the coin is that if an AQ team had made the very same game, the payout to their AQ conference would have been roughly double the payout given to the MWC. That's also very true.
So why are those in the “have not” conferences putting up with such disparity?
One of the biggest drivers of the BCS system is money.
There's nothing inherently wrong with that. After all, we live in a free country and that free country gave rise to the modern capitalist system. We're all free to chase the American dream, and make as much money as we possibly can.
But the BCS is a system that takes everyone's money and redistributes the wealth. Throughout human history, when governments try it, it is usually preceded by or followed with heads on pikes or civil war.
Now the BCS isn't going to collapse a government, and it's not going to cause a war, but it does arouse passions in many people, and it does redistribute wealth, which is by its definition unfair.
The BCS operates on a revenue sharing concept, but one that is horribly skewed towards the bigger programs and more prestigious conferences. When a conference produces a BCS participant, that conference gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. Since all six AQ conferences are guaranteed to have a BCS participant, they are thus guaranteed to each receive that money. If a second team from a conference makes the BCS, they get an additional $6 million, or there about.
How is this fair? The WAC, MWC, MAC, Sun Belt and C-USA are locked out of the guaranteed $20 million, and there's only a tiny possibility (according to current BCS selection rules) of earning the extra $6 million. In fact, each year, the non-AQ, or “other five” conferences get just nine percent of BCS money—and that has to be split between them. If a non-AQ program participates in the BCS, that money only increases by another nine percent—still being split between five conferences, not just the one conference that produces the BCS team.
Let's put it another way. Let's take the four “big six” conferences with 12 teams (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12). Broken down by team, those conferences earn about $1.67 million per team with one BCS participant, and $2.17 million with two participants. The “other five” have to share the money, and thus earn around $400,000 per team if there is a BCS participant from any of those five conferences.
If there are the unlikely two participants, that number increased to around $510,000 per team on average. And keep in mind, each conference makes the same amount of money, so the 13-team MAC gets the same payout as the nine-team Sun Belt, so the Sun Belt teams make more per team than MAC teams.
Not only is that unfair, it's almost criminal (and the US Justice Department is currently investigating to see if it actually is criminal).
Is it any wonder that the BCS comes under such criticism from programs like Boise State, TCU, and BYU? At least Louisville and Utah had the financial sense to bolt for a AQ conference at the first opportunity. But that avenue isn't open to everyone.
This one really doesn't make any sense, and it's perhaps the best argument for some sort of playoff system.
“We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day.”
Such were the words spoken by E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State.
“I think until a university runs through that gauntlet [of an AQ conference schedule] that there's some reason to believe that they're not the best teams to be in the big ballgame.” Well, we now know that Gee was nothing more than a front man for the slimy cheater known as Jim Tressel. Gee should have been fired then for such disparaging comments, and it's likely he'll be fired before too long for his similarly ill-advised comments about his hope that Jim Tressel wouldn't fire him in the midst of the “Tattoogate” scandal.
Bob Kustra, the president of Boise State, responded. “The BCS has finally found someone to stand up and defend the indefensible and Gordon Gee proved it—he not just proved that it's indefensible, but he did so with facts that are simply wrong.” TCU's athletic director Chris Del Conte also got in on the act, saying, “To start throwing stones at your house, they must be jealous.”
Del Conte also pointed to Ohio State's non-conference schedule, which included Marshall, Ohio, and Eastern Michigan. “I had no idea they were going out and testing themselves week in and week out,” Del Conte said ironically.
It should also be noted that programs like Ohio State are the exact same programs that refuse to put Boise State on their schedule—even when Boise State offers up a one-year deal that would have the Broncos traveling (a la Virginia Tech and Georgia). “It's easy for the presidents to talk, but ask the ADs when's the last time that they seriously entertained taking requests or inviting Boise State,” Kustra said. He also eluded to phone records that could prove Boise State had been in contact with several top AQ programs, but all had refused to play the Broncos. At least Michigan State finally stepped up to the plate and has since schedules a home-and-home with BSU.
Del Conte actually went so far as to call out Gee and Ohio State. “Anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Buckeyes against the Horned Frogs. Tee it up. Let's go.” Predictably, Ohio State has yet to respond by actually scheduling a non-conference game against a non-AQ program that could actually result in a Buckeyes loss.
In the end, it's terribly ironic and a little tragic that Gee's perspective is way off the mark. Each year, Boise State, TCU and Ohio State (and every other team in the country) have a set conference schedule. Ohio State does't choose to play Michigan, they are scheduled to play Michigan. The Ohio State athletic department has nothing to do with the scheduling of that game, or any other game against a Big Ten opponent. The conference decides those schedules. The same goes for Boise State and TCU and everyone else.
Where the programs have some say is in the non-conference schedule. In that realm, Ohio State plays the weakest of the weak. Boise State at least attempts to play some top programs (Virginia Tech, Georgia, Michigan State) from outside their conference every season. Ohio State plays one or two games like that every half decade and calls it a day.
You shouldn't blame Boise State for playing their conference schedule, just like you shouldn't reward Ohio State for playing theirs. Until Boise State is invited (because they can't choose) to join the Big Ten or Pac-12 or SEC or whomever, Gordon Gee should simply stop talking, because it's clear he has no idea what he's talking about.
In fact, there are many reasons Gordon Gee should stop talking, but this one is a really good one. You would think someone in his position would be a little better as selective vocalization.
The best part of this whole scenario was the billboards around Columbus, Ohio after TCU topped Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl congratulating the Horned Frogs on their victory over the Badgers (who had beaten the Buckeyes earlier in the season). The billboards were signed from “The Little Sisters of the Poor.”
Even though the BCS was supposed to do away with “shared” national championships, the 2003 season ended with a shared national championship.
Oklahoma had started the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, and in the final regular season poll, the undefeated Sooners were still the top BCS team, despite losing in the Big 12 Championship Game to Kansas State. The Sooners earned a berth to the 2004 Sugar Bowl, which was the championship game for the 2003 season.
USC was the No. 1 team in the nation, ranked such by both the AP and the Coaches. So, it only seems natural that the Trojans would earn a trip to the Sugar Bowl as well, right? Where's Lee Corso when you need him? “Not so fast, my friend!”
Oklahoma, although dropped to No. 3 in both human polls, still maintained a No. 1 BCS ranking, and a pretty unanimous No. 2 LSU earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face the Sooners. LSU ended up winning the Sugar Bowl, and the BCS trophy, but USC was awarded the AP National Championship.
In the traditional invitation to the White House for the national championship team, President Bush invited both teams. Standing on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Bush said in his classic and trademark wit, “There's quite a lot of discussion about who's really was number one. My attitude is, 'the South Lawn's pretty good size,” which was met by laughter and cheers from both teams.
There's no doubt that the national championship should be decided on the field. LSU and USC were both recipients of national championships that were not. Any more championships like that, and the BCS will have to find a new way to crown a victor.
So what does politics have to do with the BCS?
As we've seen, plenty.
Without getting into a debate about the economy, the President's currently low approval rating, and the upcoming 2012 election cycle, it's pretty obvious that Barack Obama is a college football fan, and cares about how the system operates.
To be fair, the President is not the only politician who has commented, and the BCS issue is one of those rare Washington issues that seems to find allies and enemies in both parties. There have been calls in Congress for hearings from both Democrats and Republicans. The Department of Justice under both presidents Bush and Obama have looked into the system—and the Justice Department is currently investigating the BCS for anti-trust violations. And President Obama himself has not hidden his displeasure for the BCS.
During the 2008 campaign for the presidency, Mr. Obama was asked to name one thing he'd change in sports. His answer could have been anything, from baseball (over which the government actually exercises statutory control) to soccer, to golf, to MMA, to cricket. But then-Senator Obama chose the BCS. After he was elected, President-elect Obama again stated his preference for a limited playoff system.
If the President in reelected in 2012, which is by no means certain, and a few other national priorities are swept out of the way (namely, the economy), it's not out of the realm of possibility that the President will team up with some unlikely congressional allies to take on the mighty BCS system.
Since the system began in 1998, there have been nineteen opportunities for non-Automatic Qualifying teams to participate in the BCS, but prior to the 2004 season, no non-AQ program had ever been selected. In an effort to change this blatant disparity, the BCS altered their eligibility rules after the 2005 season, and since then, six non-AQ teams have appeared.
But out of the nineteen total teams eligible, only seven have ever earned a BCS invite, and none to the championship game.
For a non-AQ program to earn a BCS berth, they must go undefeated. Those programs that are technically eligible for an at-large berth with a loss or two on their record have never been selected to participate (2010 Boise State, 2009 BYU, 2008 TCU, 2004 Louisville, 2003 Miami U, 2000 TCU). Heck, there have even been undefeated non-AQ teams that weren't selected (2008 Boise State, 2004 Boise State, 1999 Marshall, 1998 Tulane). All of those programs were eligible for the BCS, and arguably should have been chosen.
But perhaps the best opportunity for a non-AQ program to reach the BCS Championship Game is in 2011. Boise State will begin the year ranked in the top five to eight of most polls—certainly the ones that the BCS cares about. Boise State is also stepping up in class in terms of the conference schedule. Boise State will face such teams as TCU, Nevada, Colorado State, and Air Force on their 2011 schedule. Winning another conference championship won't be as easy, but the Broncos should enjoy a sizable boost in the questionable “strength-of-schedule” rankings.
An undefeated Boise State team should be able to move the few requisite spots up in the poll to reach at least No. 2 by the beginning of December.
If Boise Sate is selected for the championship game, and Boise State actually wins, then the whole system could come crashing down. It's that reason that the BCS will try to use any rationale imaginable to keep Boise State out of the championship.
It's also worth noting that if Boise State is selected as loses, it will have the opposite effect, strengthening the current system. The BCS will trip all over themselves rushing to the nearest microphone to announce to the world, “See? The system works! The “little guy” can make it, too, but as we've seen, they don't deserve to make it.” And the “little guy” will never again have an opportunity.
No pressure, Boise State.