The Case Against the BCS

Tom DavisCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2009

MIAMI - JANUARY 08:  Brandon Spikes #51 of the Florida Gators holds up the winning trophy after the FedEx BCS National Championship Game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Dolphin Stadium on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

I'm here to present the prosecution's case in Football Fans of America vs. The BCS .

Many arguments have been made against the BCS by my fellow prosecutors, most having to do with the fairness of it: "It's unfair to not allow undefeated teams from smaller conferences to play for a title," for example.

These arguments have merit, but the BCS has never claimed to be a fair system. All it is concerned with is producing a champion, and having that champion be the best team.

My argument is based on a desire to see a true champion. It hinges on a pair of key statements, which are as follows:

1. The best method of determining a champion is to do so on the field of play.

2. College football's schedule, as it is in every other league except the UFL, is unbalanced; every team doesn't play everyone once, or, even better, twice, playing once at home and once on the road.

Which leads to this third statement, my argument:

3. The BCS is a flawed method of determining a champion.

Now I will elaborate.

The first of my two statements is a personal opinion, but one I would put forth as being almost universally held by fans of sports. Practically no one would argue against determining a champion by some sort of championship game. The second statement is empirically true.

How these two statements leads to the third is thus: under the current system, every potential champion isn't guaranteed to play other potential champions.

Thus, how can one call any team a definitive champion, since the outcome was not determined on the field?

I am not arguing that every FBS team play every other FBS team twice or even once, for the obvious reasons of infeasibility. However, there is another solution, one that has been implemented in every other league that suffers from the same inability to have perfectly balanced schedules: they call it a "playoff."

All other leagues use a playoff, because all other leagues recognized that when dealing with unbalanced schedules, the best way to determine a champion is to have the teams who perform best with their particular schedule, and have those teams play against each other in a postseason tournament.

Let us consult the case of Miami Dolphins v. Pittsburgh Steelers (2008) .

The 2008 Miami Dolphins finished 11-5, whereas the Pittsburgh Steelers finished 12-4. However, the teams in Miami's division combined for 27 wins—Pittsburgh's, 19 wins.

Miami was one win worse, and played in a much tougher division.

Which team is better?

As it turns out, Pittsburgh won that case, but could you definitively say that Pittsburgh was better than Miami without some sort of playoff? The situation in college football is not unlike this one, excepting that the BCS is trying to do the same for teams that are all undefeated, or with one loss in tough conferences.

The defense has made several arguments, to which I would like to respond. The one most often touted is, "A playoff makes the regular season meaningless." I have a few counters to this.

First of all, under the current system, the regular season is meaningless to all but a few top-flight contenders from the very onset. Or, rather, other team's seasons are only made meaningful if the teams in front of them in the rankings lose.

To say that the implementation of a new system would make the regular season meaningless when that is something that is true of the current system is a specious argument, and cannot be taken seriously.

Second, the argument that a playoff makes the regular season meaningless doesn't seem to take into account that, unlike the NFL—where 12 out of 30 teams make the playoffs in a 16-game season—in order to qualify for the playoffs in college, every game will still matter, because with a pool of teams as large as the 120 FBS teams, if the playoff field is small enough, any loss in what is at most a 13-game season could mean elimination from contention.

Another argument is the merits of the bowl system as a way to reward teams for winning seasons.

While I would argue that is no longer the case, as a 6-6 season is "bowl eligible," I nevertheless agree that the bowl system has merit by allowing teams that have earned it on the field to participate in some form of post-season play.

I would suggest as a compromise that the bowl system as a whole need not be uprooted, just as a system for determining a champion. The smaller bowls may remain, free to provide the 7-5 or 8-4 winner of the Sun Belt or some other smaller FBS conference, as well as the non-elite members of the major conferences, with the reward of a postseason game.

Additionally, there is an argument that a playoff would run too long and affect academics. Once again, I refute the premise, as most of the schools likely to be in a playoff are graduating only 40-70 percent of their players in the first place (only 19 of the 66 BCS conference teams graduated more than 70 percent of their players in 2008).

But beyond that, the argument is completely without merit.

The current bowl season is from the week before Christmas to the week after New Year's Day. That is three weeks, which is enough time to run a playoff of up to eight teams.

Also, there is an argument that the BCS makes college football great, because there is so much argument (or as they word it, "debate") at the end of the regular season.

This implies two things: first, that any debate is good for college football.

This may or may not be true; I think that Oscar Wilde is correct in saying, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." However, if a healthy majority takes the position that your system is flawed, I think as an organization you should consider catering to the masses.

Second, it implies that there would be less or no debate at the start of a playoff.

This doesn't seem to be true as well; there is always a vehement debate about the last two or three teams put in/left out of the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the divisional system in the NFL that put a team like the Cardinals in the playoffs last season over a team like the Patriots.

The only real difference is the amount of time the arguments are left to simmer: the Selection Committee in basketball makes its choices on Selection Sunday, and the play-in game is two days later, with the first round starting two days after that.

In the NFL, there's a week between the end of the season and the start of the postseason. Meanwhile, nearly a month goes by between the end of the regular season and the BCS Championship game, leaving plenty of time for people to express their disgust.

Finally, an argument is made that it doesn't make sense monetarily.

While I do not know much about the revenue streams of the BCS, my contention, and I believe it is a reasonable one, is that the more games that are played, the more money there is to be made, whether it be from gate receipts, merchandise, licensing, or media deals.

Currently, each of the teams that would be included in an eight-team playoff plays one game. Under a playoff system, a quarter of those teams will play an extra game, and another quarter will play two extra games. That's three extra games' worth of revenues. I fail to see where that doesn't make sense financially.

So, as you can see, the defense's argument are at best irrelevant, and at worst outright false.

A playoff is, in every way, a superior method of determining a champion.

However, the question remains as to what sort of playoff to implement. Many of my fellow prosecutors have proffered the idea of an eight-team playoff, and that would seem to be the most reasonable.

However, if I may, I would like to provide an alternative.

It seems to me that the only teams that should be allowed to play for a title should be those who are either undefeated or those from the BCS conferences that have one loss, due to the likely tougher conference schedule those teams face. It is these teams, regardless of their number, that should compete for a national championship.

This means a tournament field of indeterminate size (since 2002, the fewest number of eligible teams has been three; the most, nine). While the implementation may be difficult, this system both accounts for the greater difficulty of BCS conference schedules, while still allowing for non-BCS schools who have proved themselves to compete.

Seeding could be based on any of the pre-existing polls, or even the BCS Standings that are currently used to fill the various BCS bowls. The specifics are unimportant.

The only thing that matters is that a playoff system is implemented, not because it is fair, but because it is a better system for determining a champion.


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