I’m on an island where only those not wanting to kill the BCS in college football reside. Just call me Gilligan. I’m on this island alone, or at least it feels that way. For years, seemingly beginning as soon as the BCS system was instilled in college football, millions of angry fans have called for its demise. As recent as this week, 12 FBS commissioners have spoken out confirming that “considerable progress has been made” toward a BCS Playoff System, and last night it was announced that the four-team playoff could materialize as soon as the 2014 season. Pop the champagne, everyone, you’ve gotten your way.
Before you celebrate, I ask you all this: what is the bar-none number one reason that the BCS is wildly unpopular? That question is essentially rhetorical: I’ve heard all of the possible gripes. However, I see your unhappiness with the BCS and raise you a logical explanation as to why your unhappiness is frankly unwarranted. Trust me, keep calm and read on.
“I hate how there isn’t a playoff in college football.” The most popular notion among afore-mentioned angry college fan bases across America is that there isn’t a post-season, but I counter that with this: college football has the most accurate playoff system of any league, college or professional. What? Let me explain before you begin singing your school song and waving your anti-BCS flag in protest. Any person would be hard-pressed to find sports fan who does not love the playoffs in any sport, as I also love playoff anything, but as I’m learning now in writing this piece, a person would also be hard-pressed to find somebody who recognizes that the BCS is the most accurate system in sports today.
A growing trend in the NFL is that the regular season is rendered meaningless when the 9-7 Giants and 9-7 Packers win the 2011-12 and 2010-11 Super Bowls respectively, even though the NFL gives all teams with an undefeated or one-loss record a chance in a playoff. However, unlike the NFL, the whole college football regular season is the playoffs: lose and you’re chances at the National Championship are shot. That will not change once a four-team playoff is implemented. The BCS System is a pro-longed way of weeding out the national champion, which is the exact reason it is so unpopular: sports fans thrive in climactic sports, and the BCS is largely anti-climactic.
Every game from August to December holds merit and the teams who win remain in contention for a National title as it is in the playoff format for the NFL. The only difference is that the BCS’ format is not crammed into a month, making the NFL seem all the more climactic.
Why don’t playoff-crazed fans love essentially a three-month playoff in which every single game of the regular season matters?
“The BCS is too arbitrarily-driven.” Say the four-team playoff comes to life, who will decide which four teams make it into the playoff when more than four teams have a record of 11-1 or 10-2? That decision will always have to be made somehow, and there will always be a team left out, just as there is in the BCS. Take last season, for example. The outrage stemmed when Oklahoma State was shunned from the Title game and the eventual champion Alabama was let in despite the fact both teams had a regular season record of 11-1. People hated the idea of Alabama getting a second-crack at LSU, well, didn’t the same thing happen this season in the NFL? The Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants in the regular season, but the Giants beat the Packers in the rematch during the Divisional Playoffs: you loved both of those games, what’s the difference? Pretend a four-team playoff was in place last season, the four teams in the playoff would have been Alabama, LSU, Stanford, and Oklahoma State; couldn’t there be an argument made, though, that 12-2 Oregon should have a shot? What about Wisconsin? Arkansas? And hey, you can’t disrespect Houston’s terrific undefeated season, can you? I’d tell Oklahoma State they should’ve beaten Iowa State. I’d tell Oregon that they should have come to play on opening night against LSU, and on down the line. Win your games in the regular season, schedule harder competition to bulk up your strength of schedule, and move your school to one of the six major conferences. The BCS isn’t that bad. If your team wins, you’re not complaining.
“What about the undefeated TCU team in 2010-11?” This is where the argument gets dicey. I understand the standpoint of, what good is an undefeated season if it just ended in a Rose Bowl? Mind you that both Auburn and Oregon were undefeated as well with stronger regular season schedules than TCU had, which in my mind solidifies why those two teams were selected to play it out for the championship and TCU was not: strength of schedule matters, and it will still factor into the committee’s criteria when deciding upon which four teams to include in a playoff; don’t you see that these same things you hate about the BCS are not going away rather just being expanded? As I stated, winning does virtually solve everything, but there is a counterpart to that: being in a major conference definitely solves everything. Why do you think the Horned Frogs moved to the Big XII, anyway? Hint: it’s certainly not to play second-fiddle to the Longhorns for eternity on the gridiron.
These questions will be raised and a fan base will always be outraged no matter the format in college football because there are 66 Division I BCS teams all vying for a single championship. College football will always be discretionarily and arbitrarily done because of the sheer amount of teams involved: it is impossible to do it any other way.
The reason we all love the NFL playoffs is because it’s all decided on the field, and those who performed best in the regular season all get a shot at the post-season. But do they? Most certainly not. There are multiple teams that finish with 8-8 or 9-7 records every season and not all of them make the playoffs but again, it is all decided on the field, so it seems different than the BCS even though in both instances seemingly deserving teams are kept out, and it is different but for good reason; there are only 32 teams in the NFL and there are 66 teams in the BCS: somebody has to set the rules and make a decision.
It’s well-documented that the BCS System is wildly unpopular. To take that point even further, the BCS System isn’t fan-friendly, but it is the most accurate system used in any league pertaining to ensuring the best team wins every year. It’s the exact opposite of every other playoff system we come to know and love, especially it’s sister format the NCAA Tournament or as fondly referred to, March Madness. I’d rather have hurt feelings over whether to include Oklahoma State or Alabama in the Championship than appeasing everybody and having teams like Iona and Norfolk State reach the field in the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament implemented the play-in round and expanded the field to 68, but no matter what, the most elite programs will win the championship nine times out of ten. Do you see a trend here? College athletics expanding the playoff field is done to please, not to alter the result. For example, USC will likely be the preseason AP No. 1 this coming fall, and by that same token, the BCS Championship game in January 2013 will likely include the Trojans barring upset, which rarely happens in college football. The BCS System is predictable, predictable is a snooze, but it forces the regular season to be relevant.
Who says the regular season in college football is a snooze or predictable? College football on Saturdays in the fall is among the best atmosphere, if not the best. Nobody saw Michigan State beating Wisconsin on a miraculous Hail Mary coming. Everybody still stayed up to watch all five overtimes of the Stanford vs. USC game despite the BCS System and USC’s probation. Nobody saw Mizzou upsetting #1 Oklahoma in the 2010-2011 season on Homecoming Weekend. All of those instances were classic, and all of them evoked the same emotion a playoff game would, even though all were regular season games. Why? Because when Wisconsin lost, they were out of the running for a title. When Stanford beat USC, it kept them in the running. When Mizzou upset Oklahoma, it essentially ended the #1 team in the nation’s hopes for a championship.
I love college football because I know I have to tune in each and every Saturday because if my team loses, my team’s season is shot. The college football regular season follows the same premise as a playoff: you lose, you’re out. I love college football the way it is now because the regular season feels like a playoff all the way through, and I will continue to love college football because I whole-heartedly believe that this four-team playoff system, however they choose to set it up, will resonate similar to how the BCS is set up in still making the regular season vital to a team’s championship aspirations.
That’s what makes college football special from any other sport or league in existence. Why toy with something so unique and subsequently so wonderful? While I do not approve of everything the BCS does, for example computerized AP polls and subjective opinions, I absolutely approve of the eventual outcome it produces and don’t understand the belief that a four-team playoff will change that outcome or solve anything.
We still love college football, no matter what the format is, and to the majority who hates the BCS as much as you each hate your schools’ respective rivals, you love college football because it is so different from the NFL. And that is largely, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, is attributed to the BCS System.
Be careful what you wish for. The same people who ran the BCS will have a hand in designing the four-team playoff, remember that.
It’s already been stated that a committee will select the four teams included in the playoff based on conference champions and strength of schedule: is that not what already happens with the BCS, only difference being four teams instead of two? It’s great that two more teams will be included, but the way those four teams will not be any different than the way the two teams are selected now, which is the root of why people hate the BCS. The four-team playoff isn’t getting rid of the BCS, really, it’s just expanding the end result by two teams.
Mama always said to pick your battles. This is not one of them.
You can follow Megan Armstrong on Twitter @MeganKArmstrong