Is the BCS a bunch of B.S.?



By Rob Marino

University of Michigan athletic director Tom Goss may have summed up the current state of college football best. Speaking before his school’s Senate Assembly recently, Goss epitomized the diversity of opinions on whether there should be a playoff to determine a true national champion in the sport.

Goss, as well as Michigan’s own Big-10 Conference, oppose the idea. As does the Pac-10, though not as adamently. They’re at least willing to study several playoff proposals in the works. But several schools in the Southeastern Conference are all for a playoff. The Big-12 Conference is ready to jump on board as well.

With critics again assailing the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which is supposed to decide the national champion, it begs this question: Could all this be solved with a football playoff? In a perfect world, there would be just two undefeated teams at the end of the regular season ranked first and second. They would play in the Rose Bowl. Easy solution. One game. One champion.

But that won’t happen this year (now that Miami is the only undefeated team among the top six in the current BCS Standings), and it didn’t happen a year ago, either.

In 2000, Oklahoma was the only college football team not to lose a game. That made the Sooners an easy choice for one of the two spots in the Orange Bowl National Championship Game. But when the final BCS Rankings were released, the Sooners were opposed by Florida State, which finished second in the final poll. Critics cried foul because FSU’s 11-1 record was identical to Miami, a team the ‘Noles had lost to in the regular season, but Florida State still go the knod. In the complicated BCS points formula, the Seminoles had garnered enough points through strength of schedule and victory margin to finish ahead of Miami -- despite losing their only head-to-head meeting.

So, why the disparity on a playoff?

College presidents are often seen as the biggest obstacle. When the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the sport’s governing body, restructed in 1997, it put presidents in control of virtually every aspect of intercollegiate athletics.

“The NCAA's effort to define, develop and promote the concept of institutions gaining more control over athletics departments began in earnest in the mid-1980s. And, as has been well-documented, a major thrust of the ongoing college athletics reform movement has been to encourage presidents to become more involved in the operation and oversight of their athletics departments.” (Gerdy)

Some would argue the NCAA has gone through a sort of epiphany since then. That by handing the reins over to the presidents, the NCAA was sending a message because it was taking control out of the hands of athletic directors and coaches, who some feel sullied the reputation of college sports following a series of scandals, particuarly in the mid 1980s. In that decade alone, 109 colleges were censured, sanctioned or put on probation by the NCAA, and more than half of those competed at the Division I level, the highest level in college sports.

Are presidents to blame for a playoff-less system? To find out more, it would be best to trace the history of the BCS -- from how the system originated to the now-defunct Bowl Alliance, all within the last decade. We’ll also look at the current status of the BCS and where things should go after this year when the system is expected to be criticized again. But let's first start with a history lesson -- BCS-style...