Sunday, October 14, 2007

Upset Saturday: Will this be the year the BCS dies?

Once again, the SEC has proven itself to be the toughest conference in the land. And once again, it looks like they will suffer for it.

As a Kentucky fan, I am still giddy from the huge upset of LSU last night by my Wildcats. It was a great game, and from my standpoint at least, a great result. I think at this point, the Wildcats have proven to everyone in this league that they are not a fraud. More than that, they now have an argument, albeit a convoluted one, that they are the best team in the East.

But what I want to talk about today are a couple of articles I ran across at the Washington Post and on Yahoo. The first, the WaPo article, suggests that the SEC is "Too good for its own good":

Watch a game from another conference on television and then watch a game in the SEC and note the difference in speed and overall physical brutality. No conference makes it more difficult for its teams to emerge from a season with an unbeaten record.
Well, we've all heard this before, and not just from the SEC. The Pac 10 keeps telling us that they are really better, and the Big Ten keeps asking us to watch it's network, claiming you will see the best football in the nation there.

This debate is no nearer being resolved today than it was in the summer, when Pac 10 commissioner Tom Hansen claimed, when asked if the Pac 10 would walk away from the BCS over a "plus one game" answered "Yes, no question."

First of all, this response strikes me as cowardly. Hansen and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney claim that they are all about protecting the "integrity of the Rose Bowl". But what integrity does the Rose Bowl have, in terms of its history, under the current BCS system? The Pac 10 and Big Ten sold out the integrity of the Rose Bowl eleven years ago. Hansen's statement is a dodge, because he knows that in a plus one system, there are much better odds that two SEC teams will be playing for the national championship than a Big Ten or a Pac 10 team. And he would rather take his football elsewhere (where is unknown) than do that.

Stewart Mandel has already accused Hansen of not dealing in reality, and suggests that more likely, Delaney and Hansen are just staking out a stance for negotiation. It really isn't in the interest of either of the two traditional Rose Bowl schools to actually pull out of the BCS, as it would create a schism in college football that would be way worse for the game than their original sell-out of the Rose Bowl.

But to be fair (or hypercritical), many of the SEC schools have also opposed a the plus one model, although their reasons must be quite different. But that was before this strange season happened.

It's early, of course, but let us suppose that Ohio State wins out it's remaining soft schedule and winds up the #1 team. Let us further suppose that USF wins out (a bit more of a stretch) and becomes the #2 team. LSU, South Carolina, and every other SEC school who played a much tougher schedule would wind up on the outside looking in.

There is still a lot of football to be played, and all this may sort itself out in the end. If so, that would almost be a shame, because a major catastrophe seems to be the only thing that will get these conservative college presidents off their duff and into a system that is less controversial and more fair. A plus one game is a start, although to be honest, I am not convinced it won't create as many problems as it solves. They may be different problems, though, and I am very much for giving it a try.

And ultimately, I have been persuaded by Mergz at Saurian Sagacity who argues convincingly that an NCAA national championship in football does not, and never did, exist. Mergz goes on to conclude that the BCS has made the entire system of selecting a national champion worse by continually changing the criteria for selecting the national champion. No less than 5 times has the BCS formula changed. By changing the formula for selecting the participants every year or so, how are the teams supposed to have any confidence that the system has any integrity whatsoever?

As Mergz points out, the very fact that the system can be changed by lobbying efforts on behalf of conferences and/or teams is proof of it's utter failure as a system for determining accurately and with unbiased objectivity the teams that should play for the national championship.

Mergz conclusion is the same as mine -- some form of playoff is required to produce any real plausibility to the system of selecting a national championship. The BCS is really no better than what we had before it, and the reason is it lacks integrity and year to year process continuity. They change the selection criteria at the whim of powerful interested parties, and the selection system itself is so opaque that the BCS cannot truly demonstrate any semblance of fair or objective judgment. It is a mess.

So if your team plays for the "national championship" this year, just realize that yours is no more legitimate than the 300-odd claims by various schools to a piece of that distinction over the years.


Henry Louis Gomez said...

I have a very simple solution that will make college football even bigger than it is today and will make tons more money.

Reduce the number of Division 1A teams to 96. Then form eight 12-team conferences. The current 12-team conferences will remain in tact. The Big 10 only needs one more team (duh, hello Notre Dame). The remaining conferences will be merged and the weak sisters purged. Can you say MAC-WAC?

Each 12 team conference will have two divisions and a championship game. The 8 conference champions will be seeded in a 3-round tourney just like they do now in the basketball tourney. With a selection committee.

There will still be plenty of controversy about the seedings but at least you'll be able to play your way to a national title, even if you're seeded 8th. The games in this tournament can be held in traditional 1st tier Bowl cities. Hell you can call them whatever you want. But the "Bowls" will have meaning in selecting a national champion.

You could then take the runner-ups in each conference and face them off against each other in some sort of "commissioners' cup" that will tally which conferences do the best in the post season. These "consolation games" can be played in the 2nd and 3rd tier Bowl cities. They too would have some more importance because of the idea of the "commissioners' cup" for bragging rights.

It will never happen. I know. Because college football makes no sense whatsoever.

BestofSEC said...

That is a great idea, but it sure requires a lot of compromises on the part of established conferences and teams. But it is clearly the superior way to do it.

What I would do is more of a band-aid that would at least give some semblance of plausibility to the mess.

At the end of the year, I would form a selection committee to select the top 8 teams and seed them 1-8. This would mollify the "the entire season is a playoff" crowd.

Then, I would have those top 8 play a single-elimination bracket with the 1 playing the 8, etc. I would use existing bowls that are played around the same time, with the 2 semifinals one week after the bowls and the final after that, just like the regular season.

I think that would work, and it wouldn't require any major realignment. Yes, it does introduce subjective judgment and some teams would always get excluded that have arguments, but that happens in basketball as well. Football doesn't lend itself quite as well to a large tournament as basketball, so I think that gets addressed also.