Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adios, BCS

Given my past rants about college football and how broken things are, I have to at least mention yesterday's major development that promises to reshape the NCAA landscape. Beginning in 2014, Division 1 football (the "FBS", whatever) will have a four-team playoff system, scrapping the badly flawed BCS system.

Let's hand over the analysis to ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski, who is probably working off a champagne-fueled hangover today.
This is a momentous day in the history of college football. And thanks to Tuesday's final ratifying vote by the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, a manageable, logical and lonnnnnnnng overdue playoff system makes the traveling squad in 2014. 
As recently as the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, a BCS spokesperson gravely predicted: "Don't be fooled -- a playoff would be the end of the bowls as we know them." When the spokesperson wasn't bashing the idea of a playoff, he was constantly reminding us that the BCS "got it right again." 
And just six months ago, that same spokesperson insisted, "the BCS works well and very well," for all players and fans. 
Yes, it worked so well that 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame's athletic director gutted the BCS and replaced it with a playoff system, a playoff selection committee, a national championship game that can be bid out to a non-traditional playing site and, eventually, a new brand name. And Tuesday in Washington, D.C., the oversight committee approved it all. 
"It's a best-of-both-worlds result," said Charles W. Steger, Virginia Tech president and chair of the committee. "It captures the excitement of a playoff while protecting the best regular season in sports and also the tradition of the bowls. A four-team playoff doesn't go too far. It goes just the right amount." 
The BCS Championship is about to be euthanized -- may it soon rest in peace. Gone are the ridiculous polls, the computer standings and the automatic qualifier status extended to favored conferences. 
The bowl system? Despite the BCS propaganda of 2011, a playoff isn't going to be "the end of the bowls as we know it." That's the beauty of the new agreement. It works within the bowl system, not outside of it.
Of course, there will still be controversy under the new system, and that's fine. Controversy is a big part of sports--there's frankly little entertainment without it. But there's good controversy and there's bad controversy, and it had become abundantly clear that the BCS was engendering the wrong kind of publicity.

Questions about fairness, favoritism, and opaque selection criteria had become more important than the games themselves, and that's a huge problem. With four teams instead of two, it now becomes that much more unlikely that we'll have anyone who gets outright screwed (like Auburn in 2004). More importantly, the new system should avoid the bizarre situations that we saw in 2000, 2001, 2009, and last year, when several teams had a claim at a spot in the title game, and there was no viable way of choosing which team (or teams) should be chosen.

In the four-team playoff, these dilemmas would almost always be avoidable, and all qualified teams would get the chance to play it out on the field. Yes, there could still be exceptions--2004 and 2009 were bizarre years by any measure--but it won't be an inevitable annual result of a deeply flawed system.

The NCAA still has a lot of problems to address, but at least now the competition on the field won't be one of them. That's a good thing.


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