There is a problem with the Bowl Championship Series, but it’s not the one you probably think.
College football doesn’t need a playoff. A traditional playoff system – an eight-team or even four-team bracket – brings nothing in the way of advantages over the current system and probably would make things considerably worse.
Don’t tell me the traditional architecture for playoffs is the only – or even most – accurate way to determine a champion. The St. Louis Cardinals just won the World Series under that system despite having fewer wins in the regular season than any other team that made the playoffs. They finished six games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in their own division. In fact, wild card teams have won half of the last 10 championships.
Yes, people would watch the “playoff” games, but people are going to watch the bowls as well. And college administrators are right. The present system gives 68 teams a shot at playing in the postseason. Does anyone argue all 68 teams ought to get a second chance at the national championship? No. Plus, ask the coaches. Teams that advance to bowls get three extra weeks of practices. See how many want to cut the number of teams that receive that privilege from 68 to eight.
Besides, bowl teams and their fans get an enjoyable week in a far-off city, a few doo-dads from the bowl committee and a chance to finish the season against an opponent of comparable accomplishment. We all love the NCAA basketball tournament, but does it really help the 16 seeds to get in for one game, only to get crushed by a No.1 seed in the first round every single year?
No, the problem with the BCS this year is the prospect of a rematch. Full disclosure: I’m an LSU fan. I was born in Louisiana, went to a system school, have attended games there since I was a young child and have rooted for the Tigers every day of my life. I want that out there, even though it has little to do with the point I’m trying to make.
That’s because, if LSU wins its last two games, it is in – and nobody will argue. If the Tigers don’t win out, it’s their own fault if they miss the big dance.
My argument focuses on the other question: Who will they play?
As of today, the top prospect would be Alabama – provided Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday. But LSU already has beaten Alabama, 9-6, in as epic and thrilling a game as you’ll ever see.
I don’t think a traditional playoff system works for college football for a variety of reasons. How do you choose eight deserving teams out of 119 that have played wildly diverse schedules? Not all 12-0s are created equal. Boise State and TCU and this year’s unbeaten darling, Houston, play teams week-in-and-week-out that have perhaps one or two future pros. The LSU-Alabama game probably had 35-40 future pros. The mid-majors simply are not playing the same game.
Plus, the beauty of the present system is that every game among contenders is a playoff game. Stanford was eliminated by its loss to Oregon. Oregon was eliminated by its loss to LSU – in Week 1 of the season. USC beat Oregon, but it was eliminated because of its status as a continuing criminal enterprise. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
But similarly, Alabama has been eliminated. It had its shot at what most now must agree is the top team in the land. If Arkansas loses to LSU, it has even less claim on another chance – having lost previously to Alabama.
If all the present seeds hold serve, LSU should advance. Its most deserving opponent – as things stand now -- would be Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech will have won a division championship, a conference championship if it can prevail in the ACC title game, and will have lost only once – to a then-Top 10 opponent at the top of its game.
No team in the Big 12, Pac 12 or Big Ten can claim a better resume. And the Big 12 has a higher burden of proof since it no longer has a conference championship game. The problem with the BCS is that, at present, its points system would give the second berth in its title game to Alabama. I’m not sure how to fix that except to bar rematches.
College football does not have a traditional playoff system, which doesn’t bother me one bit. It chooses champions in a way more similar to auto racing than basketball, and that is OK.
But it does have an elimination system, and that system requires that no team, under any circumstances, gets a rematch. Sorry, Alabama, but you had your chance. It’s time others have theirs.