January 9, 2012

A Few BCS Thoughts

Tonight, Alabama and LSU will lock heads in the BSC Championship Game. Not only do they both come from the same conference (the same division, in fact), but they’ve already played this year, LSU downing Alabama in overtime in what was either a brilliant defensive game or a crushing bore, depending on which side of the 9-6 final your team was on.

Like many college football fans, I’m not really a fan of the rematch in the title game. I’ve always been of the opinion that if you don’t win your conference, you don’t play for the national title. But, again like most college football fans, I’ll tune in tonight and watch. The game’s like a drug and I’m a junkie, I’ll admit. Besides, the buzz of WVU’s crushing Orange Bowl win last week is about to wear off. Stewart Mandel has more on the conflicted feelings of fans here.

I will say this for the BCS – it is blatant about trying to do what no other championship game in the world really can, match the two best teams against each other at the end of the year. Think about it. Any playoff system only works in getting close to that matchup if all the favorites win and all the underdogs lose. But what we love about playoffs is that they are unpredictable. One year, a NFL wild-card team can win the Super Bowl. The next, all the wild-card teams get eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. In a BCS setup, Greece never wins the 2004 European Championship because they never even play in the final. At the end of the day, it’s what makes playoffs worth playing.

So the BCS is bucking the trend, which is admirable. But the errand they set for themselves is a fool’s one. How on earth can you pin down the “top” (whatever that means) two teams out of the 120 that play through the season? If two, and only two, teams wind up unbeaten during the regular season, that might be helpful, but doesn’t deal with the strength of schedule problem. And what about seasons like this one, where only LSU made it through unscathed? You play the same game with the 1-loss teams (see here for a good argument about Alabama and Oklahoma State filling that role). And what if the unthinkable happens – Alabama upends LSU, but only barely, and nobody ends up undefeated? It might be fun just to see what happens.

For the record, my biggest beef with the BCS is there is no way for any team to say “if we do X, Y, and Z, we will play for the national championship.” The best bet is to be undefeated, but even that doesn’t guarantee anything. At least in the NCAA basketball tournament each team as a path to automatic qualification. Something more objective would be a good thing (my setup: a playoff involving only conference champions and the highest ranked independent).

In the end, the current system, while obtuse and completely fucked up, is the one that college football fans largely deserve. It gives us the one big game to decide it all, the focal point of all American sports (even the World Series or Stanley Cup Finals we want come down to a do or die game seven, right?). But it does it in such a way that everybody is free to argue about it until they’re blue in the face, often without any real mooring to the undisputed facts.

Damn it, it’s an American tradition! Sort of like presidential elections. I’ll be watching those until the end, well past my bedtime, too.

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