So Florida won the BCS title game last night, in a fairly boring fashion, but Texas, USC, and especially Utah also have legitimate claims to the championship title.
Every year, we run into this same problem. Every year, the BCS suffers abuse from college football commentators ranging from the oft-blustery Michael Wilbon to the revered baseball stats guru Bill James, who clamor for a playoff system that would determine the winner based on performance on the field as opposed to politically biased polls and inscrutable computer rankings.
Even the incoming president has threatened to replace the BCS with an eight-team playoff. As if he didn’t have better things to do.
There’s no doubt the system is unfair — Auburn in 2004 and LSU in 2003 got shafted, big time. But it’s obvious that there is a tradeoff between a fair bowl system and a compelling regular season.This tradeoff became apparent in 2005, when my team, Notre Dame, played one of the best games ever in the regular season.
First of all, realize that the system would never be fair, playoffs or not. Is it fair that Oklahoma State gets to play in a brand new complex donated by T. Boone Pickens while smaller schools run on a shoe-string budget? Is it fair that Syracuse has to convince high school students from Florida and Texas that it will be fun for them to wake up at 5 AM to practice in -20 degree temperatures? No, it’s not, but the reality of these differences is what lends drama to games.
This inequality makes college football the best regular season sport. It’s why tiny Appalachian State’s upset of giant Michigan in 2007 was so epic. Think — if there had been a playoff system Michigan could conceivably have snuck into the playoffs and then won the championship after losing to Appalachian. A monumental upset would have been reduced to a meaningless opening season stumble that the traditional power shrugged off en route to the playoffs.
The greatest football game I’ve ever seen wasn’t a playoff game. It was, without a doubt, the 2005 showdown between #9 Notre Dame and #1 USC in only the eighth week of the season. The storyline could not have been better if it had been written in a novel. The two traditional superpowers collided with USC riding a 27-game win streak, and the Notre Dame program resurgent under new head coach Charlie Weis. The forecast in South Bend was perfect, and the Hollywood stars were all about. The anticipation crested on the Friday night before the game with a pep rally of 50,000.
The run-up to the game was only outdone by the game itself, which was a no-holds-barred shootout that ended, to Notre Dame fans’ eternal chagrin, with the infamous ‘Bush Push,’ when future Heisman winner Reggie Bush shoved his Heisman-winner QB Matt Leinart into the end zone (illegally, mind you) for the win.
The 2005 BCS title game match up between Texas and USC was a godsend for the BCS: both teams were undefeated and had been clearly the best teams for the entire year, precluding all controversy. Vince Young’s performance in that game, in my opinion, was the greatest by an individual in all of sports. Nevertheless, I still maintain that the Bush Push game was the best that year, and others often agree. In what other sport can a regular season game transcend a perfectly-matched title game?
And that’s not one isolated instance. The Gators’ championship in 2006 was memorable, but even more unforgettable was the titanic showdown between undefeated rivlals Michigan and Ohio State in the last Big 10 regular season game of the year. If all they were playing for had been playoff seeding, it would have been just another regular season game.
So yes, the BCS is unfair. But leave the fairness to the professionals, who play for money. Let college keep the regular season with games that are played for no other reason than to win, with the championship a secondary consideration.
If your team goes 11-1, winds up second in the AP poll, and makes excuses as to why they should be declared co-champion, tough luck. They should have won when it mattered, which is always.