Check your college football schedule today, and you’ll see something that the people who run the BCS would like you to believe is functionally impossible: a playoff. The FCS playoffs begin today, and about a month from now, they’ll actually crown a champion that has gone through a postseason gauntlet and proven itself as the best team against all comers.
The mere existence of this playoff at a relatively high level of football disproves just about every argument the BCS makes against a playoff -- and they are arguing. In the past few weeks, the BCS has set up a Twitter account (@INSIDEtheBCS) and a website (Playoff Problem), both of which basically serve to say why their system is the right one. Only, they do so by one of two methods:
1. saying that the BCS has paired the top two teams in the BCS rankings for a national championship game every year. This is a circular argument. The rankings themselves are flawed, and just ask anyone who watched Nebraska back into the title game in ’01 if they were really the #2 team in the country.
2. giving countless reasons why playoffs in general are flawed. Just look at the front page of playoffproblem.com. There are half a dozen questions that try to make it seem like playoffs in general don't work. Except, you know, in all other levels of NCAA football and every other NCAA sport in America.
My problem with the BCS is it’s the only championship system that effectively eliminates 85% of the teams competing before the season begins. In the decade-plus of the BCS, only one team has jumped from outside the preseason Top 15 to reach the national championship game: Oklahoma in 2000. BCS officials will tell you that their system makes sure every game is meaningful, but just how meaningful was Auburn’s undefeated 2004 season, when they couldn’t jump USC or Oklahoma (who started the season ranked 1-2)? The same question applies to Utah in 2004 and 2008 and Boise State in 2007. If you win every game you play, but lose out on a spot in the national championship game to a one- or two-loss team, then how is your season still “meaningful”?
The way the BCS works right now, if you’re a team from outside the Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC or Big 12, and you start the season ranked #16 or lower, you shouldn’t even consider the possibility of playing for a national championship. And yes, I realize I left out two AQ conferences, but no team from the Big East or ACC has reached the national title game since those conferences realigned (even in ’06 when 1-loss Louisville was ranked behind two Big Ten teams and two SEC teams, including a 2-loss LSU).
As for maintaining the importance of the Bowl system, the BCS has failed at that. Yes, teams do still strive to make a BCS bowl aside from the national championship game, but that’s for financial purposes and has little to do with the prestige of those games. In fact, since the introduction of the separate national championship game, the other BCS bowls have steadily decreased in importance. The bowl system as a whole is little more than a glorified NIT at this point -- and therefore could continue to exist alongside a playoff, just like there are now three Division I postseason tournaments that exist alongside the NCAA Tournament.
The only time the BCS “works” is when there are two undefeated power conference teams and no other unbeatens in college football (like in 2002 or 2005). Otherwise, it’s a compromise system that either chooses the lesser of two evils (in 2007, when 2-loss LSU made it) or leaves worthy teams out (like in 2004, or likely this year, when multiple unbeatens will be playing in meaningless bowl games). But, despite the evidence that a better system exists -- evidence that will be on display in FCS action later today -- the BCS continues to stick its head in the sand.