Sunday, January 24, 2010

Belated BCS thoughts

I don't have too much to say about the college football season that ended over two weeks ago, other than, in terms of crowning a champion, I think that the BCS actually got it right this year. For a change.

The outcome of the championship game aside - although we'll never know for sure, I think the Longhorns probably would have won had QB Colt McCoy not been knocked out of the game - Alabama and Texas were clearly the two best teams in college football this past season, considering their undefeated records against the competition they played. Congratulations are in order for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

With that said, it's just too bad that the three other undefeated teams going into the BCS bowls - Boise State, Cincinnati and TCU - weren't permitted to have their own shot at the title.

True, for the first time in the history of the BCS, two teams from conferences that do not automatically qualify for BCS berths - the so-called "non-AQs" - made it in to the BCS bowl party. Both of these teams, TCU and Boise State, were matched up together in the Fiesta Bowl. While it may certainly be the case that the Fiesta Bowl desired this matchup of two undefeated teams, or that a Boise-TCU matchup in Glendale made the most geographic sense of all the possible permutations, BCS critics can fairly argue that this matchup was the result of the "big boys" of the BCS not wanting these schools to play them and potentially show them up.

The BCS is a cartel. Its six automatically-qualifying conferences, aided and abetted by the BCS bowls themselves as well as the sports media and the voters that make of two-thirds of the BCS rankings system, have created a system of collusion and exclusion that benefits the 66 "AQ" teams at the expense of the other 54 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision. This collusion extends beyond the BCS bowls themselves. For proof, look no further than Boise State. The Broncos were criticized for their weak schedule this past season, but that's at least partly due to the fact teams from big-time conferences won't schedule them because they fear losing to them.

Furthermore, due to their perceived superiority, the six AQ conferences receive the lion's share of media attention. This results in less national stature, less viewership and less fan support for the non-AQ schools, which in turn puts them at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to money for facilities and coaching salaries and makes them less attractive to top recruits. It's a self-reinforcing system that continually increases the disparity between the "haves" of the AQ conferences and the "have-nots" of the non-AQ conferences.

Perhaps the most distasteful aspect of the BCS setup, however, is what it says to the players, coaches and fans of Boise State and TCU: as was the case with undefeated Utah the year before, they can do everything right and win all of their games but still not be considered for a shot at the BCS title. They simply aren't allowed the opportunity to compete.

(For that matter, the same could be said for Cincinnati; although they are a member of the automatically-qualifying Big East, they're still an urban school only a few years removed from membership in non-AQ Conference USA and are therefore not considered by the big boys to be part of their club. I realize, however, that their 24-51 drubbing at the hands of Florida in the Sugar Bowl did not help their case.)

Indeed, even though the BCS resulted in a legitimate national champion this year, and even though this season the non-AQs got more access to the big money of the BCS than they ever have before, the bottom line is that the BCS system remains inherently flawed and unfair. It is a system in need of reform.

UPDATE: The US Justice Department is considering an investigation of the BCS to see if it violates antitrust laws. Keep your fingers crossed...

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