Tonight marks the final chapter of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), a 16-season era filled with scrutiny, never-ending debate, and even Congressional hearings surrounding the selection of a National Championship. If you are looking for another article that bashes the BCS, then hit that back button; I am a rare BCS-backer in a college football world that passionately hates the system. Its valuable merits have outweighed the flaws despite general public disapproval. The logic to my craziness:
Before evaluating the BCS, it is necessary to understand the college football landscape before its inception. Ever since the Rose Bowl began in 1902, bowl games were designed to pair excellent teams and offer appealing out-of-conference matchups. Because the top bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange…etc) mostly stayed true to established affiliations with conferences, it was rare that the #1 and #2 teams actually played each other in January. Since the beginning of the AP Poll, and before the BCS, the top two teams only met 6 times out of 56 years. More often than not, voters were forced to pick a champion out of 2 or 3 top teams that played in separate bowl games. Say what you want, but the BCS did exactly what it was designed to do, let the #1 and #2 teams determine a champ on the field. Were there some issues determining the #2 team, of course. Arguing why the #3 team was unjustly left out has become a holiday tradition over the last decade. The low points came in 2003 and 2004; a split title between USC and LSU was followed by the exclusion of undefeated SEC-Champ Auburn. But just one split title out of 16 seasons is incredible considering it was more often than not for teams to share the National Championship in the decades prior.
The BCS did its job; it produced true championship games, and left us with some of the sport’s greatest games that otherwise would have never been possible. My quick Top 3 list of BCS Games:
1. Ohio State over Miami, 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Defending Champ Miami came in riding a 34-game win streak but was met by the stingy, never-give-an-inch Buckeye defense and gutsy QB Craig Krenzel. A double OT thriller that ended with a goal-line stand of 4 plays from the 1 is tough to top.
2. Texas over USC, 2006 Rose Bowl. Defending Champ USC brought the last 2 Heisman winners (Leinart and Bush) to Pasadena but were outclassed by Vince Young in what is one of the best individual performances of all-time.
3. Boise State over Oklahoma, 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Boise State was given the first chance for a non-AQ to face off against a traditional power. After giving up the lead late, 3 classic trick plays helped David beat Goliath.
Perhaps the best facet of the BCS is the increased importance of the regular season, where “every game counts.” With just 2 spots, perfection is usually required and always rewarded (sorry 2004 Auburn). No other regular season in all of sports can even come close to college football, the passion and energy every Saturday from August to December is unmatched. A rivalry game in the middle of October is life or death; every Saturday is a playoff in itself. As we move to the new playoff system, my biggest fear is a deterioration of the regular season, a cheapening of the sport’s greatest asset. While I think a 4-team playoff will still keep the importance intact, I fear that this is a gateway to eventual expansion to 8 or 16-team playoffs. Look at what happened at the D1-AA level (expanded from 4 to 20 teams). I would much rather have 14 meaningful Saturdays than a watered down bracket of teams in December. Take this year’s Iron Bowl between #1 Alabama and then-#4 Auburn: it was life and death, for the division crown, a bid to the conference title, and an eventual title game bid. Fast-forward to a bigger playoff system and do I dare say we have nothing at stake but some seeding scenarios? Is Saban resting starters at halftime with his ‘homefield advantage’ already clinched?
The BCS era has brought the sport to new heights, in both game attendance and television viewership (surpassing the World Series, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals, and NCAA Basketball Tournament). It has given us dream matchups and unforgettable games between the nation’s best two teams. And while it will fade away to the sounds of national criticism, the BCS deserves better. Perhaps a more fitting icon for the BCS would be a gold football and not a crystal one, for it has been a golden era.
Explanation of the New College Football Playoff system will release later this week.