Our champion is decided on the field. That is a statement that every NCAA-sponsored sport can make…except of course for football. Actually, most divisions of college football can make that claim, but not the Football Bowl Subdivision. For now. In fact, the current method of determining a national champion in the highest level of college football, the Bowl Championship Series, will be making its swan song this season. It’s one of many variations of college football’s post season that began in 1902 with the very first “bowl game” in Pasadena. Unfortunately, after 100 years of trying to figure this puzzle out, the reason the BCS is headed out the door is because it failed to accomplish what every other sport seems to have mastered…determining a clear-cut champion.
It all began with the before mentioned bowl game in Pasadena called the East/West game. Organizers called it a “bowl game” simply because of the shape of the stadium. The game’s purpose was to match the best team in the East against the best team in the West in an exhibition. They decided to have it in Pasadena on New Year’s Day to coincide with the Tournament of Roses. Top-ranked Michigan played against Stanford and won 49-0. Of course, this was the score at the conclusion the 3rd quarter, after which Stanford called off the rest of the game. This anticlimactic ending to the inaugural bowl game scuttled the concept of the bowl game at the time. Wow, a post season concept for college football that didn’t turn out as planned. Where have we seen this before?
Years later another attempt was made to play a bowl game in Pasadena, resulting in the birth of the Rose Bowl. Soon after that other regions of the country wanted to get in on the action and formed the Sugar, Orange, and Cotton Bowls to serve as regional showcases. The 1940s’ versions created conference tie-ins to the bowls and college football was off and running towards our modern-day bowl system.
Bowl games had a great run for many years. I remember bowl season being an integral part of my holiday season. In fact, I used to make my own posters that showed the bowl matchups for that year with the intent of watching every game over the holidays. I knew the teams, their mascots, when each game was and what channel they would be on. I was mesmerized by the names…the Cotton Bowl, The Orange Bowl, The Gator Bowl and The Peach Bowl. New Year’s Day was an all day festival of football and gluttony. You could wake up, watch the Tournament of Roses Parade and then the first games would start before noon and last deep into the night. You could run outside with your brothers to recreate the plays you had just watched on T.V., only to come back in to another game and more food coming out of the kitchen. Bowl season was awesome then. What a young fan like me at the time didn’t understand was that this magical bowl season failed to do one thing…determine a clear-cut national champion.
Starting in the early 1990s, the powers that be attempted to remedy this problem that every other sport seemed to have solved. The bowls were still great then, but in 56 seasons, the Top 2 teams in the Associated Press Poll had only met in a bowl game 8 times. That means every other year ended up with a champion determined off the field in the hands of voters or worse, the split National Championship. For example, in 1994, Penn State and Nebraska both finished undefeated, but because the Big 10 and the Pac 10 were not part of the Bowl Coalition, Penn State was going to the Rose Bowl instead of facing Nebraska in a bowl game. Nebraska was declared the National Champion. But what about undefeated Penn State? It just left things unsettled in college football. After the Bowl Coalition came the Bowl Alliance, and then soon after came the birth of the BCS.
The BCS didn’t bring with it all of the finality on the field its creators had hoped for back in 1998. Was it better than what we had before? Sure. Did it settle the end of year debates of who really won the National Championship? Not always. And “not always” just isn’t good enough. Take the 2001 for instance. The National Championship Game showcased Nebraska vs. Miami. Nebraska was actually ranked #4 in both human polls, but somehow beat out Colorado by .05 points in the BCS calculations to make it to the title game. Again, .05 points! This was disturbing due to the fact that Colorado had won the Big 12 Championship, not Nebraska. Oh, and a couple of weeks before that, Colorado had thumped Nebraska 62-36! I’m still not over that absurdity; rather I’ve just blocked it from my memory…sort of.
The BCS’s whole concept bred controversy. It’s a system entailing a mathematical equation of human polls and computer selection models used to determine the “relative” team rankings. Wow, that sounds like a great foundation for certainty. This foundation crumbled again in 2004 LSU and Oklahoma played in the National Championship game, and yet, AP voters chose USC as the National Champion.
Wasn’t the BCS supposed to prevent split national championships? Everybody knew a change was needed. The playoff movement was born.
Advocates of the playoff system made a strong case for how this would benefit college football. For the teams, one positive change would be eliminating the 4-6 week gap in between the end of the season and their bowl games. For the fans, it would provide more football and a chance to see their team play more. In terms of determining the national champion, the debates can stop and it can finally be settled on the field. This movement for change was met with resistance for years with numerous excuses of why a playoff was bad for college football. This has all been hashed out before, but here’s the quick recap:
- Bad for the bowl traditions: Ok, the bowl traditions’ ship has sailed now that over 30 bowls exist and even a team with a 6-7 record can make it into a bowl (hello 2012 Georgia Tech team). Anybody else notice the half-empty stadiums these games produce? And I have trouble finding the historical traditions of bowls like the Weed-Eater Bowl, the Little Caesars Bowl or the GoDaddy.com Bowl. These aren’t your Grandpa’s bowl games.
- Bad for the players’ academic schedules: Are you telling me that every other NCAA-sponsored sport has collectively decided to ruin the academic lives of its participants by conducting tournaments and that only the FBS schools have decided to take a moral stand in the name of academics?
Let’s be real. This all started with money and it ends with money as the driving factor. Everybody involved with the bowls were worried about losing their share of the lucrative college football revenue pie. Why they couldn’t see the opportunity for making money in a playoff system is beyond me. Last time I checked, the NCAA Basketball Tournament is a money-making machine. The playoff debate went on for years. Every angle was debated over and over. What happened was, eventually, one group convinced the other group that the money would be there in a playoff system and they could walk away from the BCS system.
So starting next season, we will have a college football playoff. All will be right in the world, right? It will be March Madness football-style, right? Well, almost. Instead of looking at what the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division 1-AA, had created over years of trial and error as the perfect model, the powers that be still couldn’t make the leap to a complete playoff tournament. Similar to the FCS, FBS fans were hoping for an 8 to 16 team playoff bracket. Instead, 4 teams will be entered into a Final 4 of sorts to determine, on the field, who our national champion will be. Like basketball, a selection committee will choose the teams. Six bowls will rotate as semi-final sites. Those bowls are the Orange, the Sugar, the Rose, the Fiesta, the Cotton and Chick-Fil-A. The title game location will be selected in the same fashion as the Super Bowl and basketball Final Four. That’s the new system in a nutshell.
In my opinion, the powers that be need to reexamine the FCS’s path to their current playoff system. They started with 4 teams, then 8 teams and now have a 20 team playoff that generates a ton of fan excitement, more sold out games and the resulting revenue that is so dear to all involved. A 16-team bracket would be sufficient considering teams outside of the Top 15 in the current ranking system rarely contend with the Top 5 teams. But at least they would have that chance, just like the Cinderella teams in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Hopefully they will be proactive and move in that direction quickly after a year or two. I say a year or two because this new playoff system is set to last for 12 years, as dictated by the $7 billion contract made with ESPN to televise this bowl showcase showdown. Hmmm…a football showcase hoping to determine a clear-cut champion. Where have I heard that idea before?
Copyright © sports-glutton.com, 2010-2013. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from sports-glutton.com is strictly prohibited.