Why the BCS is here to stay (and why it's not the end of the world if it does)
The Fiesta Bowl may wind up being the most exciting college football game I'll ever watch on TV. (I've actually seen a couple of heart-stoppers in person, including Joe Montana's first comeback victory, when he came off the bench to throw three TD passes and lead Notre Dame to a 21-14 win vs. Carolina.)
But the Boise State-Oklahoma game was a sheer delight, especially the final minutes of regulation plus the overtime. All of which has reinforced the hyperventilation among sportwriters, talk-radio hosts and rabid fans to shriek at the injustice of the BCS.
Sorry, folks. The BCS is going nowhere. And perhaps it shouldn't. It's all a matter of incentives.
Everybody has a way to fix the BCS. Even I drew up my own scheme three years ago.
But the evil genius who dreamt up the current arrangement has made it nearly impossible to move to a playoff, even if that's what the fans want.
First, there's no way to get a groundswell of support to scrap the BCS. The latest version of the Notre Dame rule gives ND and non-BCS schools a huge incentive to back the current system. Just about any season the Irish win at least 8 games, they have a shot to play in January. And every couple of years, some "mid-major" team -- Utah, Boise, TCU, Air Force, BYU -- could run the table and play for big bucks on prime-time network TV.
There are only four or five programs that would clearly benefit from a playoff: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, USC and maybe Cal. Why? They're consistent powerhouses that play in conferences that don't host championship games. (The Big East doesn't either, but no school there is a lock to win 11 or 12 games a year against a killer schedule. West Virginia might qualify eventually, but not right away.)
The three other BCS conferences decide their champions on the field, which again builds a constituency to shun a playoff. The only way Wake Forest made the Orange Bowl was to win the ACC title. They would have never made an 8-team playoff, and might not have made a field of 16. Since the ACC has an automatic BCS bid, fans of schools that aren't football factories have an incentive to root for the current system to stay in place.
What's more, with the new fifth BCS bowl, there are two more at-large bids, opening the opportunity for other schools -- say, LSU -- to play in a megamoney bowl without winning their conference title.
Second, the host cities don't want the bowls to disappear. The Anderson School at UCLA figured that the 2005 Rose Bowl/Tournament of Roses generated more than $200 million in direct spending and more than $370 million in regional economic activity to SoCal. The 2005 Sugar Bowl generated more than $200 million to New Orleans. Lord knows, they could use it.
If a playoff were devised, even using the current bowls as host sites, the games are unlikely to deliver as much cash as the cities collect now. For instance, all of the boosters of the 8 or 16 teams that made the playoffs would have to prepare for the possibility of traveling to three or four games within a month. So they would have to depress their spending during the early rounds for hotels, meals, souvenirs, hookers, whatever. Rather than blowing the bowl budget in one place, as now occurs, they'd have to conserve some of the loot in case their team kept playing. Three out of four years, the fine folks in Pasadena, New Orleans, Miami and Phoenix would lose money.
Finally, there's no guarantee that a playoff would crown an undisputed champion. In December, would Boise State have made an 8-team field? The locks were Ohio State, Florida, USC, Michigan, Louisville, Wisconsin. You could make a case for Oklahoma, LSU, Texas, Arkansas, Rutgers, West Virginia, maybe Auburn before giving the nod to the Broncos. In December.
Even if the BCS decides to add a "plus one" game after the bowls to crown a champ, that would be mythical, too. Boise State finished fifth in one poll and sixth in the other after beating Oklahoma and winding up undefeated. Would the vote have been different if pollsters were selecting a team to play Florida? Who knows?
This may have been the most exciting and unpredictable college football season in a long time. Since perfection is not an option, I'm willing to accept the system now in place (with one exception -- only conference champs can play in the BCS title game) and hope that we'll soon see another year that's as fun as this one was.