BCS got it right most of the time
MORGANTOWN — All of those opposed to doing away with the Bowl Championship Series in favor of a four-team playoff after next month's national title game between Florida State and Auburn, please raise your hand.
And no, those of you who feel that the four-team playoff doesn't go far enough can't abstain. You have to commit. It's either the disjointed, controversial, no-margin-for-error BCS and its polls and computers and take-it-or-leave-it single game, or what promises to be a disjointed, controversial, a-tiny-bit-of-margin-for-error system without the polls and computers and instead a selection committee.
Go ahead, step forward BCS fans. We'll wait.
What, no takers? Oh, well.
In truth, I'm a bit surprised that there aren't more proponents of keeping the BCS system, be it to keep on choosing two teams to play or four teams to play off. After all, how many times have we heard someone proclaim, not just this year but almost every year, that despite all its flaws the BCS eventually got it right?
Isn't that the refrain this year with Florida State and Auburn in the title game? And hasn't it been almost universally accepted each year that the two most deserving teams wound up where they were supposed to be?
It's a garbage argument, of course, but almost everyone who claims to have some sort of prescient insight into the sport usually agrees that the BCS got it right.
Go ahead, check the past games. The BCS has been around since 1998, or for 16 years including this one. And how many controversies have there been? How many times was it argued that the BCS didn't get it right?
Not many. Sure, there were years when unbeaten teams (once three unbeatens) were left out of the title game, but usually at the expense of other unbeatens or with glaring flaws on their resumes. And the Alabama-LSU rematch two years ago didn't go over particularly well outside of the SEC.
But for pure outrage, there have only been three in 16 years. And all three were in the first six years of the BCS and prompted immediate changes in the formula. It happened first when 11-1 Florida State finished ahead of 11-1 Miami (both behind consensus No. 1 Oklahoma) in 2000, despite the Seminoles having lost to the Hurricanes in the regular season. That No. 4 Washington was also 11-1 and was the team that beat Miami didn't help either.
That prompted Roy Kramer and the BCS boys to begin tinkering with the formula and, in some cases, making it even worse. A year later, Miami seemed clearly to have the best team in the country, but in the quagmire behind them emerged a No. 2 Nebraska team that had lost its regular-season finale to Colorado, 63-36. The Cornhuskers didn't even make it to the Big 12 title game, but were invited to be destroyed by Miami in the national title game.
And then finally, two years after that, Southern Cal was the unanimous No. 1 in every poll in the country. But the Trojans were No. 3 in the BCS and watched Oklahoma (which had lost 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game) and LSU (a microscopic leader over Southern California in the final BCS standings) play for the title. It's the last time there was a split national championship, with USC winning the Associated Press poll.
Again, since then there have been controversies. The next year, in fact, no less than five teams went into the bowls unbeaten and that was also the year that Mack Brown's lobbying got Texas enough poll votes to earn an automatic BCS bowl berth (although not the BCS title game). But for the most part it's been fairly noncontroversial, at least as far as the title-game participants are concerned.
Why? Well, that's the point here today and also the reason that anyone who says, in any given year, that the BCS "got it right'' is simply missing the point. You don't know that the BCS got it right.
What the BCS did, this year and in every one since that 2003 debacle with USC being left out, is pair the two teams that finished at the top of the polls in the title game. Every single year. Be it the AP poll (until it dropped out after the 2004 season) or the coaches poll or the Harris poll (created to replace the AP poll), the teams the BCS chose to play in the title game were the ones that finished No. 1 and 2.
All those computer rankings? Haven't mattered a bit. After the original formula was discovered to be one that created matchups that flew in the face of popular opinion (the polls), the BCS tweaked it and tweaked it again and then tweaked it some more. The final version ended up being one that considered popular opinion twice as much as the computers (two polls and one composite computer rating make up the only three elements and are given equal weight) and the results have been entirely predictable.
Popular opinion wins.
But does that really mean the BCS got it right? Perhaps. But only if public opinion is right. The idea in adding computer formulas to the mix was to augment public sentiment with facts and figures and try to make certain that just because one team (or one lobbying coach or one electric star) might be popular and another not so much, the formula would get the two best teams, not merely the two most popular.
This is not to disparage the Florida State-Auburn game we've been handed. Maybe those are the two best teams. Florida State probably deserves a spot because it's the only unbeaten team and has the Heisman Trophy winner. Auburn may deserve it because it escaped an SEC that has won the last seven titles.
But both teams have obvious resume flaws, as well, be it Florida State's middling strength of schedule or Auburn's need of two miracle plays that probably wouldn't happen again if you played the games a hundred times. The pollsters agree that they are the two best teams, but can't you make just as good a case for Michigan State? And tell me Alabama wouldn't be favored over all three.
The point here is not to defend the BCS. The truth is it's been a nightmare. It's been organized and reorganized and tweaked and revised to the point where it merely mirrors broad public opinion. To say that it has gotten anything right or wrong is to merely state your own opinion and then see if the BCS agrees with it.
Will the selection committee that has been appointed to pick next year's four semifinalists be any different? Not likely. If the four teams that Oliver Luck, Condoleezza Rice, Mike Tranghese, Archie Manning and the others choose as the final four don't mirror the top four in the polls, someone will insist the system failed. If that final four does agree with public sentiment, the committee will be praised for having gotten it right.
Just like it was with the BCS.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1