December 29, 2009

Tales by Triplett – Getting Bowled Over

Triplett,PatrickBy Patrick Triplett

I enjoy the Holiday season as much as anyone. Thanksgiving and Christmas are two of my favorite days of the year. However, there is one holiday I used to look forward to which has been ruined
forever – New Year’s Day. And you know who is to blame? The BCS is.

You may be aware of the ongoing debate regarding the current bowl system and the fact that we don’t have a playoff in Division 1 college football. And you may have heard most of the reasons why. The college presidents are against it, as are the conference commissioners, the bowl committees, and the cities who host the games. They can give all the reasons they want, but it all boils down to one thing – money.

They all want their piece of the pie, and are afraid that a playoff system would somehow ruin it for them, when in fact if these greedy, narrow-minded people stopped and thought about it for a moment, they would realize that a playoff would generate so much fan interest. It would guarantee a TV contract so huge that it would not only pay these people the money they are currently making off bowl games, but would leave enough left over to balance the national debt.

So what does this have to do with the BCS ruining my New Year’s Day? Well, prior to 1998, the major bowl games, the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl, were all played on New Year’s Day. The two main polls, the AP (sportswriters) and UPI (coaches), voted the following day who was number one. These bowls had conference tie-ins, such as the Rose Bowl, which featured the
winner of the Big Ten vs. the winner of the Pac Ten.

Then in 1998, a group of people decided that since there wasn’t a playoff system, and probably would never be one, they would do the next best thing by insuring that the top two teams during the regular season got to play each other in a bowl game every year, while the remaining top teams in the country played in the other major bowls. They designed a plan where the sight of the “big” game, which they dubbed “The National Championship Game” would be rotated each year between the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls. They called their system the Bowl Championship Series – BCS for short.

To their credit, getting the major conferences to agree to this arrangement was an achievement, and did appease many fans who were frustrated whenever two undefeated teams could not play each other due to conference tie-ins to their respective bowls. And so the members of the BCS figured they had solved the problem, making college football fans around the country happy. Unfortunately, while solving one
problem, they created many more.

Since its inception, the BCS has been in constant turmoil and subject to criticism. Because of their complex computer system that no one outside of math majors at MIT could comprehend, the championship game often resulted in creating more controversy than resolving it. It didn’t take long before the BCS became a standing joke. People started referring to ‘BCS’ as “ Badly Conceived Scheme” and “Basically Crappy Setup.” Once in a while, they got lucky and matched two teams who most agreed were deserving of playing for the championship. But for the most part, the system that was designed to pacify college football fans only ended up making them more frustrated.

There were years when the AP and UPI polls disagreed with the computerized BCS poll, further adding fuel to the fire. There was even one year when there were three major undefeated teams, leaving the BCS no alternative but to pick two of them for their championship game and leave the other one to play in a lesser bowl.

The BCS continued to plug along, patching itself together with glue and duct tape. But with all its many flaws, the single biggest one to me was that in designing a system based on having one game for all the marbles, they rendered the other bowl games meaningless.

And the worst part was the major bowls were no longer played on the traditional New Year’s Day. They were scattered about, with games being played on week nights, starting late in the evening, with halftime shows that went on forever, sending many people who had to work the next day to bed before the game was even over.

Instead of devoting a holiday to the major bowl games, the BCS folks, in partnership with the television networks, chose to drag them out for a week.

In short, the BCS tried to build a better mousetrap, and failed miserably. Like most fans, I would love to see a playoff like they have in the NFL, but if we aren’t going to have one, then let’s go back to the way it was, and make New Year’s Day special again. When the major bowl games, often featuring the top ten teams in the country, played it out in one day to decide the National Championship. Granted, it wasn’t a playoff, and the champion was determined by voters the next day, but the games were often compelling, with two, and sometimes three or even four having potential national title implications. You could be a couch potato from morning until night, nursing the effects of the New Year’s Eve party from the night before, while watching games that meant something.

Thanks to the BCS those days are long gone, and New Year’s Day has been reduced to nothing more than a bunch of games that nobody cares about except for the fans of the teams playing.

This year Iowa is headed to the Orange Bowl on January 5th. It’s not for the National Championship, and thus according to the BCS, is virtually meaningless, except to us Hawkeye fans. I only hope I can stay awake long enough to watch it.

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