Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"IF...THEN" Statements: BCS Edition

IF a one-loss team (like LSU) from the SEC can bypass an undefeated team from another BCS-affiliated conference (like BC) who has a road win against a highly-ranked foe (like VT) and a win in a conference championship game (which BC will have to do in order to stay undefeated) THEN won’t the past two seasons have shown that most teams are categorically barred from the National Championship game no matter how many games they win?

After all, Boise State ended the 2006 regular season with a record of 12 wins and 0 losses, yet was not even in the discussion for the NC game. Even after their stirring victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl they rose no higher than fifth in the final rankings put out by the Associated Press. Meanwhile, their performance in the Fiesta Bowl was so impressive that Boise QB Jared Zabranksy graced the cover of EA Sports' college football game. Darren McFadden is not on the cover. Troy Smith is not on the cover. John David Booty? No. Colt McCoy? Nope. Some funny looking red-haired guy who played for a school in Idaho? Yes!

In spite of such success, Boise State’s exclusion from the National Championship Game (and the inclusion of one-loss Florida) seemed logical given that BSU hails from the WAC, a conference with no ties to the BCS. The Western Athletic Conference and its member schools were granted no automatic berths prior to the 1998 season when the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl; and the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific 10, and Southeastern Conferences and the University of Notre Dame (read: NBC) joined hands across America to create a system bent on determining the national champion of college football.

Any debate over the Bronco’s title shot were further quashed after Florida ran roughshod over Ohio State and left everyone convinced of their worthiness. And, ultimately, Florida seems to have been a very worthy champ because they steam-rolled the previously unbeaten and top-ranked team from the Ohio State University. Lee Corso slept peacefully and all was seemingly well in the world of college football.

However, the door had been quietly closed to non-BCS schools when the OSU/Florida match was set. At that point, there were two undefeated teams in the country: Ohio State was dubbed the team-to-beat while the zero-loss team from the mid-major conference was not invited to party even though the one-loss picture (the standard SEC favoritism versus the potential for a Ohio State/Michigan rematch that nobody wanted to see, least of all Jim Tressel and Lloyd Carr) was murky at best.

From that moment on every small conference school had to surrender their dreams of a magical run to the national championship game (this is in contrast to NCAA basketball when this very dream is what everyone finds so enthralling). All they could hope for was a magical run to an at-large bid in another of the BCS bowls. And, for most of those schools that is all that they could ever hope for anyway so no one complained too loudly or for too long. And, even though the story at the time was that the Boise States of the world had delivered a gut-punch to the old-money in college football (represented by OU) what really happened was that the SEC (represented by one-loss Florida) survived what seemed to be the best challenge that a non-BCS school could muster to their status as the best by default. For all of the fanfare that Boise State rightfully raised over their Fiesta win, their win still took place in a game other than the National Championship Game. Florida’s didn’t.

Now, I don’t mean to say that any undefeated season should automatically be awarded with a berth in a national championship game. No matter what happens, with the exception of some cataclysmic event on the mainland that affects only the members of division 1-A football teams, Hawaii should not play for this year’s national championship. Colt Brennan can throw for 650 yards per game and his squad can win each game by no less than 650 points. I don’t care. They will not be the National Champion. Their school is on a faraway island and this prevents them from participating in a slate of games that is comparable to anything we have in the contiguous 48 states. This is not their fault. This is their punishment. They get to live in Hawaii and the rest of us get winter and a chance to occasionally see our teams play for a national title. It sounds pretty fair to me.

So, I do not blindly advocate a win-and-your-in system and I do realize that a pairing of BC and OSU (or any combination of BC, OSU, KU and ASU that finish the season with perfect records) does not necessarily (although it might) represent the most talented two teams in the country. However, I am convinced that they are the teams who have earned a right to play for the national championship as it was created by the Bowl Championship Series in 1998.

The formation of the BCS was predicated on the competence of all member conferences and their constituent athletic programs. Teams within those conferences cannot be penalized if some of their rivals are having down years. And while BCS-conference teams must make good-faith efforts to schedule tough out-of-conference foes it is too much to ask that they all be top-ranked. These games are scheduled so far in advance that it is a coin-flip if the “tough” foe a team schedules represents a quality win in the season the game is played (compare a win vs. ND in '06 versus a win in '07 and consider that both games might have been scheduled in '01).

IF Ohio State (who would have to beat a resurgent Michigan) and Boston College are the only two teams to finish the season without losing a game THEN these two teams need to play with the 2007 National Championship on the line. Whatever legitimacy remains in this BCS process depends on it. And while an undefeated Hawaii (or Boise State) will perennially be left out in the cold, it is too tricky a business to be bumping defeated BCS-conference teams ahead of their peers who have won every single game that they played. If LSU is allowed to jump ahead of a team like Boston College or Arizona State then the nation's sportswriters and computers will be announcing that the pool of applicants for the position of national champ is even smaller than it appeared after Boise State was kept out last year. Northeasterners and Southwesterners need not apply. Southeasterners? Come on in, pull up a chair. Chris Fowler is making sweet tea.

Being the best needs to again be equated with winning on the field rather than with having the most NFL-ready talent in your locker room. There is a difference no matter what Mel Kiper says.

Well, that is unless we want to surrender to anarchy: abolishing the BCS, establishing that the pre-season number one will always play the SEC champ in January and declaring that it is totally acceptable for cats and dogs to live together.