Final Faux: Finding flaws in the four-team BCS playoff

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When I was born, all four Beatles were still alive. There was no such thing as Excel. Phones had dials and cords. TVs were expected to break and be repaired—not replaced. A peanut farmer and humanitarian was president. He established a national energy policy and said the government should be “competent and compassionate.” Back then, bankers made about the same wage as you.

Bowl games were decided by the Associated Press and UPI polls, a combination of writers, insiders and coaches. Bowl games were set with the rankings and tradition in mind. Each year, without controversy, a national champion would be crowned.

From 1936 to 1997, the two polls didn’t mesh 11 times—an 85 percent success rate over six decades.

The BCS came to be in 1998, the year Will Smith got Jiggy wit it. High school Freshman Mark Zuckerberg was writing sweet nothings on his actual bedroom wall. AOL, Netscape and AltaVista is how we did search and on July 1, Armageddon, the greatest movie of all time, was released.

In the decade and a half of the BCS, there has been controversy over the eventual taker-homer of the big giant football crystal ashtray EVERY year of its existence.

That’s a 100-percent not success rate.

To recap what the BCS Computer has done to basically ruin everything:

1998-’99: One-loss Kansas State finished third in the standings but was passed over for a BCS bowl berth by Ohio State (4th) and Florida (8th). The Wildcats were relegated to find the basement of the Alamo Bowl against Purdue.

1999-’00: The K State rule was adopted ensuring the third-ranked team get an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. Problem solved, right? Nope. This time, K State finished 6th in the BCS rankings. Their invitation again got lost in the mail. Michigan (8th) did make it to the party, however. The Wolverines also got a bid over in-state rival Michigan State, even though Sparty had the same record and beat the Wolverines head-to-head.

2000-’01: One-loss Florida State played undefeated Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the BCS championship. The Miami Hurricanes, also a one-loss team, BEAT Florida State, but played for nothing. Miami only lost to another one-loss team, Pac-10 champion Washington. Both Miami and Washington won their bowl games and Florida State’s bullpen couldn’t keep Oklahoma’s bats quiet in a 13-2 loss.

2002-’03: Otherwise known as the year the BCS ruined the Rose Bowl. Big 10 co-champion Ohio State (2nd) passed up the Rose Bowl for a shot at the Fiesta Bowl/national championship against Miami. When it was the Rose Bowl’s turn to select, the best available team was Oklahoma (7th). Pac-10 co-champion USC was taken by the Orange Bowl and matched up with Iowa (a Pac-10/Big-10 rival game 2,500 miles from Pasadena). The Rose Bowl was left with Washington State. The Oklahoma/Wazzu game had the lowest attendance in Rose Bowl history and was the first non-sellout since 1944—thus giving rise to the notion that the BCS, in its fourth season, was now worse for college football than a world war.

2003-’04: Total shit show. Near the season’s end, the three top schools, Oklahoma, USC and LSU all had one loss. Oklahoma got whipped by K State in the Big 12 conference championship game, so they went from first to fourth in a week. This still did not prohibit the Sooners from making an appearance in the title game. LSU beat Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl for the BCS championship. USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Coaches are contractually obligated to pick the championship game victor as the winner, but Lou Holtz of South Carolina, Mike Bellotti of Oregon and Ron Turner of Illinois gave USC their first-place votes.

2004-’05: Even more disastrous than three one-loss teams is five undefeateds. That’s what happened in this iteration of the BCS mess. Auburn, Utah and Boise State ALL ran the table. The other undefeateds, Oklahoma and USC, played for the title. USC beat Oklahoma 55-19. Auburn and Utah won their match-ups handily and Boise State was beaten by Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. In second-tier controversy, Texas coach Mack Brown, showing early signs of dementia, lobbied for the Longhorns to get the last BCS at-large bid over Pac-10 runner-up Cal. Brown won his shell game and in protest Cal sat on the ball on the 22 with 13 seconds on the clock as coach Jeff Tedford refused to run up the Vegas Bowl score against BYU to pander to voters.

2005-’06: Texas was undefeated. USC was undefeated. Vince Young scrambled into the end-zone during the final minute to defeat the Trojans and his Longhorns became the undisputed champions. This is the one year the BCS worked (by default, because the system would’ve worked using a connect-the-dots). Worked, that is, other than the fact there was no Big 10 team within spittin’ distance of Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

2006-’07: Boise State and Ohio State were undefeated and Louisville, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida had one loss each. Ohio State went on to lose to Florida in the championship game, and nobody remembers what happened to the rest of the schools other than they got jobbed.

2007-’08: This time Hawai’i was the undefeated school that would not get to play for a championship because their schedule was deemed too weak. Ohio State, idle for the last two weeks of the season, climbed from number five to number one because everyone else imploded. LSU lost in triple overtime to Arkansas in the second-to-last game of the season, giving them two losses. But the computer still thought the Tigers’ schedule and margin of victory was enough to put them in the championship game where they beat Ohio State by 14. The Rainbow Warriors, meanwhile, put a totem curse on the rest of college football for the next decade or so.

2008-’09: Utah and Boise State both finished undefeated. Utah got a BCS bid and waxed Alabama. Boise State played one-loss TCU in the prestigious Poinsettia Bowl. It was the first time ever two teams from non-BCS conferences ranked higher than participants in a BCS bowl …bringing the new revelation that BOTH computers and humans are flawed.

2009-’10: Undefeateds Boise State and TCU were paired together again because computer/human was scared about rendering the whole system moot. Alabama, Texas and Cincinnati also finished undefeated. ‘Bama beat Texas but nobody really cared because the 13-0 Broncos took down the 12-0 Horned Frogs 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl …for no share of anything according to the BCS.

2010-’11: Undefeated major conference champions Oregon and Auburn left TCU (second-straight undefeated regular season) as odd-frog out. In May 2011, the US Justice Department sent a letter to the NCAA asking for an explanation why it did not have a playoff system in place and why it had given the authority to designate a champion to an outside group, the BCS. The questions went unanswered.

2011-’12: For the third time in the BCS era no major conference team finished the season undefeated. Though LSU finished the regular season with no losses, they lost to SEC-rival Alabama 21-0 in the lowest-rated BCS national championship game of all time.

2012-’13: Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame were all undefeated going into the last week of the season. Kansas State was beaten by Baylor and Oregon fell 17-14 to Stanford in overtime. Non-conference Notre Dame secured a berth in the national championship game to play Alabama who leapfrogged to number two, because SEC. Once again, nobody cared and the game became the second-lowest rated BCS national championship game of all time.

OK, one more:

2013-’14: Continuing the tradition of bypassing higher-ranked teams to suit its needs, the Sugar Bowl selected Oklahoma over Oregon to play ‘Bama. Oregon ended up putting the smack down on the swan song of Mack Brown 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl. Auburn lost to undefeated Florida State in the third-lowest-rated BCS game of all time, in the BCS-as-you-knew-it-then finale.

Or was it?

This year’s four-team playoff with the new upside-down-unicorn-horn-which-blooms-into-a-football-vagina-on-top trophy is a scant re-branding of the same BCS ways. The computer is the same (think of the BCS as the Craigslist of rankings devices: Janky, yet the only thing out there pretty much). The key voters/committee members are the same, sexagenarians whose wealth of experience is likely only matched by present-day inefficiencies and hang-ups (Tom Osborne? Check. Mike Tranghese? Check. Pat Haden? Check. Tom Jernstedt? Check. Archie Manning? Check. Oh, and Condi Rice so the class photo isn’t all Haggar slacks and Cialis bathtubs). And the format is the same. Only now, the two finalists get a pair of marquee bowl match-ups instead of one = $$$.

The number four-ranked team will face number one and number two will face number three at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1. The final will be Jan. 12 at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T stadium.

But if you look above to the history of the BCS, the problems didn’t arise from the pairing of teams in the one through four slots, it came from everywhere else. Bowls skipping over worthy schools and bidding others with more money, bigger alumni bases or a conference cache; big-program coaches launching campaigns for their schools to leapfrog or upend smaller-conference challengers with better records; coaches forced to run up the score to mesh with the computer’s algorithm for purported excellence and idle schools leapfrogging schools who lost their conference championships—penalties for playing in to a playoff.

I’m not the only one who wishes all of the Fab Four were still around or who thinks the Dow above 17,000 is not to be trusted or that a two-game playoff can’t hide an at-best unsustainable and at worst criminally flawed system that colludes the NCAA with its biggest football brands. There are others. “If we’re going to go anywhere,” former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe told the New York Times recently, “I’d rather go back to the old bowl system.”

Seems like an 85-percent success rate is pretty hard to beat after all.

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