Goodbye, good riddance to BCS

2010 BCC game between Alabama and Texas.

2010 BCC game between Alabama and Texas.

By Pete Zarustica, E Pluribus Unum

Most endings are mourned, but this is one expiration worth celebrating: the death of the Bowl Championship Series of college football.

Monday’s game may have been entertaining (and yes it was, as Florida State defeated Auburn 34-31 with a score in the last 13 seconds), but that doesn’t make up for 15 years of confusion, controversy and just-plain dumbness.

As you know, the BCS will be replaced next season with an embryonic four-team playoff. It’s the first good sense shown by the big programs that run the money machine that is top-tier college football.

While a four-team tournament (with the lucky quartet picked by a selection committee) is hardly the arrival of the millennium, it’s a huge step in the right direction.  Logic – admittedly often missing – at this level suggests that the playoff will be expanded before long to eight, then 16 teams, giving us a true championship process.

It will lead to more upsets, stories about Cinderella teams and friendly arguments over who got left out and who got tapped.  It will be, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a big freaking thing.

Why has it taken so long? The NCAA has held a men’s basketball tournament since 1939 (Oregon won it that year, defeating Ohio State 46-33) and that has evolved into March Madness, “bracketology” and a national festival of agony and ecstasy, not to mention cascades of money.

Championship playoffs for lower-division football have been going on for decades without any visible damage to the academic progress of students at North Dakota State, Northwest Missouri and Wisconsin-Whitewater, this year’s titlists.

For years, the chief objection to a NCAA gridiron tournament has been the idea that a longer football season made it more difficult academically for football players.

Try to control your giggling on that one.

The football gods conveniently forgot that argument (silly as it was) when they expanded the college season from nine games (in the Sixties) to the 12 which is common today. Add “conference championships” and a bowl game, and many college teams are at 15 games as it is

Frankly, the real obstacle to a playoff system has been the bowl game bureaucracies. Some of those administrators make upwards of $500,000 to organize and stage a single football game.  A playoff system seemed to have the potential to dilute the importance of bowls, so those hucksters (who can bring big bucks into a program) exerted their influence through the NCAA to delay the concept as long as possible.

The BCS wasn’t a “series” at all. Just a new bowl game stapled to a bunch old ones, given a new coat of paint, a fistful of hoopla and a prime Monday night TV slot.

Self-interest can lead to short-sightedness. The money pot that a true top tier national football playoff can generate could be a rising tide that lifts all boats and generate millions for the behemoth that is big-time college smashmouth.

Ten years, five years from now people will say, “BCS? What the heck was that?”

Good question, and a fitting memorial for a bad idea that is getting a welcome goodbye.

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