Since it is bowl season, it is time for me to weigh in on two of the most mentioned criticisms of my favorite sport, college football: there are too many bowl games, and that the BCS sucks. I hear this to the point where it tires me out. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the number of bowl games is excessive, and that the BCS has no credibility. But I don’t think that the people who engage in vigorous hatred of the number of bowl games and the BCS (most notably, PTI’s Michael Wilbon), are doing their cause many favors.
First, thirty-five bowl games for seventy teams, more than half of the FBS, is excessive. I don’t think that teams that schedule four auto-wins and win two conference games, even in the SEC, should really be thought of as bowl-worthy. UCLA should not be in a bowl game this year with a 6-7 record, even if the lost was technically post-season. The first day of bowl games this season (two weeks after the end of the season) featured six teams from lesser conference playing in Albuquerque, Boise, and New Orleans. In the first seven bowl games played before Christmas, one involved a major conference team, 6-6 Arizona State, who had just fired their coach. Yes, crappy teams from the middle of non-AQ conferences don’t have to be given showcases outside of their annual beat-downs at Ohio State and Florida.
But bowl games are not just about about fairness; they are about generating support for the most expensive sport for a college, football. Yes, boosters and fans know how good their 6-6 team really is, but wouldn’t they rather spend December looking forward to a bad bowl game, than thinking about all the little moments during the season that kept them from that bowl. And even though it may sound cheesy, the extra practices do really help teams improve from year to year. Among other things, the increase in bowl games has helped many of the mid-level schools close the gaps between the haves and have-nots in college football. In many ways, bowl game help the 99%.
And keep in mind, even with all the bowl games there are, there are bowl-eligible teams left over. Last year, Temple beat Big East Champ Uconn, went 8-4, and did not get invited to a bowl game. This year, Ball State didn’t get an invite (thanks, UCLA), and in 2009, there were four teams left over when the sixty-eight bowl teams had been selected.
Let me say clearly: I’m not defending every bowl. Let’s get rid of all the bowls in cold climates (DC, New York, Boise), except for maybe the bowl in Detroit since they have a dome. I wouldn’t have a problem getting rid of the New Mexico Bowl, since it is hard to get to Albuquerque. And we don’t need two bowls in New Orleans, so now we’re down to thirty, which seems like more than enough. What I am saying about bowls is this: it is necessary for their to be a lot of bowls because college football needs the money and the publicity since, financially speaking, they either carry their athletic departments or burden them. And the extra practice is a good thing, so let’s put bowl games in the fruit-cake-category and stop making toilet bowl jokes.
Now, the BCS, the most universally reviled in thing in sports. Every year, someone belly-aches about either being left out of the BCS title game, or left out of a BCS game. I understand the complaining to a degree, at least by the coaches. They want to play games. They fight tooth and nail just to be in position for a BCS game, and at the end of the year, if they get left out, they have a right to complain. There’s money and long-term contracts at stake for them.
But fans, stop the death-to-the-BCS chants of the title of the popular book. Yes, the BCS has had too many screw-ups to be considered credible. There does need to be a playoff in college football, although the size of which is debatable. Some people want eight or sixteen teams in a playoff, but I reflect the position of Phil Steele: while I do think there should be a “plus-one” playoff, I am adamantly against anything more than four teams in a playoff. To me, this has nothing to do with the traditions of the bowls and such. I’m completely neutral toward the Rose Bowl parade. I think that a “plus-one” would be the easiest way to integrate a playoff into the current system, and that it would include every team worthy of playing for a national title. Also, if we do eventually get four “super conferences”, the plus-one would make a lot of sense.
Having said that, let me say this: the vehemence that you’re expressing, mega-fan, isn’t helping matter. All your red face is doing is making your cause less credibility. Even this year, one might say that there is every reason for a playoff, given that the championship game is yielding a rematch between LSU and Alabama. But truth be told, those are the two best teams: in the eleven games they’ve played against other teams, only four times have an opponent come within twenty points of either the Tide or the Tigers, all of which were on the road. And no one else is in that picture; the BCS gave us the two best teams, like it was supposed to.
Being a Nebraska fan, I’m sure many would ask me, what about 2001, when Nebraska sneaked into the game against Miami? Yes, Nebraska probably did not deserve to be in that game, but there probably wasn’t a team in the nation who did. It was Miami, and then no one else. Yes, Colorado bull-dozed Nebraska, but they lost two games. Oregon, with a month to prepare, stopped there offense soundly in the Fiesta Bowl (in my mind, they were the number two team in college football that year); imagine what Miami would have done to Colorado with their NFL-caliber defense. There are many years like this, were there was one definitively great team (USC in 2004, for example) and the BCS simply picked the lesser of the four or five great teams out there.
What changed my thinking about the BCS was 2006. When Ohio State walked through the mediocre Big 10 undefeated, then flopped against Florida in the title game, that was the last straw. Florida was the one loss team with the best case to get in the title game, and they dominated. At that point, the need for a playoff was beyond evident.
There are countless other examples I could dissect, but that would take me days to do so. Let me surmise: yes, the BCS is flawed, but the reason it has to replaced is as much because of public opinion as it does because of its flaws. Just remember fans: with the NCAA basketball tournament, while it does settle things on the floor, it gets less and less credible the more teams are added to it. I’m not saying that having a four-team playoff would kill the credibility of college football; just the opposite is true. What I am saying is that adding more teams to a potential college football playoff (the eight or sixteen playoff model) would lessen its credibility and perhaps erode it over time. Let’s just hope we get a plus-one at some point and reserve our hate for child molesters and the perpetrators of mass genocide in the third world.