Thursday, December 9, 2021

Bowl series is becoming ridiculous

November 27, 2000

Don’t be surprised if you hear people across the country, from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast, crying foul during the next week or so.

It’s time for the annual “we deserve it more than they do” rhetoric that goes hand-in-hand with college football’s Bowl Championship Series selections.

The Orange Bowl will play host to the national championship game featuring the top two teams in the BCS rankings Jan. 3, but picking the two squads won’t be clear-cut this season.

The BCS was created before the 1998 season to ensure that the top two teams in the country will square off for the national title. The BCS formula factors in two major polls, eight computer rankings, a strength-of-schedule index and number of losses.

No. 1 Oklahoma has staked its claim for the Orange Bowl, posting an 11-0 regular season heading into the Big XII championship game against No. 7 Kansas State this Saturday.

If the Sooners beat the Wildcats (which is not a lock by any means), they will secure a spot in the Orange Bowl.

But figuring out who they will play is as difficult as figuring out baseball’s real strike zone.

Five teams with one loss anxiously await their bowl fate, hoping the magical BCS formula will swing in their favor.

Florida State (11-1), Miami (10-1) and Washington (10-1) all have realistic hopes to face the Sooners in the new year, while teams like Virginia Tech (10-1) and Oregon State (10-1) will seemingly have to settle for lesser bowls.

The Seminoles lead the Hurricanes by .56 points in the omnipresent BCS ranking, with the new one due out today.

But why is Florida State ahead? Nobody really knows for sure - all three teams have legitimate arguments.

Miami should get the bid because it’s beaten a No. 1 (Florida State) and a No. 2 (Virginia Tech) team this year. Those losses are the only blemishes on both the Seminoles’ and the Hokies’ records.

But Washington beat the Hurricanes and won the conference championship in the surprisingly tough Pac 10. Its only loss was at No. 11 Oregon where it seems impossible to win. So maybe it should get the bid.

Florida State lost to Miami, but has since beaten Clemson and Florida - two top 10 teams - by a combined score of 84-14 and won its conference for the ninth straight year.

Whatever the reasoning, don’t try to console the odd-teams-out in the BCS sweepstakes.

Miami coach Butch Davis has been telling his players not to worry about the BCS rankings, just to focus on what they can control on the field. That’s a good theory, but the Hurricanes might find themselves watching the title game on television.

How can you argue with any of the three teams’ accomplishments?

You can’t.

That’s exactly why college football needs a playoff system - to end the arguments.

Last year, the BCS got lucky as Florida State and Virginia Tech were the only major undefeated teams at season’s end (sorry, Marshall). But that fortunate scenario is the only way the BCS works.

In 1998, the inaugural year of the BCS, Ohio State was the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation before being upset by MSU.

The Buckeyes and Florida State both finished with one loss (to an unranked team), but the BCS chose the Seminoles to go to the national championship game in the Fiesta Bowl while Ohio State was relegated to the Sugar Bowl.

The same thing will probably happen this year. Choosing between two teams with an identical number of losses is bound to make waves.

BCS backers claim the controversy is good for the sport. They say if people are talking about college football, then it will translate into heightened interest.

Sure, ratings for Saturday games are sky high. The old addage says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That’s well and good for the TV people, but how can you tell kids who have toiled in the weight room for years that a computer program said they weren’t good enough?

How can you tell die-hard fans who have been thirsting for a chance to play for a national championship for decades that the team’s strength of schedule wasn’t good enough to earn the opportunity?

You can’t.

College football needs an eight-team playoff to crown a clear-cut champion. Enough co-national championships (by the way, Nebraska would have smoked Michigan in 1997). Enough letting politics and meaningless preseason rankings determine a major sport’s champion.

An eight-team playoff system wouldn’t have to extend the season past its current ending point, a major sticking point for playoff possibilities. This year’s bowl season is scheduled to start Dec. 20 and culminate 14 days later in the Orange Bowl.

One could easily spread out an eight-team playoff system during that time period, with the first-round games on Dec. 20, the semifinals on Dec. 27 and the championship game on Jan. 3.

That’s it. No gimmicks. Single-elimination football, and I guarantee people would like it as much or more than the current bowl system.

The lesser bowls could still operate business as usual and probably wouldn’t even be affected by the change.

The playoff games could be played at current major bowl sites (Fiesta, Rose, Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Citrus, Gator), thereby maintaining the revenue and excitement they bring to the host cities.

Every other major sport has a true, undisputed national championship game. The BCS is halfway there, but it leaves a lot of questions to be answered.

James Jahnke, State News sports general assignment reporter, can be reached at jahnkeja@msu.edu.

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