Monday, December 05, 2011

BCS gives up all pretense and drops the "C"

Bear with me my Calm and Beloved Reader, I have a lot to get off my chest here. This weekend took a heavy toll on me. It started with the Hokie loss in the ACC Title game where they didn't play well and got whooped in front of the entire country in primetime. It followed with a Dallas Cowboy loss on Sunday and then a young Hokie basketball team played their worst half of basketball of the season in a 2nd half collapse while hosting Kansas State, and lost that game as well. I've said it before, but it only gets more true - I am getting too old for this sh...tuff.

And then I sat there and saw the impossible happen - Virginia Tech had been selected as an at-large selection for the BCS. All I felt at first was pure elation, pure joy. "Karma!!" I shouted. Karma for the Hokies getting snubbed in 2000 for a ridiculously terrible Notre Dame squad that proceeded to get smacked by Oregon State. Karma for the awful, dreadful weekend of sports I had just suffered through. And yet, lurking there in the back of my mind was this voice that has chimed in every year at this same time "The BCS is completely and thoroughly garbage." And it wouldn't shut up. And the more I look at it, no matter how happy I am about the Hokies being in the Sugar Bowl, the more it has crystallized the BCS for me. A system I've long viewed as an insane joke actually isn't a joke at all. As you will see, the BCS does EXACTLY what it is meant to do. But I'll get around to that in a bit.

First, let's look at the confluence of events that put the Hokies in the Sugar Bowl. First of all, the BCS national game had to be Alabama-LSU. Because if LSU-Oklahoma State had played for the national title game Alabama would have been the Sugar Bowl's first choice and Michigan would have been the easy matchup to choose. And there's no way VT gets into the Fiesta Bowl over Kansas State or Boise State due to distance. An LSU-Alabama rematch is preposterous to be sure. The TSF poll and any shred of common sense would tell you that Oklahoma State and LSU HAVE to play for the national title.

Think about it like this - what if Alabama and LSU were in different divisions of the SEC and that great 9-6 game (which I thoroughly enjoyed) had occurred in the SEC title game on Saturday between the two undefeated squads? The answer is obvious, it would be LSU-Oklahoma State for the BCS title. Now why on earth should it matter that instead of the SEC title game, Alabama and LSU played earlier in the season in the same division?!?!?!?!?!?!? I mean, it's RIDICULOUS. Alabama had their shot at LSU and lost. They did not even WIN THEIR DIVISION OF THE SEC, much less the SEC itself. I still can't believe this re-match is being allowed, but it is.

And then look at all the other things that had to fall into place. Oklahoma State did actually have to beat Oklahoma, because an OU win would have put them AND Oklahoma State into the BCS, knocking the Hokies out of consideration. Southern Mississippi had to beat an undefeated Houston to knock them out of the BCS and they did. And while Michigan State and Georgia both lost their conference championship games, they stayed ahead of TCU in the final BCS rankings because coaches like Chris Peterson of Boise State voted TCU lower in order to preserve his own team's chance of getting the BCS bid!!! If TCU had finished 16th or better, TCU would have been guaranteed a spot in the BCS and VT would surely have been the team to get knocked out. Boise State wasn't guaranteed a spot because they weren't conference champions. So wait a minute, if you are a non-AQ conference you have to be conference champion to get the bid but if you are playing for the national title than being a conference champ doesn't mean anything?!?!

So now let's get down to brass tacks. The BCS is designed to do one thing - maximize the revenue/profit for the BCS conferences. It isn't intended to get the best 8-10 teams playing at the end of the season. It isn't intended to matchup conference champions and let the two best conference champions play for the title. It isn't intended to create a plus-one scenario. In short, the BCS is not intended to generate a true national champion. If LSU wins the game this year, yes the best team in the country will be national champion, but that is a by-product of the BCS not its true intent. Just look at the comments by Sugar Bowl chairman Paul Hoolahan - "Virginia Tech's proven history of bringing fans to New Orleans was extremely important". Psst. That's code for "It's all about the Benjis, baby."

The problem is that most college football fans think that the BCS is broken because they think it's SUPPOSED to matchup the best teams. It's supposed to generate a true champion. The BCS's mission statement in fact is to do just that - to create a champion without having to go to an actual playoff. In all of the lower college football divisions where there's no money to speak of at stake, they settle the championships via a playoff. And while college football fans hate seeing that hypocrisy waved around right in front of their faces, through our wallets and tuning in on TV, we all provide the BCS with the fuel they need to continue to operate in this way.

Fox and ESPN don't bid gazillions of dollars for television rights for these games and then just cross their fingers for "name" matchups. They do it because they want viewers to sell advertisers on. The BCS bowls don't pay out millions to the participating teams as a way to help support the cause of higher education. They do it because they want to maintain this monopoly with the BCS conferences every bowl season, which drives tourism and fuels their local economies. So you put the TV people and the bowl people together and all they want, all they care about is having matchups in their bowl games that will a) bring TV ratings and b) bring traveling fan bases.

In order to maintain this autonomy over the matchups that we, the fans, are presented with every season, they have to take good care of everyone up the food chain. In the Five Boroughs of New York back in day, this was known as paying for "protection". Witness the "protection" John Junker and his staff paid for at the Fiesta Bowl.

Now do any of you actually believe that the Fiesta Bowl administration was the only bowl game involved in this sort of skid-greasing? University presidents and AD's go on cruises put on by the Orange Bowl. The Cotton Bowl hosts grand parties every year in Texas. And do you think these bowls are at any risk of losing their status or participation in the BCS? Kind of unlikely when the NCAA panel gets to participate in these junkets as well.

I hope this doesn't all come across as too black helicopter-tin-foil-hat for some of you. This is just the way the BCS (and the world actually) works. ESPN gets to drive all this "controversy" over the selection of Virginia Tech to the Sugar Bowl. Think that will increase ratings a little? There may be some football purists employed at the "worldwide leader in sports" who are unhappy about this choice, but the bean counters love it, I can assure you. I freely admit that Virginia Tech doesn't belong in the BCS over Kansas State this year. But that doesn't mean I'm not happy about that extra $6 million the ACC is going to get for sending a 2nd team to the BCS. I care about the Benjis, too.

That said, if it were up to me, the BCS would be blown up with a huge batch of dynamite. A plus-one, 4 team playoff would be all that is needed. Keep the BCS rankings and formula exactly the same, and the top 4 ranked conference champions should decide the whole thing on the field. Of course, that's not the way it is and most of the time VT has been on the outside looking in on these political backroom dealings. It's a strange feeling watching a system I've lamented for so many years actually turn in the Hokies' favor for a change. This year, the Hokies got a seat at the table and while I think the system that put them there benefits the TV networks and bowl administrators instead of the fans, I also know that as long as all college football fans do is complain while still watching on TV or traveling to the games, the system won't change.

In closing, let me swear that I'm not making a political statement here but the situation seems to describe my feelings about the BCS this year. Back in 2007 when Ron Paul was running for President the 2nd time, he appeared on Meet the Press. Then-host Tim Russert asked him about his position on earmarks. Dr. Paul, as a Congressman, had requested hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks for his district to be added to bills over the years and then proceeded to vote against the bills. Paul's response was (and I'm paraphrasing a little) "Congress is going to spend the money anyway, I represent people from my district who are asking for their share back. It's like the tax system. I disagree with our current tax system, but I still claim my legal tax credits every year." The BCS is a bad deal, but when the cards come up blackjack, I'm happy to take the payout!


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