Early bird tickets for Baltimore’s BEST party on sale now!

Once again, BCS system No. 1 target


If an expensive sports car leaked oil half the time it was driven, would its owner keep it on the road? The Bowl Championship Series has done its share of spitting and sputtering since former Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer and his cohorts turned on the ignition six seasons ago, and it appears many wouldn't mind seeing it relegated to the junkyard.

But was the method used in the past to determine college football's national champion any better - or a lot worse?

Trying to find a solution to a less-than-perfect system that previously relied strictly on human votes, and therefore human bias, the BCS began employing outside computers such as the kind used for college basketball's equally infamous RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) to do much of its dirty work.

The BCS went a step further than the Bowl Alliance or the Bowl Coalition, which was first established in 1992 to give five major conferences (the Big East, ACC, SEC, Big Eight and Southwest) as well as Notre Dame tie-ins to four major bowls (Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Cotton).

Seven outside computers were brought in to balance the prejudices of the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters and the ESPN/USA Today poll of coaches. Variables such as strength of schedule and opponents' strength of schedule, number of losses and quality wins are now factored into the equation.

The result: For the third time in the past four years, there is an uproar about the matchup in the BCS championship game, this time the Sugar Bowl. And, for first time, the team ranked No. 1 in the human polls won't be going. Southern California will be playing No. 4 Michigan today in the Rose Bowl, instead.

"What we have are three very deserving teams and only two of them are in the [championship] game," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, whose league was responsible for coordinating the BCS this season, said the night the pairings were announced. "But I have empathy for USC. It's hard to sit here and do cartwheels."

Said USC cornerback Will Poole: "In a way, it doesn't make sense. They're going to have to do something about the BCS. Maybe they need to pull the plug."

From the relatively safe distance of his lakefront retirement home in Tennessee, Kramer said he and the other conference commissioners who came up with the BCS formula accomplished nearly everything they set out to do.

'Whole new flavor'

They wanted to create more interest in the regular season.

Would anybody have cared about end-of-season games between Hawaii and Boise State or Notre Dame and Syracuse if they did not have an impact on the national championship picture, helping LSU leapfrog over USC? Would fans in Baton Rouge find friends with satellite dishes to watch the Trojans play Oregon State?

"I think it has been enormously successful because it has added a whole new flavor of life, so to speak," Kramer said. "I don't know what the call-in shows would have done without it. People in California are interested in what happened in Oklahoma and people in Louisiana are interested in what happened in California. It's had a kind of nationalization effect."

They also wanted to preserve the traditional bowl structure.

"One of the things that had happened was that the bowls had gotten so competitive that we were making choices for the bowls in mid-October," Kramer said. "One of the things we wanted to do was to slow down that process by creating a system that would select the four major bowls and the other bowls would have to wait."

Lastly, they wanted to set up the possibility of a true national championship game.

"When we started this, we were going to use the two [human] polls, but the people at Associated Press and the football writers came to us and said they wanted to cover the news, not create the news," Kramer said. "They wanted to be a factor in it, but they didn't want to be the sole factor. We didn't want to go with one poll, the coaches' poll. We thought we'd have some philosophical problems."

Kramer and the commissioners of the other three leagues that made up the original Bowl Coalition - the SEC, Big East, ACC and Big 12 were later joined in full partnership by the Big Ten and Pac-10 in 1998 - understood that the new formula, like the old one, was potentially flawed.

"We all realized we could have a dispute or a controversy, perhaps co-champions," Kramer said. "From a personal standpoint, I don't think that's all bad. Two hundred guys get a ring instead of 100 guys, maybe that's what college athletics should be about. We've had co-champions before."

Having co-champions always produced some type of discussion well into the winter, but nothing like the avalanche of vitriol that has occurred in the past month.

"When we had it back 10, 12 years ago, or maybe 15 years ago, we just didn't have all those mediums to talk about it constantly," said Keith Tribble, the executive director of the Orange Bowl. "People talked about it and then it was over. Now you've got chat rooms, sports talk radio, all sorts of things. It just keeps perpetuating itself."

The last time there were co-champions was in 1997, when top-ranked Michigan played No. 8 Washington State in the Rose Bowl and No. 2 Nebraska met No. 3 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. The Wolverines won a close game, 21-16, and the Cornhuskers blew out the Volunteers, 42-17.

The writers and broadcasters voted Michigan as the nation's top team, but the coaches went for Nebraska, in part because of the decisive victory and, it was believed, as a going-away present for retiring Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne. The Bowl Alliance, like the Bowl Coalition, would become history.

No end to debate

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recalled the initial response to the BCS.

There haven't been co-champions under the BCS formula, but there has been plenty of controversy.

In 2000, Miami was voted No. 2 in the country in the human polls, but No. 3 in the BCS. Florida State, which had lost to the Hurricanes during the regular season, was No. 2 in the BCS and got to play top-ranked Oklahoma for the national championship. The Sooners won.

The next season, Oregon was ranked second in the human polls, but was fourth in the BCS and had to play in the Fiesta Bowl, where it crushed Colorado, rather than the Rose Bowl, where top-ranked Miami crushed Nebraska. The playoff argument flared.

But the debate that preceded and followed last month's BCS championship-game announcement has now sparked interest in tweaking the formula again by possibly adding a fifth BCS game.

Even Tranghese, a staunch defender of the BCS and of the bowl structure in general, admitted that, "With the events this year, we'd be foolish if we didn't look at it again in the spring."

Paul Houlahan, who has served as executive director of the Sugar Bowl for the past eight years, said a playoff system isn't fail-safe.

"I recognize that I'm part of this conglomerate right now and I support the conglomerate," Houlahan said. "I understood that it was an imperfect system and I played my part in attempting to improve it, but I don't think any of us thought it was inviolable in any respect.

"Nor do I think a playoff could always be that way in terms of who gets in, where it's going to played. There are so many logistical issues that need to be addressed, I just don't see it happening right away."

Tribble, who is chairman of the Football Bowl Association, said the vote would be unanimous among those running postseason games. At least for the immediate future

"At this time, we are opposed to anything that resembles some sort of playoff," Tribble said. "But it's like the BCS. We were probably opposed to something like the BCS until we saw that it didn't hurt us."

Oregon athletic director Bill Moos was pushing for a national championship game long before his Ducks didn't make it to the BCS title game two years ago despite having one of the nation's hottest teams and players (quarterback Joey Harrington) at the time.

Moos came up with a plan to hold a championship game a week to 10 days after the BCS games were played, preferably on a Monday night in early- to mid-January so as not to conflict with the NFL playoffs.

He has since added the idea of having the two mid-major schools with the highest ranking play a one-game playoff on the day of the BCS conference championship games in the SEC and Big 12, with the winner to get into of the four BCS bowls.

Bowl alignment

Under Moos' plan, the Pac-10 champion would play the Big Ten champion in the Rose Bowl unless the teams were ranked first and second; the Big 12 would have ties to the Fiesta, the SEC champion would go to the Sugar Bowl and the ACC and/or Big East champions would play in the Orange Bowl.

"There would obviously be a keen interest in all four bowls every year, not just one spotlight bowl and three bridesmaids," Moos said. "Last year it would have done away with the apathy in regards to the Rose Bowl because it didn't feel right to have Oklahoma. Had that game been Washington State and Ohio State, you couldn't have found a ticket."

Moos has the ear of at least one influential member of the BCS' oversight committee, made up of college presidents and chancellors. Ultimately, it will be their call and Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer is the chairman of that influential group.

"I have described it to him over the last two years and urged him to have the committee look at it," Moos said. "I'm not saying they are. I feel that he feels there's some real merit to it. There's a possibility that it could get a look."

Meanwhile, for those who make the argument that Division I-A football's regular season, especially the last couple of weeks and the conference championships, amount to a de facto playoff, Kramer doesn't agree.

"The backbone of college football is the regular season," he said. "You look at the NCAA basketball structure where people don't become interested until you get to the tournament. To do that in college football would be very damaging."

But in April, when sports fans might have stopped talking about the BCS, Tranghese and his colleagues will bring their expensive sports car into the shop and try to figure out how to stop it from leaking oil. They might want to consider the formula. Or maybe the name.

How about NAP?

Not A Playoff.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad