BCS Goes Bust: The Coming Change in College Football

Scott PageContributor IOctober 9, 2007

IconAll you college football fans who have been clamoring for a change in the current BCS system can go ahead and celebrate.

That’s right: You can pop the cork on the champagne because chances are, we are in for a change in the 2008-2009 season. 

How should the national champion be determined? It is one of the most controversial debates for current college football fans.

Some are content with the current state of the BCS, while others are protesting for a playoff system. Still, others are holding onto the past and calling for the traditional bowl selection method that existed prior to the introduction of the BCS in the 1998-1999 season.

Although it seems like yesterday, the BCS is actually in its 10th year of existence.

And man, what a strange existence it has been.

The BCS has endured controversial debates and changes to its formula each step of the way. IconThe voices of opposition seem to be getting louder each and every year. But are these voices being heard?

Well, let’s see.

First, I want to present my humble critique of the BCS’s performance history, starting with the reason for its creation.

I firmly believe that the traditional bowl system had to change, considering that bowls sometimes selected teams as early as the seventh or eighth game and the top rated teams rarely ever faced each other.

And so it did, with the creation of the Bowl Championship Series.

“From the beginning, the BCS was designed to pair the two top-rated teams in a national championship game and to create competitive match-ups among highly regarded teams in three other games as part of the bowl system,” according to a statement taken directly from the Bowl Championship Series website.

The BCS, however, seems to have only continued—and possibly strengthened—the ambiguity and controversy that has, in my opinion, plagued college football.

When you think about it, the previous statement of purpose taken from the BCS website reveals some interesting thoughts.

One phrase that stands out to me is “as a part of the bowl system.” By definition, the BCS has merely been an alteration—not a replacement—of the traditional bowl system all along.

Boy was I fooled.  It seems that I’ve been hearing all along that the old system was dead and buried, and that we now have a much more accurate view of the national championship picture.

In reality, the radical transformation that the BCS was supposed to bring to college football ten years ago simply has not taken place.

I remember the early excitement surrounding the BCS; the talking heads on television were proclaiming it as the end of controversy in college football.

Ha! Today we can only laugh at those misconceived predictions.

That excitement and optimism quickly faded, however, when the new system was actually tested. 

In its first attempt, the BCS selections were protested when Kansas State, ranked third in the standings, was left out in favor of lower ranked teams. This debacle resulted in the creation of the laughable “Kansas State Rule.”

And by the way, no offense to K-State.

It is the reason for its creation, not its name, that makes the “K State Rule” ridiculous. This new rule ensured that the first through fourth ranked teams were ensured an appearance in a BCS bowl.  

Boy was that a tough concept to grasp.

We’ve created this new system to rank college football teams. There are eight spots in the biggest bowls of the year. Hey, maybe we should invite the top ranked team in our hot new BCS poll to participate in the BCS bowls!

This would not be the last of these ingenious changes.

In fact, in nearly every season since its introduction, the BCS has undergone a change of some sort.

In five seasons, 1999-2000, 2000-2001, 2002-2003, 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, the actual BCS formula has undergone changes.  And in two other years, 2003-2004 and 2006-2007, the NCAA made other changes related to rankings and bowl eligibility.  That equals seven out of nine seasons thus far with some element of change.

It is obvious that the BCS has been a constant work in progress.

Does this mean that it is always current and never outdated, or does it mean that it has been a flawed system from the beginning?

I’m leaning towards the latter.

The consistency of change in the BCS system over the years has been caused, in my opinion, by the ever present mood of disappointment and frustration that smothers the debate forums of college football. 

It seems apparent to me that the majority of people who have an interest in college football—fans, players, coaches, administrators, analysts—are unsatisfied with the BCS system year in and year out. Otherwise, the system would be more static and less likely to change so often.

The number of seasons with a BCS controversy is even higher than that of years with changes.

There has only been one season during the BCS era that has passed over peacefully without the infuriated protests of a significant portion of the college football community. There has been some controversy of sorts in eight of the first nine BCS seasons.

Now, I must point out the fact that all of the aforementioned controversies were not debates about the participants in the “national championship game.”  But there are still plenty that were, and in my opinion those are the worst type.

Half of the BCS controversies, four out of eight (2001-02, 03-04, 04-05 and 06-07), have included serious debate about the “national title game.”  That number is unacceptable for a system that proclaims that its primary goal is, “to pair the two top-rated teams in a national championship game.”

Well, apparently that is not what the BCS actually does. The following is a brief outline of the national title dispute in each of the four controversial seasons:


Oregon, Pac-10 Champions, ranked No. 2 in both human polls, was denied a chance to play for the “national title.” Instead, No. 4 ranked Nebraska, not even Champions of the Big 12 or even the North Division, was routed 37-14 by No. 1 Miami in the BCS Championship.

Oregon would go on to dismantle BCS No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.

Should have been Oregon vs. Miami.


Three teams—Oklahoma, LSU and USC—finished with one loss.

Oklahoma lost in the Big 12 Championship game, but remained No. 1 in the final BCS poll. LSU edged out USC for a shot at the “title” and went on to beat Oklahoma 21-14. USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 1 in both human polls.

Again, a team that didn’t even win its conference championship was awarded a shot at the “national championship,” while an obviously more deserving major conference champion was left out.

For the first and only time during the BCS years, a “co-national championship” was shared by LSU and USC. The two never faced each other, despite being the “two top-rated teams.”

Hey, wasn’t that the whole idea?


This regular season ended with five undefeated teams, however, only three of them—USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn—were seriously considered for the “national championship game.”

Auburn, ranked No. 18 in preseason polls, was not able to overtake USC or Oklahoma, teams that started and finished the season ranked No. 1 and 2.  Again, a team was destroyed in the “championship game” as USC beat Oklahoma 55-19. 

Auburn, undefeated champions of the SEC, a conference that some consider the apex of competition in college football, defeated four top ten opponents and was denied a shot at the “national championship” in favor of a team that eventually lost the game by more than 30 points.

Doesn’t seem like justice to me.


Florida and Michigan, with one loss apiece, anxiously waited to see who would play consensus No. 1 Ohio State. 

That is not to mention one-loss Louisville and Wisconsin, and undefeated Boise State.  Florida edged Michigan out by .0101 points, and eventually pounded Ohio State 41-14.

Despite its proven dominance, Florida wouldn’t have even been there if USC hadn’t lost to UCLA in the final week of the regular season. USC went on to defeat Michigan, the other team hopeful of a “national championship” berth, by 14 points in the Rose Bowl.

It could be argued that USC, or even LSU, vs. Florida would have been a better match-up.

For the players, coaches and fans of the unfortunate schools that have been denied a shot at a “national championship,” (before or during the BCS system) by the subjective reasoning of pollsters, the emotional damage is irreparable. The BCS fails to achieve its paramount objective almost 50 percent of the time.

It may be true that the BCS’s utilization of the infamous computer rankings has made subjective human observation less influential. Does that, in turn, ensure more accurate rankings?

The short answer is no!

The argument before the BCS was that subjective human error caused the fallacy of the polls. The solution was to add an objective element to the ranking process. The result was the incorporation of several mathematical equations that a computer system uses to rank teams by interpreting raw data. 

The logic says that the computer only considers raw statistical data and represents objective polling results, and the human element is still incorporated to consider things that a computer can’t (weather, road vs. home games, injuries, etc.). The right balance of the two will, in theory, produce the most accurate rankings possible.

The question is, with 119 teams competing in Division 1-A NCAA football, can this formula select the top two teams out of the entire lot?


It can, however, provide a general idea of say, the top 20 percent, which is about the equivalent of the Top 25. Anything more specific than that should be determined by fair competition on the gridiron, specifically in some kind of playoff format.

The problem with college football is that extremely fair and accurate national champions will never be consistently produced by ranking systems that just aren’t very accurate.

If rankings are so important, then why do none of our professional sports leagues have an official season-long overall ranking?

I’ll tell you why—Because you can’t determine the top two teams without a playoff system in place.

In the NFL, teams in the two conferences are only ranked in order to seed them for the Playoffs.

Why can’t we use the BCS rankings to do the same thing?

I think we should keep the BCS, but only to use the system to seed the top teams for the BCS National Championship Tournament. Under this system, the top eight ranked teams in the BCS would be seeded and play the traditional BCS bowl games as the first round of the National Championship Tournament. 

I can’t remember a team in history that was ranked outside the top eight that had a legitimate gripe with being denied a shot at the title. Undoubtedly there would still be the potential for debate over the last few spots in the top eight, but I would rather see the seventh or eighth spots in question as opposed to No. 1 or 2.

The playoff format is undoubtedly the most nondiscriminatory method for determining an overall champion, so why doesn’t college football have one?

Many people argue that it would take some of the luster off of regular season games, render the other bowl games irrelevant, and make the season too long.

In regards to the importance of regular season games, how many teams finish ranked in the top eight in the final poll with more than one or two losses? The games are no less meaningful.

When has any team, under the current BCS system, playing in the Outback or Music City Bowls, or any of the non-BCS bowls for that matter, ever argued that they deserved a shot at the “national championship?”

Nothing changes!

For those who say a playoff would make the season too long, I disagree. We’ve already added a regular season game, so why couldn’t we just take it back and play 11.

The BCS bowls, or in this case the first round of the playoffs, could start the last weekend in December. With an eight team playoff, there is only a need for three rounds. Ultimately, the season would be longer by one week.

So why can’t college football fans have a true, undisputed national champion?

Could it be that the current system only stays in place, making marginal changes each year, in order to serve a different, financial purpose?

Maybe not, but check out this next phrase.

“The bowls were to be provided flexibility to exercise freedom of selection that would create locally attractive games to enhance ticket sales,” according to the BCS website.

Sounds like that flexibility might interfere with the determination of a true national champion, or is it the other way around. Maybe there are some who feel that a fair system might interfere with ticket sales?   

Also, the current system ensures that the six founding conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) are awarded annual automatic qualification. That is blatant discrimination against all schools in other conferences, or independent of conference affiliation.

Oh, I’m sorry, I almost forgot…NOT!

The Notre Dame automatic qualification clause is even more ridiculous. Talk about preferential treatment.

The point is that the college football community is being denied their right to a true national champion determined by fair competition in a playoff format, in the name of money and prejudice.

This system is so unfair it almost seems like a violation of players', coaches', and fans’ civil rights. It is a system controlled by financial dominance and discrimination, much like the corrupt legal systems of Southern states that figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced head-on in the 1960s.

So when will college football’s version of MLK arise, take action, and completely transform the landscape of college football?

It may not be soon enough for some, but with the track record of change during the BCS era of college football, the 2008-2009 season will surely be different than this one.