BCS will be recalled fondly ... one day
The BCS is making a comeback.
Put down your pitchforks and your torches. This is still the last year of the BCS, the computerized, convoluted, confounding system by which we have selected our national champion since 1998. The College Football Playoff is still set to be implemented in the 2014 season.
It would be more accurate to say the demise of the BCS is already generating nostalgia. The BCS produced results far beyond the original intent of becoming a method of matching No. 1 and No. 2. The unintended consequences created permanent change. College football has not been this popular since the late 1950s, when television discovered the NFL and turned it into America's sweetheart.
"Nobody could have speculated on the extent to which [the BCS] took us forth," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said earlier this month. "[College football] was regionally popular for the most part and sometimes nationally of interest. It now is a sport that is as nationally powerful as it is within its own region."
BCS boss Bill Hancock, who also will run the playoff, said he believes history will treat the BCS kindly. Time can change the way someone or something is viewed.
President Harry Truman, so unpopular in 1952 that he chose not to run for re-election, is now revered. The Ford Edsel, introduced with great fanfare in 1958 then mocked mercilessly long after Ford stopped production in 1960, fetches up to $63,000 in mint condition today.
Let's take the Edsel out for a spin.
The commissioners who created the BCS wanted a formula that would be comprehensive. They garbled that last word, instead creating a formula that was incomprehensible. The mix of human polls with six computer ratings lost the public's trust in the early years, when the formula produced matchups that defined controversy.
In 2000, Miami finished No. 2 in the human polls, ahead of No. 3 Florida State, which it had beaten in the regular season, and yet the Seminoles went to the BCS National Championship Game. No. 4 Washington, which had beaten Miami and No. 5 Oregon State, got overlooked, as well.
In 2001, Nebraska lost its regular-season finale 62-36 to Colorado, and still went to the BCS title game, where it lost to Miami 37-14.
In 2003, USC finished No. 1 in the human polls. However, the BCS formula chose Oklahoma one day after the Sooners lost the Big 12 championship game 35-7 to Kansas State.
Oklahoma lost that title game 21-14 to LSU on Jan. 4, 2004. The Tigers and the Trojans, voted No. 1 in the final AP poll, visited the White House together as co-national champions.
"I knew the day that we came up with the computers that this was going to happen," Mike Tranghese, then Big East commissioner and the BCS chair, said a few days before that '04 championship game. "Some day, some time, some place, something like this was going to occur."
Tranghese had been a proponent of appointing a committee to decide who would play for the crystal football even before that season. He proved to be more than a decade ahead of his time.
The commissioners slowly tweaked the system. They threw out margin of victory. They changed the measure of strength of schedule. They added a fifth BCS bowl for the 2006-07 season, opening the door wider for schools in non-automatic qualifying conferences. Boise State responded by stunning Oklahoma 43-42 in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl that electrified the nation. More important, it legitimized the Broncos and other non-AQ schools in a way that no poll or computer ever could.
Another, less-heralded decision in 2006 to begin playing a 12-game schedule every year also benefited the BCS system. One extra week of play, one more week of data for the computers, brought the two best teams into sharper focus.
Not all of the permanent change wrought by the BCS turned out well, though. When the commissioners designated only six of the 11 conferences as worthy of automatic qualification into BCS bowls, they precipitated the gold rush that has been realignment. Schools cut longstanding conference ties to chase membership in the AQ conferences.
In 1998, the first year of the BCS, the six AQ conferences included 62 teams. This season, they have 68. That doesn't include Boise State or Northern Illinois, which have played in three BCS bowls between them. And next season, of course, the American, nee the Big East, will lose its AQ status because realignment has robbed it of its most prominent teams.
Coaches, always measured by whether they finished the season in a bowl game, must meet a new, higher standard in the BCS era. Only nine AQ coaches who failed to take their program to a BCS bowl in the first five seasons of the BCS made it to the sixth season.
The money generated by the BCS has generated pressure on the FBS schools to provide more benefits for student-athletes and has brought the entire NCAA model under scrutiny. While former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon's licensing lawsuit against the NCAA and video game maker Electronic Arts is only tangentially connected to the BCS, it has contributed to the sense that the NCAA as we know it soon will never be the same.
If nothing else, public attitudes toward the NCAA will always help bathe the BCS in the warm light of nostalgia. That Edsel isn't so bad after all.
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