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Tuesday, June 8, 2004
Rage against the computers

By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com

Looks like I'll take Yesterdays for $400, Alex.

Believe me, I've thought this through. And I'll take the old, horribly flawed college football system of determining who's No. 1 -- sort of, in a manner of speaking, depending upon how the votes break -- over this current, unspeakably dumb BCS sprawl. I'll take the old days, warts and all, and I speak strictly of the sportswriter presence in the proceedings.

I'll take the final tabulations of two separate voting polls over the wickedly misguided intentions of a Bowl Championship Series system that seems willing to take on just about any suggested modification so long as it doesn't result in an actual, you know, college football championship playoff -- the same kind of championship system instituted for nearly every other NCAA sport ever attempted in the association's history.

With each new paradigm shift, the people who run the BCS send a stronger and stronger signal to the country that, come to think of it, they're not sure what the heck is going on. They're not sure how many games to play. They're not sure how many bowls should host however many games -- four, five, two dozen -- it turns out to be.

They're not sure whether, say, the Rose Bowl should be forced to part with its own history and traditions featuring the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences in order to remain part of the championship system, as if there were something so extraordinarily grand about the BCS that its exclusion would wreck the New Year's doings around Arroyo Seco.

Now the BCS is pondering the addition of a fifth game to its "system," yet continuing to use only four bowls -- Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta -- to administer it. The result is the ballyhooed "Piggyback Game" about which you've been hearing ... well, virtually nothing, since it isn't interesting enough to show up on Sports America's radar.

Trust me: You don't want to know. You don't want to know about a concept that would rotate the fifth BCS game among the four current bowl sites, thus giving us, what, two Orange bowls in a single January?

No thanks. The BCS broke about three minutes after it was built, and it just keeps getting more and more broken. It was a noble effort that landed with a deathly thud, and to date it has accomplished nothing -- nothing -- in the way of crowning a national champion that couldn't have been accomplished by the straight-ahead, play-the-games-and-we'll-cast-some-votes system that either worked or gloriously failed to work for decades.

And that's the system for me. If you won't give me a basic eight-team playoff, to say nothing of the more elaborate but entirely workable 16-team, 15-bowl system that Dallas sports guy Norm Hitzges created, oh, 15 years ago -- if you won't give me the basic satisfaction of seeing the top handful of teams scrap it out at the end of the season, then at least allow me the entertainment of seeing the polls simply crown a champ and be done with it.

Give me the coaches who vote with their thumbs. Give me the Sports Information Directors who actually ruled the world just a few years ago, when, often as not, they were doing the voting in the stead of the head coaches who couldn't seem to get around to it once a week.

Give me the writers and broadcasters who rank the Top 25 weekly after having seen, oh, three of those teams in action. There's nothing they can deliver, after all, that will be any more embarrassing to the NCAA than what happened last January, when Southern Cal was ranked No. 1 in both polls but was magically excluded from the BCS "championship" game.

The truth, in fact, is that the polls are making a comeback even within the narrow confines of the BCS itself. After years of relying far too heavily on computer software programs to evaluate utterly human endeavors, the BCS top dogs are suggesting strongly that a reversal is in order.

"Some of the things that have been added on -- strength of schedule and points for quality wins -- we're trying to see if those things should be removed," said Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who is taking over as BCS commissioner.

Instead, officials say, the new system will value more highly the results of The Associated Press media poll and the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. To which any right-thinking college football fan will quickly append: Why stop there?

Keep going with that notion. Go all the way back to the future. The future is in screwy votes and Stupid Human Tricks played by the pollsters, by disputed ballots and regional blindness and the coach who can't bring himself to vote for Notre Dame because, well, just because, that's all. Go back to the system that never promised anything other than a great show, and almost always delivered.

Because when you get right down to it, there is no championship in college football. At the very least, the NCAA's continued failure to provide one ought to be made as entertaining as it possibly can be.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com