Thursday, January 18, 2007
Plus-one format only creates different BCS dilemma
By Ivan Maisel
Editor's note: ESPN.com asked five of its analysts to discuss one change they would like to see in college football. Here is the fourth installment of the five-part series.
Talk about slam-dunk assignments. ESPN.com wants to know how I would change the BCS. I know, I know, it sounds like asking Al Gore how he would change environmental policy. The BCS is about as popular as Hummers these days. The BCS, like the behemoth gas guzzlers, is considered a survivor of an earlier error.
So listen up. Poise your pen over your pad. Take good notes. Here is the complete list of changes I would make to the college football postseason:
Shall I repeat them?
That is what is known as an inconvenient truth. The BCS is just fine the way it is.
Oh, fine, if you want to change something, stop the coaches' poll and the Harris poll from finding new ways to make a mockery of the process every year and appoint a credible cross section of athletic officials (commissioners, athletic directors, etc.) to pick the at-large teams, just as the NCAA does in every other sport.
But don't station me behind the elephants with a shovel and a wheelbarrow and tell me I'm part of the circus. The addition of a plus-one game, the latest trinket to be dangled in front of college football fans, is a distinction without a difference. To wit:
The BCS National Championship Game matches the two best teams after the regular season.
A plus-one game would match the two best teams in the nation after the bowls.
Welcome to the post-postseason. Maybe this idea will catch on in other sports. Let's have a plus-one after the Final Four.
That's silly, you say. The Final Four is a playoff. College football doesn't have a playoff. That's true. But no one in power wants a playoff. What BCS coordinator Mike Slive, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, said last week is that they are willing to discuss a plus-one.
A plus-one doesn't solve the current dilemma. It just creates a different one. A year ago, what team should Texas have played after it upset USC? Haven't we had enough of the BCS creating as many problems as it solves?
For a while this season, it looked as if the BCS would have a train wreck. But it didn't. If you have the patience to allow the entire season to play out, most of the perceived potholes repair themselves. Before Jan. 1, Michigan could have made a case for being treated as a third wheel. No one complained after the Wolverines flopped in the second half of the Rose Bowl.
|Chris Leak and Florida would have needed one more win before clutching the trophy in a plus-one format.
There is an important lesson. Once the entire season played out, Michigan did not measure up.
It takes patience to let the season happen. That's a hard lesson to learn, especially for writers like yours truly who delight in training a spotlight on the imperfections of the system. But the high wattage blinds us to the charm and tension of the regular season. The drama that attended Michigan's visit to Ohio Stadium in mid-November would have evaporated if college football had a playoff. The game would have produced all the tension and significance of a Big Ten Basketball Tournament championship. That's the game played on Selection Sunday, and I defy anyone without a blood relative playing for the winner to name the team that won last year's tournament.
(Iowa, according to Wikipedia.)
With a playoff, UCLA's dramatic upset of USC would have cost the Trojans a few places in the seeding and nothing more. Ask the Bruins how meaningful that would have been, and whether they would trade it for the mean-spirited delight of denying their biggest rival a chance to play for the national championship.
The thought of a playoff is intoxicating. But the reality of what college football now enjoys is just as powerful. College football fans merely take it for granted.
There is some momentum gathering behind a plus-one, even as the Big Ten and Pacific-10 members line up against it. My guess is that some sort of accommodation will be worked out to play a post-bowl bowl, and that such a plus-one game will be the first toe in the door toward installing a playoff.
That's a shame, and it might even be progress. The BCS National Championship Game one day might be as relevant as telegrams and radio shows are today. But you can't tell me that a plus-one will cure the ills of the current system. It might take the edge off the game's tensions, a dose of gridiron Prozac for the college football nation.
More likely, it will swap out the game's old problems for new ones, with no guarantee that college football will remain at the current level of excitement. Now, if you will excuse me, the elephants are calling.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.