Monday, December 1, 2008
BCS should reconsider 'plus-one' game - and fast
Just about everybody who loves college football hates the Bowl Championship Series.
But the guys who run it don't have to go through the next six weeks, let alone the next six years, watching their brand being kicked around like a rusty can everywhere from the Oval Office down to the corner tavern.
All they have to do is change.
Start by admitting their mistake last spring in shooting down a proposal from outgoing BCS chief Mike Slive that effectively would have allowed for a four-team playoff with a few modifications of the existing system. Then start seriously reconsidering it this week. There's no time like the present and nobody, after all, who loves tweaking things more than they do.
Under threat of a lawsuit from the mid-major conferences, the BCS added a fifth bowl to its postseason roster in 2006, ostensibly to make it easier for small schools to qualify for one of the big-money games as an "at-large" invitee.
What Slive proposed was that whenever the regular season ended the way this one likely will -- with three or more deserving contenders and only two slots available in the BCS national championship game- that the fifth bowl be used as a so-called "plus-one."
Like the current championship game, it would be played a week after the four BCS bowls. What's different is that one or both of the slots in the "plus-one" wouldn't be filled until those games had been decided.
It's not as democratic as the eight-team playoff that most fans favor and president-elect Barack Obama pushed in two separate TV appearances last month. And it would certainly raise a ruckus from any conference that lost a second BCS bowl slot to make room if the contender that replaced it was drawn from a different league.
But the "plus-one" would go a long way toward plugging the holes in a system that's leaking credibility like a sieve -- and will for years to come.
College football is careening toward its most unsatisfying conclusion in the 10 years since the BCS took control of the postseason, and that's no coincidence. With more parity in the sport and more schools playing 12 games during the regular season (and 13 for those from conferences with title games), the chances that teams will separate themselves from the pack by going undefeated seems less with each passing year.
If Florida beats Alabama in the SEC championship game, Oklahoma beats Missouri in the Big 12 title game (more on that in a moment), and USC beats UCLA, all on tap for the final weekend, this regular season will conclude with seven one-loss teams from the six major BCS conferences and almost as many potential headaches.
At the moment, Texas looks like the recipient of the BCS' annual "life-isn't-fair" award. The Longhorns have already been denied the chance to play for their conference title, despite beating Big 12 South division rival Oklahoma in a head-to-head matchup and finishing with the same 11-1 record. And Texas Tech, a third member of the Big 12 South, could make almost as good an argument.
The Red Raiders also went 11-1 and beat Texas, but got hammered so thoroughly by Oklahoma that unlike his counterparts at both schools, coach Mike Leach hasn't wasted much of his breath lobbying. He suggested using graduation rates to break the three-way deadlock. Instead, the Sooners will play North division survivor Missouri because the Big 12's fifth tiebreaker rule -- higher BCS rating -- gave them the nod over Texas.
That decision is wrong on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin.
The BCS ranking is made up of three equally weighted components: the USA Today coaches' and Harris Interactive polls, and six computers. The machines aren't entirely without bias, since they process whatever information they're given. But the chance that grudges and favorites might have affected voters in the human polls can't be dismissed, since the only ballot that's made public is the final one.
Texas coach Mack Brown and his Oklahoma counterpart, Bob Stoops, spent most of the past week either lobbying those same voters or talking about how unseemly it was being forced to do just that. The names and schools getting hosed changes each year, but whining by their coaches has become as much a fact of life at this time of the year as the cold weather sweeping across most of the country.
At this rate, a "kiss-and-cry" area like the one employed by figure skating can't be far off.
"It is what it is," Brown said in a statement Sunday.
But not the way it has to be.
After saying no to Slive's proposal, and then announcing that stance was nonnegotiable in the new four-year TV deal with ESPN that runs through 2014, the BCS power brokers believed that calls for a playoff would eventually go away.
Just the opposite has happened.
More coaches are voicing their unhappiness with the system, and if more of the signature programs like Texas and USC continue to get squeezed, the squawking will only get louder.
"I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this," Obama said during an interview on "60 Minutes" two weeks ago. "So, I'm going to throw my weight around a little bit."
From the look of things, he won't be the only one.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org