Sugar_Bowl_logo.svg

Editorial Section: Three Big-Picture College Football Topics

GAME WEEK!

GAME WEEK!

GAME WEEK!

We made it, everybody!

Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about the 2014 season precisely because it’s GAME WEEK! However, before we devote all our energy to what’s in front of us, it’s important to gather ourselves for a moment and take stock of what’s now in the past, starting with the Bowl Championship Series.

Where has college football come from as it enters this brave new world of the playoff and the 2014 campaign? The TSS editors take stock in a roundtable that tackles a few other big-picture issues, such as the handling of the bowl system and the governance of college football itself.

*

Question No. 1: The Bowl Championship Series is a thing of the past. What will its legacy be within the larger history of college football? What should its legacy be?

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

I defer to the Seinfeld episode, “The Letter,” to do my bidding for me. That’s the one where Jerry’s girlfriend paints a picture of Kramer and an elderly couple come by at one point and marvel at it, eventually buying it and having Kramer over for dinner.

Before buying it, the elderly woman says about the painting, “He transcends time and space,” never knowing it’s basically a career unemployed dude in nice clothing.

In other words, the woman went waaaaay too deep on something pretty shallow. And so I will with this question.

The legacy of the BCS will be the first real segue into sweeping changes to postseason college football from a generation obsessed with having some sort of mental finality with the way sports seasons end.

The NCAA still does not and never will probably officially put its name on a college football champion, but that doesn’t keep people from HAVING to feel like they know the answer to a mostly impossible question of who really is the best team in college football every year.

The relative dissatisfaction with the late ‘90s hitting a crescendo with 1997 Michigan and Nebraska just fueled the thirst for a system that fixed that particular problem. So they got it. And were unhappy only a short time later. It’s like a relationship … you always try to find the person the exact opposite of the last person you dated, ignoring everything else. The BCS was flawed, but it was okay. People though, man, they’re never satisfied.

As for what its legacy should be, it’s pretty much that from above. It was designed because people were pissed about a specific issue, and it was short lived before they became pissed about something else.

Once 2004 rolled around and people say what they deemed to be fatal flaws with it, just like in 1997, the hunt was slowly on to change it. Don’t worry … the same bunch will be complaining about this new system within a decade, guaranteed.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all of those others that have been tried.”

That’s the legacy the BCS will leave. While it was far from perfect, it was still better than any other system that ever existed. It was a huge improvement from the poll system because it allowed conference champions to play against each other even when bowl contracts prevented it. Similarly, the BCS was head and shoulders better than the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance, which did not include the Big Ten and Pac-10. As a result, these now-defunct systems failed to produce a true No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup for all the marbles.

Of course, critics will argue that the BCS didn’t always put the best two teams on the field, either. In fact, the system failed more times (9) than it succeeded (7) when picking the two best teams for the national championship games.

It’s also worth noting that the BCS had some absolutely epic failures during its existence. At the end of the 2000-’01 season, Florida State played in the national championship game even though it lost to No. 3 Miami. The following year, Nebraska played for all the marbles in front of Big 12 champion Colorado, which destroyed the Huskers 62-36 in the season finale. Two seasons after that, USC, which was ranked No. 1 in both polls, missed out of the BCS National Championship Game behind Oklahoma, which got smoked by Kansas State in the conference title game.

These debacles – combined with some very spirited No. 2 vs. No. 3 debates at the end of the BCS era – ultimately led to the creation of the College Football Playoff. Since the new system had 16 years to learn from the BCS’ mistakes, let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.

Matt Zemek:

On Twitter @SectionMZ

In 1998, the Bowl Championship Series’ special sauce of formulas, weekly numbers with decimal points, and human votes seemed like an advancement, or at least something that could offer seeds of hope for a bright new dawn in college football. The system had the look and feel of something more scientific on the surface.

A good 16 years later, it is clear that what seemed like science was nothing other than a facade for the same old absurdities that remain with us in the college football community. The Bowl Championship Series did create 1-versus-2 matchups when there were two and only two unbeaten teams. The 2000 Sugar Bowl (Virginia Tech-Florida State), the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (Ohio State-Miami), and the 2006 Rose Bowl (Texas-USC) were gifts to college football. The BCS made them possible. The Ohio State-Miami and Texas-USC games would not have happened in the poll-and-bowl or Bowl Alliance eras. I’ll give the BCS that much.

In the other 13 years, there was no entirely clear-cut sense of resolution to the race for the top two spots in the country. Yes, the outcomes of various BCS title games made it hard to contest the national champion in some years (Tennessee in 1998; Oklahoma in 2000; Miami in 2001; Florida State 2013), but except for those three “two and only two unbeaten team” seasons — 1999, 2002 and 2005 — the BCS title game was clouded by some degree of controversy. Moreover — and more importantly — several of the BCS era’s 16 seasons were slightly stained at best, outright debacles at worst: 2003 (USC-LSU), 2004 (USC-Auburn-Utah), 2006 (Florida-Michigan), 2007 (everyone losing twice), 2008 (the Oklahoma-Texas-Big 12 South mess plus Utah relative to Florida), 2009 (Boise State-Alabama), 2010 (Auburn-TCU), 2011 (LSU-Alabama-Oklahoma State), and 2012 (Alabama-Oregon).

Here’s what we’re left with in the aftermath of the BCS era: A majority of the era’s 16 title games featured at least one questionable (if not undeserving) participant, typically in the No. 2 slot; roughly half of the seasons from the era could have produced clean outright champions with the simple addition of a plus-one game after the regularly scheduled bowls; and three seasons produced appalling results for one reason or another (the USC-LSU split in 2003; Auburn’s inability to play USC in 2004; Alabama being granted the 2011 rematch against LSU that 2006 Michigan was denied against 2006 Ohio State in the bowls).

I ask you: Was this mixed and substantially unsatisfactory track record of BCS title game matchups worth the price — namely, shredding the Rose Bowl’s Big Ten-Pac-12 identity while turning the non-Rose, non-championship bowls into such afterthoughts that more than 7,000 empty seats would greet the Sugar and Orange Bowls on a not-that-infrequent basis?

If you’re going to set up a “national championship system” and you’re going to diminish longstanding traditions that represent the lifeblood of a sport steeped in history and the constancy of ritual, you better get it right… more precisely, you better get it right a vast majority of the time.

The BCS did not come particularly close to this standard, certainly not in terms of getting the right two teams in the championship game… all while teams have become culturally and emotionally (re-)programmed to not only care little about the Sugar Bowl, but even — as shown by the 2013 Oregon Ducks — the Rose Bowl itself.

The damage done to college football’s identity and culture is — and has been — incalculable.

*

Question No. 2: If you were the overlord of college football and could do one (but only one) thing to change the bowl system, what would it be?

In January of 2013, Georgia beat Nebraska in a bowl game played in the state of Florida (the Capital One Bowl). Georgia wore visiting whites, Nebraska its home reds...

In January of 2013, Georgia beat Nebraska in a bowl game played in the state of Florida (the Capital One Bowl). Georgia wore visiting whites, Nebraska its home reds…

Bart Doan:

Get rid of the tie-ins. Tie-ins sap the nation from some compelling matchups. He who has the money makes the rules, so aside from the “BCS Bowls” (which I know they’re not called anymore, but I haven’t made up a name for them yet), each bowl bids on where it will select. You bid more, you get a higher ranking to choose teams.

I know that sounds insane, but it’d make more money from sponsors and you get better matchups, which would just give more juice to bowl season.

Other than that, I really enjoy bowl season as it’s set up. The stupid names can go, but again, refer to that money comment at the beginning. I don’t have enough of it to make the rules.

I like how there are so many of them, you basically get no lag time betwixt the end of the season and bowl games starting. ESPN has done a decent job carving out a niche for “Bowl Week,” and when I hear people complain about how many games there are, I just laugh, because those are the same people carping and moaning in July about how football season needs to get here.

The bowls are great. If I could change one thing, I just wish we could take it back to 1993 when they all mattered and you had seven teams people thought should be the champ. That was more fun.

Matt Zemek:

No 6-6 bowl teams (which would likely mean a trimming of the roster of bowl games).

Yes, yes, yes, the NFL allowed the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers (and a few years ago, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks) to make the postseason. Yes, the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks made the 2014 NBA playoffs. Baseball’s second wild card gives 86-win teams a reasonable shot at the playoffs.

Does it make it right or enlightened to allow .500 teams to play postseason games?

Just to put this in perspective: What if all the energy devoted to pitting Utah State against Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl was instead devoted to creating BracketBuster non-conference games in the heart of November, games with a blockbuster feel and electric national-title implications?

This is one of the things that is so severely wrong — and backwards — about college football. It makes your head hurt.

Terry Johnson:

It’s simple: set up a committee – separate from the College Football Playoff Selection Committee – to pick the participants for each bowl game.

Let’s be honest: the reason that people complain there are too many bowl games is because the matchups aren’t as attractive as they should be. For example, the Big Ten and SEC have met so many times on New Year’s Day over the past few years that fans from both conferences have lost interest in them. Similarly, many bowl execs choose teams based on projected ticket sales rather than merits, which usually produce blowouts rather than competitive games.

Why would anyone opt to spend money on a less-than-exciting matchup and/or a monumental mismatch?

No one would, which is why a selection committee makes sense. Let the committee produce fresh and exciting games each year. If the committee is smart, it will rotate the games each season so that the players and fans will get to see a different venue every year. This would also help the bowls make more money, as a competitive game produces more revenue than a lopsided contest that’s over by halftime.

... and then in January of 2014, Nebraska defeated Georgia in a bowl game that was also played in the state of Florida (the Gator Bowl). Nebraska put on the road whites and Georgia wore the home reds. Nebraska, mind you, had played the 2012 Capital One Bowl in the state of Florida as well. Big Ten teams playing SEC teams in the state of Florida -- it's so familiar to the point of being tiresome. Why can't college football create fresh matchups  without the same tie-ins and predictable patterns? Wouldn't fans of various schools travel to see sexy matchups? (This is where Pac-12 fans really need to show more commitment, especially if the Pac-12 wants to be able to play SEC teams in states such as Texas or Louisiana.)

… and then in January of 2014, Nebraska defeated Georgia in a bowl game that was also played in the state of Florida (the Gator Bowl). Nebraska put on the road whites and Georgia wore the home reds. Nebraska, mind you, had played the 2012 Capital One Bowl in the state of Florida as well. Big Ten teams playing SEC teams in the state of Florida — it’s so familiar to the point of being tiresome. Why can’t college football create fresh matchups without the same tie-ins and predictable patterns? Wouldn’t fans of various schools travel to see sexy matchups? (This is where Pac-12 fans really need to show more commitment, especially if the Pac-12 wants to be able to play SEC teams in states such as Texas or Louisiana.)

*

Question No. 3: Does college football need a commissioner?

Terry Johnson:

Yes, it does, and I know just the guy. Please send all inquiries to johnsoncfn@gmail.com.

All kidding aside, college football doesn’t need a commissioner. Placing absolute power in the hands of one individual – regardless of his or her credentials – is just asking for trouble. Since we’re talking about decisions that could potentially impact the rest of a student-athlete’s life, it’s important that there be a well-defined, structured process to adjudicate these issues. No one’s future should rest in the hands of a person whose decisions aren’t subject to review or appeal.

I’d rather take my chances with the current system. While it isn’t perfect, it does provide due process, which is all you can ask for.

Matt Zemek:

Absolutely, positively NOT.

Look at how unenlightened the NFL’s commissioner is. If your commissioner is awful, a system of governance can be just as hijacked as it is under the current model.

College football needs to find a way to establish general ranges of punishments for certain kinds of offenses, allowing for some modest degree of flexibility pertaining to extenuating circumstances, but insisting on minimum baseline punishments for given classifications of wrongdoing.
Reform is needed, and I won’t pretend to say that the process by which a solution can be arrived at is a simple one. However, it can be said that just a little bit of political will — the same thing that could solve a lot of problems in our society, if only grown-ups were around to display a mere pinch of it from time to time — could work wonders on matters of player and program punishments.

It’s shortsighted to think that one person in a commissioner-like role is the answer. This is much more about establishing the substance and content of policy more than creating a structure of governance.

Bart Doan:

Only if it’s Jim Delany. I’m kidding, but if there was one, it has to be Delany. He’s the smartest man in the room even in rooms he’s not even in. Wrap your mind around that.

Assuming a commissioner of college football would act in the likeness of those in the pro sports, absolutely not. Giving ultimate power to anyone is pretty much a hideously stupid idea that’s played out pretty poorly since mankind began.

I could link you to articles about really lousy dictators over the course of human history, but I think you get the point. College football would benefit from not taking itself so damn seriously.

The sport is already despotic as it is. Having one person with total power over it would just be a terrible idea.

Quantcast