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Competitiveness in college football is cyclical. Recent years have seen slumps from traditional powerhouses like Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Florida State and Miami. Apologies to fans of requisite snubbed team from the above list. The same is true of conferences and the last couple years are . Of the six conferences there are a grand total of two viable powerhouses: the SEC and the Big 12. Two. The Big 10 and the Pac-10 are top-heavy and the ACC and Big East are downright pathetic. The state of Notre Dame football, which gets to control its own destiny every year, is mentioned above. Read more about College Football
By now fans of college football have heard that Senator Orrin Hatch will be leading Senate Judiciary Committee hearings examining whether the Bowl Championship Series is a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Orrin's controversial statements about "almost any" playoff system being better than the BCS have raised questions about government involvement in sports and the definition of a "monopoly." It also brings the current system's fairness back into the forefront of ESPN, talk radio and the blogosphere.
For those who do not follow college football, the Bowl Championship Series is a system, separate from the NCAA, which ranks teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division 1A). At the end of the season, the BCS invites their top two teams to a surrogate national championship game since the NCAA does not formally name a champion. The system also guarantees participation in a number of bowls from the top teams in their six "BCS conferences," supposedly the best conferences in collegiate football. The other bowls in the BCS are the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta. The BCS is considered the alternative to the "traditional" playoff systems which exist in the lower divisions of college football and in other NCAA sports.
The six conferences with an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game are the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pacific-10 and Southeastern. Notre Dame, an independent school, receives an automatic bid if it finishes ranked within the top eight of the final BCS standings. No team from outside these conferences have ever reached the championship game since the inception of the BCS in 1998. In the system's history only four teams from "mid-major" (non-BCS) conferences have been invited to a BCS bowl game.
Orrin's home state of Utah is abuzz following an undefeated season by the University of Utah, which ended its season with a 31-17 blowout win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Prior to the Sugar Bowl, the undefeated Utes were not deemed worthy of an invitation to the BCS National Championship Game. The game's participants, The universities of Oklahoma and Florida, each had a loss on their record but appeared ahead of Utah in the BCS standings.
Critics of the BCS have pointed to one motivation for the NCAA's continued support for the system: ratings. They say the BCS tends to match the top schools from a pool of traditional powerhouses and large universities. Of the 11 universities that have participated in the game, the average enrollment is 31,000 students. But it is not for this reason that I think the BCS system deserves another look. My reasons lie in the state of the current BCS conferences.
Consider this: in the past four seasons the ACC and Big East have gone a combined 4-4 in BCS bowl games. Of course, their champions have played each other twice - so they had to have at least two wins. The other two wins have come from West Virginia, who is currently enjoying their own slump since coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan. For those of you who are better at math than I am, you may have already figured out that only eight bids in four years means that neither league has been good enough to warrant an at-large bid in any of these seasons. The ACC has a ridiculous .182 winning percentage in the major bowls since inception of the BCS.
The Pac-10 and Big Ten are not much better in recent years with the exception of Pac-10 juggernaut the University of Southern California. No Pac-10 team other than USC has reached the BCS more than once and a grand total of zero at-large bids have come from the conference since 2002-2003. The Big Ten has their own juggernaut in Ohio State but the conference's champion and at-large bids have gone 2-6 in the last four years, both wins coming in 2006-2007. That's correct, in the last three years the Big Ten has had an at-large team every year and BOTH teams have lost every time. Every loss except one has been by double digits.
With the recent emergence of the Big 12, what we have in the current BCS format is essentially a season-long, two-conference playoff competition where the SEC champion will face the Big 12 champion for the national title. So why doesn't an undefeated Utah deserve a shot? It's not like the same thing didn't happen in 2004-2005 when the Utes went undefeated in the regular season and beat Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl. That year USC won the national championship game 55-19, albeit this matchup actually paired two undefeated teams.
Anyone with a brain knows that, in a perfect world, Senator Orrin Hatch is absolutely correct. The BCS system favors large schools with traditionally powerful programs. Even being the only undefeated FBS team does not guarantee a shot at a national title. There is no current playoff system and the introduction of a play-in game or a full bracket would prevent at least most of the controversy which puts a cloud over almost every champion the BCS has crowned.
But there is no perfect world. It's true that we are dealing with unpaid student-athletes who must concentrate on school in order to be eligible to play. Many university presidents will never vote for a playoff for this reason. Many other presidents will continue use the previous statement as a mask for their true motivation; the larger the odds of a BCS appearance, the more money the big schools continue to bring in.
At the end of the day, college football is a business. It is likely, unless a breach of the Sherman Act can be proven, that college football will never switch to a system that gives a ratings buster like Utah a chance.