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I Can't Explain the BCS, But There Are Plenty of Smart People Who Can

This is the last sponsored post from the great folks at Samsung, one of the options that we were given to write about was the BCS.  I'll be honest, I really can't tell you the first thing about the BCS or how it works and so I thought that my ability to write intelligently on this would be relatively limited.  That's when you realize that if you don't know something about a particular subject that you should turn to the experts. 

First things first, the BCS has their own fancy website, and the highlighted quote on the BCS website is from Oregon St.'s Mike Reilly:

I like the bowl system. I like the opportunity for a lot of teams to have a successful season and to get a chance to go to a bowl game. We don't need to limit that to whatever the playoff deal is.

This is my first issue with the BCS, which is that I there are two different argument about what's wrong with the BCS.  Proponents for a playoff don't necessarily want to take away the the bowl games, and most playoff proponents want to allow teams to continue to play their smaller bowl games.  But this simpleton thought is such a small part of what's wrong with the BCS.

Thanks to the BCS, we have blogs (BCS Evolution and BCS 101 are two that I know of, but I'm sure there are more) dedicated to figuring out the standings, the computer rankings and other things related to how teams are ranked in the BCS.  The other simpleton thought is that we shouldn't need websites to figure out the BCS?  Right?  And if you've ever had to rank your top 25 teams, ranking 1 through 16 is much easier than ranking 17 through 25.  Go ahead, and give it a shot.

And this year, it appears that the perfect storm has arrived in that TCU and Boise St. are both undefeated and look to continue their unbeaten streaks until their respective bowl games.  Meanwhile, fans are having debates as to whether or not these teams deserve to play for a national championship. 

This past summer Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan wrote the defining book about why the BCS must die, Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.  Here's part of the excerpt:

For two years, we pored over thousands of pages of tax filings, university contracts, and congressional testimony. We criss-crossed the country interviewing the pertinent power players in college football, on and off the record. We filed dozens of Freedom of Information requests. We wanted to answer one question: Why is college football really saddled with the brain-dead Bowl Championship Series? We sought the truth because tens of millions of fans deserve it.

We discovered an ocean of corruption: sophisticated scams, mind-numbing waste, and naked political deals — enough to prove that the confused excuses spat out by the suits in charge and regurgitated by their well-paid public relations people are empty drivel. While the sleaze should be enough to cause the death of the BCS, it’s simply emblematic of a long battle best represented by two men. One stands for common sense and the possibilities the great game can offer. The other is about protecting the one-sided system that enriches and empowers the very few who led college football into this morass, even as it runs counter to their teams’ competitive interests.

You’ve heard of the first. His name is Joe Paterno. He’s the eighty-three-year-old icon who, after sixty-one seasons coaching at Penn State, the last forty-five as head coach, is as steadfast a proponent of a playoff as ever. He is us. He is you. He is everyone whose gag reflex engages upon the mere thought of how college football crowns its national champion.

You might not have heard of the other. His name is Jim Delany. He’s the balding, sixty-two-year-old former assistant district attorney who is the commissioner of Penn State’s conference, the Big Ten. He is one of the most powerful people in college athletics. His influence far outweighs that of even the NCAA president, because Delany belongs to the group that hijacked college football and refuses to let go.

Paterno may be the king of the sport, but Delany is the ayatollah, speaking the word of God.

And that word is no.

No to a playoff . No to an extra championship game following the bowl season. No to any semblance of sanity in America’s greatest spectator sport. No to anything but the loathsome, odious, reviled BCS.

More after the jump, including the fact that the mathematicians that determine the formula is not a mathematician, why Congress has to be involved and why an anti-trust suit won't work.

Quite simply, who plays for a national championship is determined by a few voters, coaches and some mathematicians . . . sorta.  Dr. Saturday's Matt Hinton profiled Death to the BCS last month and one of the folks who determines who plays for the national championship, Richard Billingsley, with a real complicated mathematical formula, is not a mathematician:

A nonmathematician who uses a numbers-based formula to rank teams. A nonmathematician who, accordingly, uses the previous year’s rankings as a starting point for the next year’s, even if a school graduates its quarterback, running back and middle linebacker, and loses its coach.

"I don’t know that the powers that be even know what he’s doing," Stern said. "I’m not saying he’s bad. But … he’s bad. It’s clear it’s not what the BCS should be doing."

Billingsley is unrepentant about using the previous season’s results. He believes the past portends the future, even if the past is now playing in the NFL. The other computer systems that use preseason rankings take into account graduations, recruiting classes, and coaching changes – everything that matters.

"I’m not even a highly educated man, to tell you the truth," Billingsley said. "I don’t even have a degree. I have a high school education. I never had calculus. I don’t even remember much about algebra. I think everyone questions everything I do. Why is he doing that? Does he know what he’s doing, a crazy kook in Oklahoma? I had a guy tell me in an email once that I’m a crazy Oklahoma hillbilly. Well, it’s true, but it has nothing to do with my ranking skills."

With ESPN's television contract to air BCS games starting in January 2011 for 4 years, there may not be much of an end in sight.

And so we all wonder how this madness will end, which is why Congress is involved and why the BCS has become a political issue, so much so that there is a political action committee, PlayoffPAC, that describes their purpose:

Playoff PAC is a federal political committee dedicated to establishing a competitive post-season championship for college football.  The Bowl Championship Series is inherently flawed.  It crowns champions arbitrarily and stifles inter-conference competition.  Fans, players, schools, and corporate sponsors will be better served when the BCS is replaced with an accessible playoff system that recognizes and rewards on-the-field accomplishment.  To that end, Playoff PAC helps elect pro-reform political candidates, mobilizes public support, and provides a centralized source of pro-reform news, thought, and scholarship.

And the WashingtonPost's Sally Jenkins makes a compelling case as to why this is not an anti-trust issue, but must be a Congressional issue:

Unfortunately, we can't rely on an antitrust suit to fix it. While the Justice Department makes noises about antitrust, and attorney generals make threats, "such efforts have not proceeded to court and are more likely public relations displays of frustration, holding out for the possibility that the BCS will throw a few more crumbs in its direction," Zimbalist says. The BCS is not going to really reform itself because lawyers rattle pens at them.

Nor is the NCAA going to step in. Too many university presidents and athletic directors, who could have stood up to the BCS from the start, are shamefully invested in protecting the golden goose. The NCAA is virtually run by BCS members, who hold five of 18 seats on the NCAA Executive Committee, and 6 of 18 seats on the Division I board of directors.

That means it's up to Congress. Lawmakers have a simple available means to get rid of the BCS and force the NCAA to replace it with an equitable playoff system: tax exemptions. As I've written so often, the only thing that keeps BCS bowl money from being taxable income is the fact that, for the moment, Congress considers college athletics to be an educational endeavor. The day that legislators on Capitol Hill decide the BCS is a business, schools will lose their tax exemptions.

They should write a law stripping the tax breaks from any college that participates in the BCS. That will kill it. Whatever takes its place won't be perfect - college football has always been a messy affair - but it will be better than stealing.


There are times that I wish I was a bit  more intelligent on the matter, but then there are other times that me essentially ignoring such a large aspect of how college football determines a champion makes me feel that it doesn't make a lick of sense that a championship should be so complicated.