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Your Take-“Defending The BCS”

by: Bill Hancock
Executive Director, Bowl Championship Series
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In the wake of the BCS National Championship game, some critics are using the opportunity to raise questions about the Bowl Championship Series. But I have a question for the critics:

Can they name the team that won the college football national championship in 1997?
It’s a trick question. The year before the BCS was created, there was no single champion. Instead, two teams that didn’t even play each other in a bowl game each claimed a share of the national championship: Michigan won the Rose Bowl and captured the Associated Press Poll title while Nebraska prevailed in the Orange Bowl and claimed the Coaches Poll title.
A rare occurrence? Hardly. Three times in the decade preceding the creation of the Bowl Championship Series, two teams shared the national championship in a single year. And in the 56 years before the BCS began, the Associated Press’s number one and number two teams met in bowl games only eight times.

The critics conveniently forget that this was the backdrop that led college football’s leaders to create a new system – the BCS – in 1998. The goal was not to create a playoff system so every team could extend its season. The goal was to match the top two teams against each other in a bowl game. The goal has been reached many times over.

We don’t claim that the BCS is the perfect format. But we do feel strongly that our format works best and that a playoff won’t work nearly as well.

The proof is in the proverbial pudding. Since the BCS format began in 1998, the top two teams have met every year by BCS measurements and nine times according to the AP poll – including the last six years in a row. That had never happened before. Clearly, the BCS has proven to be the best format ever devised for matching the nation’s top two teams in a bowl game.

Second, we believe a playoff system won’t work nearly as well. Where would the BCS critics cut off the playoff fi eld? The most common playoff scheme is to use eight teams, with six conference champions and two at-large teams. Here is the problem: this year, that would mean inviting Alabama, Texas, Oregon, Ohio State, Cincinnati and Georgia Tech and giving atlarge invitations to TCU and Boise State. And it would also mean leaving out Florida, a team that was ranked number one most of the year. Not many Gator fans would call that a fair system. Since an eight-team playoff is far from perfect, inevitably pressure will build to expand the playoff. Think about what has happened to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament over the years. The tournament has grown larger as pressure has mounted to include even more schools. And now news reports have emerged that the NCAA is considering expanding the basketball tournament to more than 90 teams! Can you imagine the pressure college football would face to keep adding teams each year? Pretty soon the “playoff” would become a “playon” as the season would go on and on. The result would be a severe diminishment of the regular season and an end to the bowls as we know them. This eight-team playoff would be a great burden on the fans. The two teams which advance to the championship game would play three games in three cities in three weeks – on top of the 12 or 13 games they already played during the regular season.

How would students, fans and alumni – enough to fill an 80,000- to 100,000-seat stadium – be able to attend each of those games? The fact is, they wouldn’t. They would be forced to pick and choose, because most could not afford to travel to all three games.

Sure, a playoff could be created, but at too high a price to this great game.

Some critics claim to be concerned about helping schools from the conferences that have not earned automatic qualifi cation, but how would a playoff help? Here is why one college coach supports the current system:
“Is it easier to win one game for a championship? Or to have to win four? If you have a playoff, you practice and get on a plane and play. And if you lose, it’s over. If you go to a bowl game, you’re there seven days and the kids can enjoy a place and get rewarded.”

The coach who said those words was Gary Patterson of TCU. He knows that the Horned Frogs benefi t from the bowl system that would be wrecked by a playoff.

But perhaps the most important point is the fi rst point: this year the BCS again matched the top two teams. Alabama and Texas were the consensus No. 1 and No. 2.

So what’s the problem? My advice to the BCS critics is to buy tickets again next year and get ready to enjoy more great college football.

Bill Hancock, 59, was director of the NCAA Final Four for 13 years. In November of 2009, he was named Executive Director of the Bowl Championship Series. He is a former newspaper editor who loves college football and enjoys the outdoors—he has ridden his bicycle across the United States twice, has climbed Mount Rainier and regularly hikes in the Grand Canyon


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