Chaos doesn't legitimize ignorance or stupidity of flawed system
SAN ANTONIO -- There's no disputing it: The just deceased college football regular season was crazier than ordering a chocolate martini at a biker bar.
No. 1 Missouri lost the Big 12 bakeoff to favored Oklahoma, and No. 2 West Virginia absolutely shanked its national championship chances to four-touchdown mutt Pittsburgh. And that's just part of what happened this past Saturday. How about the previous 14 weeks?
Appalachian State over Michigan. USC, Boston College, Cal, Kansas, South Florida, Oregon and West Virginia all yakking away their No. 2 rankings. Oregon's DayGlos. Mike "I'm a man!" Gundy. Notre Dame and its bungee jump into oblivion. I could go on.
But, sorry, crazy isn't good enough. College football deserves better than simple bedlam. Chaos doesn't legitimize ignorance or stupidity.
By sheer accident, nothing more, Ohio State and LSU will play Jan. 7 in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. A few days ago it was supposed to be Mizzou vs. West Virginia. And before that, Kansas vs. LSU.
If there were a congressman to write concerning the forever flawed Bowl Championship Series (Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C.?), I'd give you his address. But there isn't. Instead, we get SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who doubles as the Bowl Championships Series coordinator. It's a crummy part-time job because you're forced to explain the unexplainable, defend the indefensible.
Slive is a smart, well-intentioned administrator, but when he says, "I don't see what I would call an NFL-style playoff in the offing," someone needs to remind him that it isn't an "NFL-style playoff" we're talking about. It's an NCAA-style playoff, the kind of elimination tournament seen in nearly every NCAA sport and every NCAA football division except Division I-A. SEC schools won two of those "NFL-style" playoffs last season. They're called Final Fours.
And when he says he's looking "very, very hard [at] drilling down into that concept" of a Plus-One format (sort of a seeded, one-game playoff game after the bowls), he's admitting the BCS has major imperfections. Otherwise, why bother?
Think about what just happened this past weekend. The short list:
One-loss Ohio State reached a national championship game by doing nothing more strenuous than clicking the TV remote. Congrats. The Buckeyes will go 50 days between their last game and their next.
The 10-2 Mountaineers were eliminated partly because of an injured thumb.
An 11-2 OU team beat Missouri for a second time this season -- including Saturday's 21-point win against the No. 1 Tigers on a neutral field -- and got aced out.
LSU, also 11-2, squeezed in.
Poor Mizzou went from No. 1 to a non-BCS bowl (the Cotton) in less than 24 hours. Meanwhile, Kansas, which lost to Missouri late in the season and failed to reach the Big 12 title game, was invited to a BCS bowl, the Orange.
Georgia, which is 10-2, was in the BCS title game discussion despite not winning its division or conference championship.
USC, playing as well as anyone these days, finished 10-2, but still gets no soup.
And don't even get me started on why the only undefeated team in the country, 12-0 Hawaii, is completely ignored in the Jan. 7 equation.
Is this any way to determine a national champion? And if the bowl results shake out a certain bizarre way, we could even have a split championship. How fitting.
College football's madness arrived late Saturday night when the absurd BCS "system" forced coaches to campaign for their teams like they were trying to win the Iowa caucus. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops delivered his hard sell after the 38-17 victory in the Big 12 Conference championship. Georgia's Mark Richt and USC's Pete Carroll also issued spins on behalf of their respective teams. The BCS didn't give them any other choice.
When someone questioned Stoops about the Sooners' chances to reach the BCS title game, the OU coach could barely contain himself. "Well, I'm glad you asked," he said, before making his impassioned pitch.
Stoops is anti-playoff. Too many moving parts, he said. His reasons: the regular season would become less important fans would have difficulty traveling from playoff site to playoff site regular-season attendance might suffer the bowls might be adversely affected. Anyway, he said, the status quo is "sort of a like a playoff."
"Sort of like a playoff" isn't working. "Sort of like a playoff" gave us at least six teams that could each make valid arguments for a BCS Championship spot. But instead of a playoff, the finalists were determined by 176 voters (some of whom actually pay attention), six computer polls and politicking.
But even Stoops acknowledged that this season, especially with so many legitimate BCS contenders at the end, lent itself to a playoff. "It's a decent argument," he said.
Standing just outside the Oklahoma locker room at the Alamodome was Tostitos Fiesta Bowl president John Junker. The well-respected Junker was waiting for clearance to go inside and officially invite the Sooners for a repeat appearance to his bowl.
"We got the most dominant team in the country coming to our game," said Junker, moments before being waved in.
Not dominant enough to convince enough computers or voters. And that's the shame of all this. Nobody is playing better than OU, Georgia or USC right now. But it's Ohio State, with its puppy fur-soft nonconference schedule and so-so Big Ten quality, that was chosen for New Orleans. Interesting, since the Buckeyes didn't register a win against a top 20 team at the time they played. At least inconsistent LSU mostly survived a killer conference and won its league championship game.
This isn't meant as a total rip job on the Buckeyes and Tigers. They finished atop the BCS standings because they won and lost at the "right" times against the "right" teams. They are the beneficiaries of the perfect BCS storm.
There will be those who say the unpredictability of this season and of the BCS is what made college football so compelling in 2007. I'd say the BCS is what made this season so embarrassing. How can you have these delicious scenarios without having a playoff to resolve them on the field?
We're back where we started pre-BCS. Chaos reigns. And all because too many people in the business of college football are willing to settle, willing to pretend there isn't a better solution. Makes you want to chug that martini.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography, "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.
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