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Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Updated: November 18, 5:11 PM ET
Why the BCS is cursed

By Bomani Jones
Special to Page 2

The country is in quite a tizzy over the latest BCS rankings. Though USC sits comfortably atop both the coaches' and Harris polls, Texas leads in five of the BCS's six computer rankings, and is the top team overall in the BCS rankings.

The anger over this is palpable in 49 states and the small town of College Station, which is pretty silly. Never mind that the early BCS rankings mean nothing. Never mind that flaws in the polling system made computer rankings necessary. Never mind that Texas is better than anyone thought when the Trojans were ordained as the greatest team ever (by people who must have never seen Nebraska play in '95). Memories of 2003, when USC was the top team in both the media and coaches' polls but missed out on the BCS championship, have many people entirely too worked up.

Vince Young
It's early, but Vince Young and Texas are suddenly at the top of the BCS.
It would be wise to save that outrage for later, though. Because BCS trouble is a-brewin'. Not just because the BCS seems to come straight from the factory with trouble, but also because Bill Snyder's Revenge will probably rear its ugly head again this year.

Snyder's Revenge?

Picture it … 1998, the first year of the BCS. Three teams went into the final weekend of the season undefeated. Top-ranked Kansas State lost an overtime thriller to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game. No. 2 Tennessee beat Arkansas in the SEC championship game, and No. 3 UCLA lost to Miami in a game in which Edgerrin James introduced himself to the nation with 299 rushing yards. Tennessee and Florida State, the top two teams in the final BCS rankings, played in the Fiesta Bowl for the national title.

Where did BCS No. 3 K-State and Michael Bishop, the Wildcats' Heisman runner-up quarterback, wind up bowling? In San Antonio. At the Alamo Bowl.

The Alamo Bowl. A game named after the most overrated tourist attraction in the United States.

One loss took K-State's name off the big time's marquee and relegated it to the B-list.

The Wildcats were too good to be in a bowl so lacking in luster and tradition. San Antonio is gorgeous -- especially in December, the only time of year when heat stroke isn't a legitimate concern down there -- but it's no Miami or New Orleans.

And for that, the BCS has paid a debt to the Big 12 ever since, each time it has crashed and burned.

Think about it. Every time the BCS has made an unforgivable error since '98, the Big 12 has benefited. In 2000, Florida State was ranked higher by the BCS than Miami, even though the Hurricanes beat the Seminoles earlier in the season. Oklahoma beat the 'Noles 14-2 in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. Would they have had it so easy against the 'Canes? 'Tis unlikely.

In 2001, Nebraska didn't even make the Big 12 championship game, but somehow earned the privilege of getting embarrassed by Miami in the Rose Bowl. In 2003, Oklahoma made the Sugar Bowl after getting obliterated in the Big 12 championship game, while USC got stiffed. In 2004, the Trojans treated OU like a piņata while Auburn played -- and continues to play -- a game of "What if …"

When the BCS loses, the Big 12 wins. It's too uncanny to be random. Plus, now that Bill Simmons can die in piece, and the White Sox are in the driver's seat in the World Series, we need a new supernatural sports trend to talk about.

That phenomenon is Snyder's Revenge. It's so strong that it has persisted even though K-State made the Fiesta Bowl in 2003. And its power should make for a Happy New Year in Austin. Based on previous manifestations of the Revenge, the only thing that could keep the Longhorns out of the national championship game would be getting shut out by Baylor. And if Virginia Tech, Georgia or Alabama finishes undefeated along with Texas and USC, they'd be well-served to feign happiness about playing in the Fiesta or Sugar bowls for little more than pride.

That's the least the universe could do for Snyder's conference, considering what happened to his team in '98. Old-fashioned football fans can argue over whether the BCS is more of a headache than a helping hand. The number crunchers can find where one of the computers forgot to carry a one and tweak the formulas accordingly. But when the bowl pairings for '98 were released and the third-best team in America was forced to play in a game that was more like a big cup than a bowl, the BCS made its greatest mistake.

The computers didn't do that. Men in blazers with logos from the Orange and Sugar bowls, fearful that the Wildcats faithful wouldn't buy tickets, did that.

(And I could be wrong, but I think that people in Manhattan, Kan., where the average temperature in January is 28 degrees, would jump at any excuse to see the sun, let alone a bowl game.)

Invoking Snyder and the best team he'll ever coach to explain this oddity points out the real problems with the BCS. The computers aren't nearly as problematic as the people involved with the BCS. The arrogance that comes with opposable thumbs has made the computers the BCS's scapegoat, but the computer rankings are the only beacons of objectivity in the BCS. They may be soulless and unable to account for style, but they are also unencumbered by whom they voted for in previous weeks. The computers didn't make it impossible for Auburn to reach the Orange Bowl last year. The voters who kept Auburn below Oklahoma on their ballots -- because, well, that's where they fell on their preseason ballots -- did the Tigers that disservice.

Despite protestations from Northern California, Texas' late-season leapfrog over Cal last year wasn't the fault of the computers, either. That happened because the Bears nearly lost to Southern Miss in their last game of the season. No computer made them squeak past a team they should have smashed. Any pollster who watched that game but dropped Cal only a place or two on his or her ballot because Mack Brown made a plea is in the wrong line of work.

Pete Carroll & Matt Leinart
USC has been burned by the BCS before.
The computers also are not the reason that the stars had to perfectly align themselves to look like the ADT Trophy for Utah to get into the BCS, while a mediocre Pittsburgh team made it on the strength of winning the Big East the season following the defection of its two football powers.

In various ways, humans have helped create all those snafus. Stuff like that makes me think that we need the computers to make sense of college football.

But not even karma's kindness to the Big 12 has masked the dirtiest secret of the BCS: it hasn't provided a significant improvement over the old bowl system. Except for '02 and '04 -- when at least one finalist would have been locked into the Rose Bowl back in the day -- the championship game matchups could have been achieved by the Bowl Alliance or Bowl Coalition, two ancestors of the BCS. The BCS has been unnecessary for choosing a "champion." It has, however, kept some very good football teams away from top-tier bowls.

And that last part is the real problem. That the BCS even tries to choose a champion is the only truly merit-based component of the system. Otherwise, it carries out business as it was always conducted. Notre Dame can still sneak into the money by simply being very good, while Fresno State would have to go undefeated and beat the Dolphins by two touchdowns at a neutral site to even get tickets to the Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, West Virginia may have won the Big East's BCS berth by beating Rutgers, its nearest competition for the conference title, on Oct. 8.

Right, the Rutgers in New Jersey. Yes, it has a football team.

And while the Mountaineers are losing their religion in this year's Orange Bowl, LSU, Alabama or Georgia will be pretending not to be disappointed about playing in the Cotton Bowl.

And people are up in arms about computer rankings?

The problems of the BCS are bigger than the ones seen when there is only one undefeated team or more than two. The system still doesn't have an efficient way to make sure that the eight best teams in the country play in the bowl season's centerpiece. It does nothing to clear up logjams at the top, and can be downright shameless about how it treats teams toward its bottom. Great seasons can still be ignored in deference to the old-money programs and the thinly veiled goal of the BCS: profit maximization.

That's why Snyder got bitten. And until the BCS acts as though its goal is to create good football games, he'll keep biting back.

Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at bomani@bomanijones.com.