The BCS once again fails to satisfy
Never have so many conspired to do so much to provide so unsatisfactory a result. The BCS has done it again.
They are celebrating in Oklahoma and in Troy. They are unhappy in Auburn. Everywhere there's a sense of uneasiness. The collective conscience of college football knows that someone got shafted. No one feels very good about it.
At least last season, the mistake was so egregious that it rectified itself. USC, ranked No. 1, got left out of the BCS Championship Game. Solution: vote USC No. 1 anyway, declare two champions and, like a wily accountant who has slid one past the IRS once again, close the books on the year.
The dilemma with this season is that, unlike last year's huddle a trois, these three teams haven't lost a game. It may be that you learn more about a team when it loses, or maybe it's just that a loss exposes flaws that gives the supporters of the other teams a toehold. In 2003, the differences between LSU, Oklahoma and USC seemed starker, the arguments more vehement.
This season, USC, Oklahoma and Auburn haven't lost. Picking at their flaws misses the point, like railing about the dialogue in The Simple Life. The degree of difference between the three teams is microchip-thin. It may be that the polls and the computers agree that the Trojans and the Sooners are 1-2. Or it may just be that college football is so frustrated with the system that everyone is too dispirited to argue any longer.
Pick any two of the three unbeatens, and you can make a compelling case for why they should be playing for the national championship. You wouldn't be wrong, either. There is no wrong answer. If that sounds like a copout, then so be it. It's also reality. No one can explain with any certainty why one of the three should be left out.
Auburn understands what it's like to be overlooked, condescended to, humiliated. Generations of Auburn folk have lived in the shadow of the University of Alabama, which has never hesitated to look down its nose across the state, even, as in recent years, when Tuscaloosa piled up scandal upon loss upon scandal.
Life at the Other School in the state includes being the butt of jokes at no extra charge.
Here it is, Auburn's greatest season -- its first undefeated season in modern history without the taint of NCAA probation -- and the Tigers can't play for the national championship.
Last week, Auburn senior safety Junior Rosegreen held out hope that the Tigers would somehow get into the FedEx Orange Bowl.
"We're going to handle business, and then we will come into a blessing," Rosegreen said. "Being that the whole team and staff has been through adversity and worked our way to the top, this is a blessed team. Everybody in the country works hard. Oklahoma works hard. USC works hard. There's just something different about the Auburn team. I just feel with all my heart that we're going to get blessed."
California received the same blessing, which brings to mind the question Tevye addressed to God in Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye looked up and said that he understood that the Jews were the chosen people.
"Once in a while," Tevye asked, "couldn't You choose somebody else?"
The riddle to determine whether California or Texas belongs in the BCS is equally impossible to solve. They both deserve it. But there's nothing that the BCS can do to address the issue. The commissioners who control the BCS set seemingly impossible criteria for the smaller conferences to meet, and Utah, from the Mountain West Conference, met them.
"If we tried to do something to solve it," lamented Pac-10 Conference commissioner Tom Hansen, "the Senate Judiciary Committee would bring in the (university) presidents (to testify). Could they get a law passed? Probably not. But one thing about presidents: they don't like to do that too much."
Every year, the conference commissioners who rule the BCS meet in the spring to go over the past season and "tweak" the system. They can save their tweaks this season. No change can be made that will accommodate three unbeaten teams when there's only one round of playoffs.
The commissioners depend on history to help them guide the BCS. Three undefeated teams don't happen very often, so the commissioners decided not to account for such a possibility. This is the same strategy that my 12-year-old applies to putting away her laundry. She pretends it's not there, so she can walk right past it without having to worry about it.
Her demanding father assumed her behavior to be a sign of immaturity. Little did I know it meant she could be in the charge of the BCS.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.