BCS can't have credibility without responsibility


The BCS commissioners threw around the words integrity and credibility this week as if they meant them, and no doubt they do. They have the best of intentions, dress nicely and know how to hold a glass of wine by the stem at a cocktail reception.

But their actions this week made them appear as if they've received mail-order diplomas from the Bud Selig School of Commissionering. The idea of creating a poll to help determine the Division I-A national champion of football by rounding up retired coaches and athletic directors off the golf course is foolhardy, if not Andy Hardy.

"Hey, kids, let's put on a poll!"

That might be Steve Hatchell, the former Big 12 commissioner and new boss of the National Football Foundation. Hatchell told the commissioners this week that his group could give them a credible poll, just like that.

It's nice that Hatchell is back in the game after several years of running rodeos. But a
credible poll doesn't just happen.

Kevin Weiberg, Hatchell's successor and the current BCS chairman, said Tuesday that just because a poll is new does not mean it's not credible. OK, fine.

But it's just as fair to say that the new poll is not credible merely because the commissioners say it is. We don't know who the voters are. We don't know where they're from. We don't know how seriously they will take the responsibility.

We don't even know why we're still using polls.

Weiberg said that the commissioners decided they like the changes they made to the selection formula last year. If you recall, they de-emphasized the importance of the computer rankings and gave greater weight to the polls, or as Weiberg so bureaucratically called it, the "human element." Weiberg is a pleasant-enough human element himself, but put a microphone in front of him and he begins to speak a language they only teach in law school.

They believe that the formula worked last season, when USC and Oklahoma made it into the FedEx Orange Bowl and Auburn did not. However, the formula depended on the wisdom of the two major polls. The Associated Press media poll has since bailed out, and, whatever the commissioners think of the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, they didn't want all of their human element wearing whistles and headsets.

All you need to know about that is that the coaches can't participate anymore unless they show their votes.

The commissioners continue their search for credibility, and any resemblance to persons named Diogenes, living or dead, is not purely coincidental. The search is the problem.

The commissioners want credibility. What they don't want is responsibility.

Most of these men have served on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, the group in charge of selecting teams for March Madness. Of all the complaining that has ever been done about teams that get left out, no one has ever challenged the integrity of the process itself.

The members of the basketball committee watch games. They meet. They come together, and while they don't send smoke up the chimney, they do have a conclave-like appreciation for keeping their mouths shut when they leave the room.

And while we're on the subject, yes, Pope Benedict is the only XVIth seed to win the title.

The commissioners maintain that picking two teams to play in one game is different from selecting a 65-team field. Anyone who can devise a system as convoluted as the current formula could devise a system to pick two teams. And devise it by lunch tomorrow.

The easiest way for the BCS to maintain its credibility would be for the commissioners to maintain the responsibility of selecting the teams. That would leave the polls to perform their primary tasks -- selling newspapers and Web sites -- and bring the era of the ever-changing formula to a peaceful close.

Until that day comes, the BCS will continue to confuse the public and the commissioners will continue to have to listen to questions about polls, formulas and playoffs. No one I know believes the university presidents will make a Nixon-goes-to-China reversal and push for a playoff. The current system is all we have.

The shame is that college football could do better. Integrity and credibility are but a committee away. If the new poll falters, perhaps the commissioners will look at it again.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.