Commentary

Pressure-packed regular season one of the benefits of BCS

Updated: May 21, 2008, 8:46 AM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

My hair is graying, and I've got a disk in my back that looks at my golf bag and laughs. I've got a 10th-grader who's learning how to drive and a fifth-grader who wants to know when she's getting a cell phone. You want to talk aging?

All of those symptoms are fixable (and the answer on the cell phone is still no). But when I sit and think about why I not only can live with the BCS but that I want to, I realize that the reason is simple maturity.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh vs. West Virginia
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAs Pitt's win over West Virginia showed, every game counts in the BCS system.

See the value in what college football has. Keep the cow. Don't swap the payoff for a bag of magic playoff beans.

There's a reason that the ratings are up, that the last decade has given us more excitement and controversy and enjoyment and outrage than we can stand. The BCS, as screwed up as it is, has provided college football fans with the best regular season in American sports and a national championship game to boot.

The pressure of watching 120 teams trying to squeeze onto two, and only two, postseason sidelines can be excruciating. Let's remember that pressure is what turns coal into diamonds. The margin of error for the contenders is thinner than the envelope I got from Harvard. (Dear Ivan, We regret to inform you …) But that pressure has created a cascade of interest. It piles up, Saturday upon Saturday, until the first Saturday of December spills into the first Sunday.

Not every final season will have as nerve-racking a first Saturday in December as the first BCS season, when No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Kansas State lost, dumping a national championship opportunity into the lap of No. 4 Florida State. Not every season will be as thrilling as the most recent BCS season, when seven teams reached No. 2 only to be defeated by an unranked opponent.

The last defeat, a 13-9 loss by West Virginia to its oldest rival, Pittsburgh, on, yes, the first Saturday in December, set into motion the soap opera that still seizes the Mountaineer State. If WVU wins that game, it plays Ohio State for the national championship and, win or lose, Rich Rodriguez is still the coach there.

That game would have meant nothing if we had a playoff. The 2006 game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan, with their rivalry and a berth in the BCS Championship Game at stake, would have provided considerably less drama if the teams had known they both would move on to a playoff.

What is wrong with the BCS is not that the championship game renders the other four BCS games meaningless. It is not that only two teams get the chance to play for a national championship in the postseason. What is wrong with the BCS is how those teams are selected.

Using a formula is good only for chemists and 3 a.m. feedings.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesMack Brown would like to see the coaches not have a vote.

"I would like to see coaches not have a vote," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We would have a panel like the one that chooses the 65 teams in basketball."

That's what ails the BCS -- credibility. Every coach participating in the American Football Coaches Association poll has a vested interest. The Harris poll has some credible voters but not enough.

As Brown said, "For someone to say, 'Mack, can you honestly vote without saying how it affects your team?' That's a hard thing to do."

Basketball uses a panel of commissioners and athletic directors from around the country. Football could do the same if it could find administrators willing to take on the responsibility. The commissioners, the same ones who sometimes serve on the basketball committee, shirked that duty in football.

The BCS officials need to continue to repair and restore the credibility the system fumbled away in its start-up years. If the fans believe in the method by which the top two teams are chosen, then the fans might, just might, lower the volume of their complaints.

There are people who believe that a playoff is inevitable, that the need for money is so insatiable that it will overcome all the objections of presidents who don't want football to become a two-semester sport. We should all live so long.

When that day comes, we will all embrace a playoff. If it's a full-blown playoff, we will say goodbye to the bowls, which will watch their check-writing sponsors flock to the playoffs quicker than you can say, "Coca-Cola, a BCS Corporate Champion."

But don't tell me a playoff will be better. I'm not willing to trade the best regular season in sports for a magic beanstalk.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to take my daughter to the cell phone store.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com