The BCS Is Not Fair, But Do Bowl Games Even Matter?

There has been a lot of fuss over the bowl selections this year, and rightfully so. Reading the official BCS stance helps clarify the choices: “The BCS is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game.”

I think people have a problem with the fundamental mission of the BCS (in other news, people do not like root canals!).

This year, many fans do not want to see Alabama in the national championship solely because their opponent, LSU, already beat them. These people, myself included, think the national championship should be about determining the best team (how about that?!). Oklahoma State or Stanford or Boise or any team other than Alabama would be a better choice than Alabama, since we already know LSU is better than Alabama.

But the BCS laughs at your logic. It is only interested in the “two top-rated teams,” however crazy the method used to determine those teams. And that is why we have potentially inaccurate,1 admittedly inferior2 computer rankings and biased,3 ill-informed4 human polls. And it is why we have a rematch for the national championship.

The BCS website also informs us of its goal to “create exciting and competitive matchups among eight other highly regarded teams” in the other four BCS bowls, a statement vague enough to justify any selection. Did Virginia Tech (BCS ranking: 11) and Michigan (13) deserve Sugar Bowl bids over Arkansas (6, but ineligible because of a two-team-per-conference limit), Boise (7), or Kansas State (8)? Maybe not, but Michigan’s Denard Robinson is “exciting,” oddsmakers believe the game will be “competitive,” and “highly regarded” is nonsense babble.

The bottom line: Until there is some sort of playoff, there will be justifiable complaining.

Do Bowl Games Matter?

To me, a bowl is more a celebration of the season than a must-win game. Unless it’s the national championship, I have trouble remembering who won various bowl games by the time the next regular season rolls around. I’ve spoken to plenty of other fans who feel the same way.

Rivalry games and other conference games are more important than victory in a bowl, according to most of the fans I spoke with. Die-hard fans are distraught when their team loses, but this is not always the case after a bowl defeat.

Players and coaches, however, may not feel the same way.

“A bowl game is a big issue,” said Lloyd Carr, former Michigan head coach and, as of yesterday, college football Hall of Famer. Carr looked me in the eye and told me this as if I should feel ashamed for thinking otherwise. “You want to win because it gives you momentum. It gives your seniors a great farewell. When you lose, it’s miserable. They put a scoreboard up there because the objective is to win. Those games are important.”

Carr addresses the media at yesterday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in NYC. (Credit: Gene Boyars/NFF)

Kirk Cousins, Michigan State’s senior quarterback, will be playing in his fourth bowl game on Jan. 1. He is the winningest quarterback in Spartan history and was one of 15 finalists for the National Scholar-Athlete of the Year, sometimes referred to as the Academic Heisman. Cousins is a stand-out player and a smart guy, and like Carr, he values bowl games.

“Bowl games are absolutely important,” Cousins said. “You want to go into the offseason on a good note. You don’t want to end your season with a bad taste in your mouth. At Michigan State we say, ‘They all count one.’ Certainly the rivalry games carry weight, but bowl games do as well. You know you are going to play a good football team. They are exciting. There is a lot on the line.”

Cousins holds his scholar-athlete plaque at last night’s awards dinner. (Credit: Gene Boyars/NFF)

Yet when Michigan State, for the second straight year, was passed over for a BCS bowl for a Big Ten team the Spartans had beat, Cousins was not pleased. He referred to the bowl selection process as a “broken system.”

And that is something that coaches, players, and fans alike can agree on.

Summary of Links:
1Jerry Palm, operator of and contributor to CBS Sports, noticed an error in one of the computer rankings last year that resulted in the swapping of two teams in the final BCS standings. Palm was only able to spot the mistake because that particular computer poll is public. None of the others that factor into the BCS are public, and therefore are not independently verifiable.

2Two computer poll creators acknowledge to The New York Times that the rankings they provide to the BCS “are not the most accurate they can produce.” One provides what he calls a “better version” on his own website.

3Excellent research by the The Wall Street Journal discovers that coaches—whose votes count towards the BCS rankings—“rank their own teams, teams in their own conference, and teams that they’ve defeated more favorably than merited.”

4This is a link to the Harris Poll, another factor in the BCS rankings. Look at Derrick Mayes’ rankings. Or Craig Morton’s. Or Jeff Van Notes’. I am as much against group-think as anyone—I think the media’s constant petitioning for Alabama influenced voters—but when you have Oklahoma State ranked sixth (as Mayes does) or two Big Ten teams in your top six (Van Note) your entire ballot is questionable.

3 thoughts on “The BCS Is Not Fair, But Do Bowl Games Even Matter?”

  1. How dare you post this whole article w/o addressing the fact that the championship game features a 1-2 rematch this year, when 5 years ago, they deliberately avoided it with Michigan and Ohio State? Let's get a playoff.

  2. One could dedicate thousands of words to the stupidity of the BCS. But yes, Michigan fans in particular have to be saying, "Hey, how come we didn't get a second crack at the Bucks back in 06?!" It is just another example of the BCS' inconsistency. (I will admit I felt the same way then as I do now; the only difference is that had the rematch happened at least my school would have benefitted).I think part of the issue this year is the SEC's dominance. By winning the last five BCS titles, the sentiment is that it's the dominant conference until proven otherwise. Now, that doesn't really explain the rematch in '06, since that was the start of the SEC's reign (up until then the league only had two title game appearances)."Playoffs?! You wanna talk about playoffs?!" Yes, yes we do.

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