COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Why BS Describes BCS

Yes, Florida Gator fans have only one orange-wearing UT school they truly have to worry about: the University of Tennessee. Beat the Vols, and the rest of the season opens up with possibilities that are as big as Urban Meyer's current reputation.

But if the Gators get past their in-conference UT rivals, the size of the prize at the end of the 2005 season might not be a ticket to Pasadena, the destination Tennessee prevented the Gators from attaining four painful years ago. No, an undefeated season could still land the Gators in New Orleans, a weird and ironically second-rate destination that Auburn fans experienced last year.

That's where another UT school comes in: the University of Texas.

The Longhorns sit right behind USC in the preseason polls. If Texas beats Ohio State and Oklahoma on the road to an undefeated campaign, a 12-0 Gator team --- or any other unbeaten SEC champion, for that matter --- will produce a repeat of last season if the Trojans do their part. In a three-way battle involving a 12-0 Troy, a 12-0 Texas, and a 12-0 SEC champion, we'll have a repeat of last year. Fans of a school who would have historically given their left arm to go to the Sugar Bowl will, for the second straight year, curse their presence in New Orleans during the first few days of January. If one UT school doesn't get them in September, the other UT from Austin could get them on the first Sunday of December, when the BCS title game matchup is announced. The principle is simple enough: for all the talk about making polls irrelevant, what ultimately kept Auburn out of the Orange Bowl last year --- and Oklahoma in it --- was the fact that OU was ahead of the Tigers in preseason polls. This season, Texas' poll positioning right behind the Trojans gives them a built-in advantage that, if protected, simply won't be overturned... not by the Harris Poll or any other weak and ineffectual structure erected by college football's so-called leaders.

In SEC country, the possibility is incredibly real that a replay of 2004's Auburn agony could unfold in 2005. The question that has to be asked is this: would it be an honest case of two teams simply being better and more deserving (and if USC and Texas did run the table, many would be saying that it would be hard to deny them their place in Pasadena), or would it still represent a genuine outrage that the SEC just happened to be excluded from the Big Boys' Table for the second straight season? Is the BCS something to be accepted, or decried?

In order to find the answer, one needs to realize something very simple about the sport of college football: with just 11 games per season (12 if you play in a conference title game), eight of them in-conference, and --- in Florida's case --- with a rivalry game being out of conference, you just can't have very many top-shelf non-conference matchups in this sport. Factor in the reality that each top-tier power usually needs one non-conference game to serve as a breather, early-season practice session, or a combination thereof, and you're faced with a rather stark situation: only one open or flexible non-conference date per season offers a realistic opportunity to schedule a name opponent.

One date. One.

With this in mind, is it really any wonder that each Autumn, when the fury of cross-team and cross-conference comparisons rages across the college football landscape --- pitting Pac-10 fans against SEC fans and everyone against the Big XII, which has had the losing team in the BCS title game in three of the past four seasons --- the central comparisons more often revolve around whose cupcakes were worse, instead of whose big wins were better? The biggest argument against Auburn's BCS credentials last season wasn't an argument about how its Georgia win (the Tigers' best and most impressive win of the year) was overrated, but how bad The Citadel was. Big games don't represent the center of BCS arguments; it's the number of patsies you have on your schedule, inside and beyond your league.

There's a problem with this picture, folks. Arguing about which teams play the softer bottom-feeders is no way to arrive at the key distinction between who's number two and number three, the dividing point that separates the BCS title game's final participant from, it seems, a hard-luck SEC team that must settle for the Sugar Bowl. Instead, we should compare teams based on their best and most impressive wins.

But wait: each season, we in the college football community don't get a chance to do that.

Each Autumn, the nation's fans and journalists get only one plum non-conference game, if any, with which to compare the best of the best. We simply don't see many matchups like this September's tussle between Texas and Ohio State; that's precisely why that game will be incredibly anticipated, and also substantially relevant in determining the true measure of those teams. Everything that makes Texas-Ohio State both special and important also makes the inadequacy of the BCS so apparent.

The BCS, upon its creation in 1998 and upon its tweaking in each subsequent season, bragged that it would offer an objectively-created national title game. That basic contention was the source of the supreme braggadocio that emanated from BCS executives, and which current BCS chairman Kevin Weiberg is continuing to spew forth today. But without a large pool of A-list non-conference games such as the one between Texas and Ohio State, it's pure fantasy to think that any human being (or any computer formula) can arrive at an objectively fair and substantively clear distinction between the second- and third-best teams in the United States.

Forget about what happened in the Orange Bowl, a game in which Vegas (who generally knows how to lay odds on games of all kinds) tabbed the Sooners as a slight favorite. Going into the game, before Oklahoma got exposed, it was well-nigh impossible to truly distinguish the top three teams in the land. USC, OU and Auburn all had star quarterbacks blending physical talent with clutch playmaking ability and notable leadership qualities. All three teams had powerful runners and underrated defenses. All three teams struggled in road rivalry games, but managed to win, displaying equal levels of grit. To pretend that you could have separated any team from the other on the basis of stats or strength of schedule was pure BCS BS.

After 12 games (including an extra game for USC and the conference title games for OU and Auburn), the only way to separate those three teams was to pit them against each other in battle. Without playing each other during the season, there's no other way to settle such a divisive and contentious argument; any attempts to claim that any team was clearly better than the other was so much speculation, plain and simple.

Play a game. That's the only clear, honorable, manly, and objectively fair way to resolve a dispute. The BCS' failure is not that it often gets the BCS matchup wrong, because you can't really get a matchup right unless you have two and only two unbeaten teams at the end of the regular season. No, the BCS' failure --- and what makes it a travesty when an Auburn team goes 13-0 without sharing the national title --- is that the system and its overseers dare to insult the college football community by associating supreme objectivity with their process, when in fact there's precious little objectivity at all.

Playing a game is the only measure of real objectivity; in football, the classic big-game sport not decided by best-of-seven series, it should seem so obvious.

But the BCS --- while, oh-by-the-way, eroding the tradition of college football by making SEC fans resent going to the Sugar Bowl and destroying the Big Ten-Pac 10 matchup in the Rose Bowl --- has promised objectivity in the very forms that can never deliver it: the polls and formulas that can never distinguish a garbage touchdown from a real touchdown, or any of the hundreds of other intangible factors that go into substantive football analysis.

When the BCS promises objectivity, it only offers more subjectivity. When top-shelf collisions --- in both the regular season and in the bowls --- are the only real ways of determining the best teams in the land, the BCS creates a system that can only fuel meaningless speculation based on whose Little Sisters of the Poor were worse. When the BCS claims to exist for the enhancement of college football, its mechanics have only eroded the sport's proudest New Year's Day traditions by putting all the focus on one bowl at the expense of the other three.

So tell me: is this something merely to be accepted and tolerated, or is it an outrage? I don't know about you, but I never tolerate having my intelligence insulted or my passions treated with indifference. If the UT from Knoxville is defeated but the UT from Austin runs the table, Gator fans will know the kind of pain that Auburn fans felt last year, and which no college football fans should ever have to experience. But with the BCS, all things --- all things except justice, that is --- are possible.


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