BCS Should Be Thanking Mike Shula

The fat cats who run this evil concoction called the BCS and the dweebs who sell the advertising for ABC Television are probably arm weary about now from spending the past four days patting each other on the back. Instead of spending all this time telling us that Texas and Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl is proof the system works, however, they should be writing thank you notes and Christmas cards to Mike Shula. He's the guy who made all this possible.

Shula's the guy who not only had Tyrone Prothro in the game with a blowout win secure in the fourth quarter against Florida in Tuscaloosa, but had Alabama's best player running the deep route into the end zone that resulted in his broken ankle. Alabama without Prothro is why Texas and Southern Cal are the only undefeated teams playing in the BCS conglomeration. Alabama with Prothro and we likely have three unbeatens and a controversy that's almost as good as it was last year when Auburn and Utah were screwed by the system.

Texas against Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl is supposed to be proof that an imperfect system still gets it right most of the time, unlike last year when it was an unmitigated disaster that unbeaten Auburn and unbeaten Utah had no chance to play for a national championship. We're told that situations like last year are an aberration that happens every 76 years or so, about the same amount of time that it takes Haley's comet to make its elliptical orbit around the sun, but we're only a Shula brain fart away from two straight years of the same stupidity.

That we have the only two unbeaten teams in Division I playing in this sham of a championship game is supposed to be lasting proof that the system works but as my grandmother once said, you can put a necktie on a pig and all you have is a pig wearing a necktie. You can gussie it up all you want, but it still stinks.

Unbeaten doesn't necessarily mean the best. You'll never convince me that Southern Cal would have beaten Auburn last year just as you will never convince me that Utah didn't deserve a shot at playing for a championship. The Utes were the party crashers last year, unbeaten and champs of the Mountain West Conference, which is not a member of the BCS coalition of conferences. To the BCS they were the ugly stepsister that somehow bullied its way into the mix. Reality is that the Utes may not have won if they had faced Southern Cal in the Orange Bowl but you can bet your bippy they would have put up more of a fight than Oklahoma did. Not only did we end up with a dreadful "championship" game but the final spread (55-19) made a mockery of the system.

If we believe the polls, Texas and Southern Cal are the best two teams in the country and they have been since the season began. Based on the system in place, they have to play in the championship game because they didn't to anything to drop lower in the rankings, sort of like last year when a very undeserving but unbeaten Oklahoma team got to the BCS title game simply because it started the season in second place and won all its games.

Auburn and Utah, on the other hand, both started last season as blips too distant on the radar screen to ever surpass the teams at the top. They got screwed by the system not because they weren't good enough to play for a championship but because the writers and coaches who voted on the polls and the geeks who run the computers didn't have enough foresight to see them coming.

We could have just as easily had the exact same situation this year because Southern Cal and Texas were pre-ordained to be in this game. Just think --- if Shula's brain doesn't lock up on him against Florida or if the clock runs out before Michigan can beat Penn State … or perish the thought, if TCU of the dratted Mountain West doesn't somehow find a way to lose a game it can't possibly lose to SMU --- we could have had four, possibly even five unbeaten teams in 2005.

It's sheer luck that it didn't happen that way although in Roy Kramer-speak, the system worked and every week, every game was an elimination game to get us to the point that we're at today. That is always the fall-back line used by the defenders of this outlandish system that's been forced on us by the television networks and the greedy commissioners of six power conferences. They defend their system by saying that the regular season is the playoff and that playoffs would make the regular season meaningless. This is like trying to say that just because Jessica Simpson's chest is surgically enhanced that it isn't spectacular.

The defense of the present system usually begins with the argument about the bowls and their tradition and it ends with the one about how adding a playoff system would hinder the academic progress of the players by making the season too long.

I'll trump those arguments any day. First, off the bowl system is corrupt and it exists for (1) the cities that host bowl games to bring in people who stay in hotel rooms and eat out at restaurants and (2) the television networks to sell advertising. The payout to the teams is miniscule in comparison to the amount of money brought in by traveling fans and the bucks paid out by the networks.

And please, don't pester me that bit about how great it is that 28 teams finish the season with a win and how great it is that the coach of a 6-5 team got carried off the field on the shoulders of his players after eking out a win in Boise or some other outpost in the hinterlands where they're playing some bowl named after Jiffy Lube or Lansing Lugnuts. If your team finishes 6-5 you don't deserve to be in a bowl game in the first place.

You'll find a lot of athletic directors who support the bowl system, though. That's because it makes it easier for them to stand up to alumni that are demanding that the coach should be fired. There's this unwritten rule that says you don't fire your coach if he takes you to a bowl game. Do you think Terry Don Phillips at Clemson isn't thanking the good Lord for the Champs Sports Bowl which will be attended by maybe 25,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando? By getting invited to that bowl game, he doesn't have to fire Tommy Bowden who has proven mediocre seasons are a way of life at Clemson.

Coaches who support the bowl system over a playoff do so because it saves them from getting canned even when they barely break even. Bobby Bowden supports the bowl system, but there's a good reason for that. If not for the bowls, Tommy Boy might be battling it out with Jeffy to see who gets to call the plays at FSU. It should also be mentioned that if you make a bowl you get an extra 15 practices which is the same number of practices you get during spring practice

If you buy into the bit about the season being too long and hindering the academic progress, then please direct your attention to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The teams that make the Final Four travel more, play more games and miss far more school than a football team. The difference is that the NCAA Tournament has this gigantic contract with CBS that pays every single Division I team every year. What the NCAA makes from the basketball tournament every year dwarfs what the bowls are paying out. Let someone come up with a viable, workable plan that brings in more dollars than the bowls pay and watch how quickly these ridiculous arguments about making the football season too long come to an end.

The hypocrisy of the season's too long argument is further exposed by the fact the NCAA presidents approved a 12-game regular season that begins next year. Okay, 12 regular season games and if you make the conference championship game or you travel to Hawaii, that's 13. Throw in a bowl and it's 14. The teams that play for the Division I-AA and Division III championships will play 15 games while the teams playing for the Division II championship will play 14.

If the players in the lower divisions were missing all that much class and their academic progress was being impeded by these playoffs, you can bet the ranch that these school presidents would be calling for an end to the playoffs rather than an expansion of them so more teams can participate.

Reality is that a playoff is not going to happen until someone ponies up the bucks so until then we are forced to live with the BCS. This year that means we accept that Southern Cal and Texas are the two best teams, but really … are they?

Southern Cal just about lost to the same Fresno State team that got hosed by mighty Louisiana Tech and lest we forget, there was that miracle win over a Notre Dame team that has a loss to sub-.500 Michigan State and wins over a bunch of gimps on its resume. Texas played in a Big 12 Conference that as a whole is barely better than Conference USA or the Wacky WAC. The legitimacy of Texas as one of the two best teams in the country is based on an early season come from behind win over an Ohio State team that finished second in the Big Ten.

Could either Southern Cal or Texas beat Auburn, the hottest team in the Southeastern Conference, top to bottom the best league in the country? Could they beat Penn State, which went 10-1 in the Big Ten, arguably the second best league in the country? We will never know that answer because Auburn lost a couple of games and Penn State lost one. Southern Cal and Texas on the other hand, went unbeaten. It doesn't matter that any team in the SEC or the Big Ten would have killed to play a Pac-10 or Big 12 schedule.

So on January 4, we'll have a champion because that's the way the system works. Just remember, though, the word champion doesn't necessarily mean the best team. Until we have a system that allows the top teams to play it off, we'll never know for sure who really is the best.

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