The Birth of the BCS - And The Aftermath

January 4, 1999. Tempe, Arizona. Those who filed into Sun Devil Stadium that night witnessed something no one had ever seen before – a winner-take-all matchup to determine the true champion of Division I-A football.

Well, sort of.

OK, not really.

On that fateful night, Tennessee downed Florida State, 23-16, in the Fiesta Bowl to cap the first Bowl Championship Series, and they took the crystal ball back to Knoxville as the consensus No. 1 team in all of college football. Thus began the BCS era. Nearly 10 years later, the birth of this system – the afterbirth of which has been complaints and cries of the need for change since Day 1 – is a day some point to as progress. Many, however, would prefer that day had never occurred.

More than half a century prior to the Volunteers' win over the Seminoles, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared, "Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Some argue that the BCS Championship Game is the best developed way that has been found to establish a champion – most would undoubtedly suggest a playoff format of some sort holds that distinction – and proponents of the BCS would point to the days prior to the 1998 season when there was no guarantee that the nation's consensus No. 1 and No. 2 teams would meet on the field. The Sugar Bowl had its tie-ins, and so did the Fiesta and Orange bowls. As for the Rose Bowl, it was Pac-10 and Big Ten and nothing else.

Before the BCS Championship Game, the second biggest complaint outside of not having the top two teams in the nation likely able to play for the national championship was that the polls were deciding who the champions were. In essence, the decision was left up to the popular vote of pollsters. There was too much human influence. That was all changed with the advent of the BCS, supposedly.

It wasn't very long before the perceived "problems" with the BCS began to rear their ugly heads.

Early on, the margin of victory against teams in the regular season was eliminated from the BCS formula. In the game to decide the 2001 champions, Nebraska, a team that was blown out by Colorado to the tune of 62-36 in its final game of the regular season and didn't even play for its conference championship, was whitewashed by Miami-Florida in the Rose Bowl.

The Cornhuskers' 11-1 mark had still been good enough as far as the computers were concerned, despite their No. 4 human ranking, to play for the title. It upset most fans, the majority of the pollsters, and no doubt the Rose Bowl Committee as well. Instead of Pac-10 vs. Big Ten, the Granddaddy of them all was force-fed the Big East vs. the Big 12.

Adding even more fuel to the fire, Pac-10 champion Oregon, ranked No. 2 by the humans, was the team left out in the cold. They beat Big 12 champion Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl that year, 38-16.

After decades of outcry that humans alone should not be determining who the national champion should be, the rebellion against the machines deciding with the humans' help who should play for the national championship began. The system only worked, it was declared, if the two teams playing for it all were the nation's only undefeated teams left standing.

And so began the pollsters' desire to see the system fail.

In print, over the airwaves, and online, the hopes to see a group of one-loss teams or an undefeated perennial power denied entry into the title game were broadcast. That didn't happen immediately. The next step was worse – denying the will of the pollsters again. This time, their No. 1-ranked team was the odd man out.

Oklahoma, all season touted as the "greatest team ever" by the pollsters, was basically strung up after being embarrassed in the Big 12 Championship Game by Kansas State in 2003. That elevated Southern California to No. 1 in the humans' minds. The computers said otherwise, however, and gave Oklahoma a title shot against No. 2 LSU. In addition to offering its own national champion, the Associated Press pulled its poll from the BCS formula afterwards.

Now the humans have two-thirds of the say once again, and the world of college football on the top level is basically back to where it was before 1998.

Almost …

The computers still carry some weight, but it hasn't stopped teams from crying when they are jumped in the polls. Pollsters and media types complain when certain teams aren't allowed to play in the BCS despite a higher ranking, and for the first time in its history, a two-loss team will vie for the national championship in the BCS system.

Talks that a plus-one format, whereby two teams would play after the bowls to decide who the champion should be, is in the works. Already that is being chided as something that won't work and that a playoff is needed.

Eight teams, 16 teams, whatever.

Let the whining from teams No. 9 and 10 or 17 and 18 begin when the playoff contenders are decided by the computers … or the pollsters.


Tiger Blitz Top Stories