The largest of ironies in a situation with a boxcar full of them, is the more visible California became and the more invisible Texas became, the more fluid the rankings became. When each team was playing the same weekend, however either may have performed, the separation between them remained fairly constant.
As the season's final games were played over the course of three weekends, the Bears make-up game at Southern Mississippi took a larger stage in the comparative vacuum. By that circumstance alone was Pandora's box able to be opened. Any selection system exhibiting a fault of such magnitude – that a make-up game would be measured differently than it would had it been played when originally scheduled - is surely a candidate for repudiation. The nice thing about rocket science is if it doesn't work right, the rocket blows-up pretty quickly and you go back and build a new one. This BCS contraption unfortunately doesn't work quite that way – even though these guys pretend to be rocket scientists.
Over that three-week period the coaches and writers saw Cal play once and Texas play not at all. Yet, on that inherently unbalanced comparison there was no resistance to a reassignment of the comparative values used to position the two teams in the polls? How is that possible?
Is there anything else we need to know about human behavior than that simple irrationality? It explains a lot of things about us as a species… unfortunately for Cal and for fans of the game beyond being supporters of their team, it doesn't explain why the Longhorns are in the Rose Bowl.
What it does explain is the reason the Longhorns are in the Rose Bowl is by way of a system we knew from the start was bankrupt and dysfunctional. We didn't realize – though we should have – how quickly it would be corrupted.
In openly campaigning for poll votes, particularly those coaches within his conference, Texas head Mack Brown prostituted a dysfunctional process and manipulated it to serve his selfish interests. Not a surprising thing for a human being to do, given the general state of the intellectual capital and moral character we exhibit in our goings on these days. What is surprising is we permitted a system to be constructed that would allow the basest of human nature to hold sway over something that was so proudly and profoundly championed as neutral.
It is such a brilliant disguise – to steal a phrase from Bruce Springsteen. The human polls were positioned to be 2/3's of the decision apparatus. Though both those polls had Cal ranked ahead of Texas, the remaining one third - the computer programs - held the trump vote. Everyone was told and everyone believed this could not happen this way, not again.
Except for Mack Brown. The keystone he plucked to pull the down the facade is the fallacy of a BCS decision making apparatus that allows a bias to exist of one conference over another, the only instance of such discrimination in all of the NCAA sports. You may correctly point out that all other sports have a play-off, but you would also be irrelevant.
Any decision making process has to start at a common denominator, and at its core a structured play-off system accepts that each of the teams/conferences start their season on an equal footing. Not so with the BCS, from day one it has rewarded the traditional conferences more handsomely. There is an element of underlying logic; those conferences do contain the largest programs and historically stronger teams. If it stopped there, perhaps there would be no issue, but the selection sequence does not place the member programs within each conference on equal footing either, a critical mistake in the logic flow of the calculation.
This bias subconsciously infects the writer's poll, particularly as the season reaches it's final stages and is evidenced by a repudiation of existing data and instead constructing something ad hoc. Within the BCS computer component, this bias is injected at the very first strength of schedule calculation.
The latter aspect is the true cancer. In earlier eras, traditional powers within each conference could be readily identified and as those teams would meet head to head in inter-conference games and in the bowl games, a rough sense of comparative conference strength would emerge. In the today of 85-scholarship limits, those perceptions are no longer true, though they yet creep into the calculations that take place between the ears of the pundits and between the lines of code the programmers use to measure that strength of schedule. Once you assign a higher value to "A" for beating "B" than you do to "C" for defeating "D" – whether by subconscious assumption or within a computer program sub-routine, you create an imbalance.
Certainly aspects of that legacy remain, again with some merit. Michigan, Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma, USC, etc. all possess a greater profile based on that past glory. By the very fact those programs don't enjoy the domination within their conference they did in those bygone days is all the evidence one needs to understand the fluid nature of comparative strengths within each conference. Any equation that isn't able to capture that dynamic is doomed to fail, and worse, is open to manipulation.
When that imbalance is further fueled by late process volatility where inexplicable changes are made to the comparative values - as happened with Cal/Texas - the system collapses to become a self-demeaning mechanism.
Right before our very eyes, four times in seven years the selection process has faltered to the point of ridicule (let me ask you, with the odds of success less than 50%, would you get in a rocket built by these guys?). In spite of that body of evidence, no one caught on that one individual with a monkey wrench applied at just the right juncture, any remaining credibility of the BCS charade would be annihilated. No one, that is, except Texas coach Mack Brown.
Knowing the Cal/Southern Mississippi contest would be closely watched, and knowing that many voters would probably be seeing California play a full game for the first or perhaps second time this season and although he no longer had to offer his own team's performance for scrutiny, Mack Brown questioned California's position as the likely recipient of the Rose Bowl bid and openly solicitating the votes of those who could change the calculation that ranked the Bears more favorably.
Once that discussion, whether merited or not, was taking place – it was clearly predictable that human nature would allow someone to watch a 26-16 win on the road and think "Hell, Cal wasn't that good after all" – a determination they would recognize in some one else as being completely out of context, but chose not to recognize in themselves as they filled out their ballot. Just another one of those "reality doesn't match the build-up" paradoxes that occasionally camouflages the true picture of sport. Mack Brown played the chumps with maestro strokes… and I am really pleased that the game I enjoy has been prostituted both by the fool and the foolish.
Opinion is unanimous that California coach Jeff Tedford did the honorable thing by taking a knee at the end of the game instead of adding an addition touchdown to the final margin. It is telling that he did so even after being deprived of a touchdown by a horrible call.
"I really feel sorry for Cal. The system doesn't work, we understand that" How can any consider this statement from Brown to be sincere? What he understood fully is what his actions would precipitate – that is WHY he did what he did, it is pretty simple cause and effect stuff. Then we allow him to deflect any responsibility toward the injustice from himself to the "system" by telling us it doesn't work? If he understands it doesn't work, yet still manipulates the process precisely because it DOESN'T work, isn't that an abominable sin against the spirit of the sport and the honor amongst peers?
Just as I find his statement that because it was a time of year when more coaches would be paying closer attention to their votes in the polls that "everybody tried to do the right thing", and he "thought it was so honorable to take a knee last night." If Coach Brown had been acquainted with honor enough to recognize it in Cal's actions, he wouldn't have been capable of the dishonor exhibited by the tilt put to the pinball table just as the "extra ball" bumper was about to be lit.
As a matter of fact, he was simply the last person in a flawed process that was willing to choose NOT to do the right thing. To invoke crocodile tears and spin in an attempt to hide a flawed sense of fairness is nothing more than a callous self-indictment of shallowness and an insult to the intelligence of those who are able to see those actions for what they are.
A more charitable soul than I perhaps would allow that throwing the monkey wrench was an intentional act of mercy, putting the system out of order forever, though given Brown's game day acumen, I put such realization to be beyond his capacity.
I submit the true character of Mack Brown would be visible for all to see if he found himself in the same situation as Tedford and the Bears. By his lack of professional courtesy in publicly asking for votes, I am pretty certain I know how Brown would have responded. I am also pretty certain one day he will face that choice. I only hope it is an as publicly witnessed snapshot as was this.
Both teams held the same record, both had wonderful seasons and both deserve a high profile game for their bowl reward. One should note however, at no point during the season, not once, did Cal find themselves nearly beaten by the likes of Kansas. That alone separates the two in a meaningful enough a way to illuminate the lie that has been sold to the bowls, the networks, the fans, and most of all the players.
Don't get me wrong, I don't fault the local writers, three of them, who restructured their ballot to better enhance the position of Texas; they cover the team and it is impossible to not want for them to do well.
Nor do I fault the coaches, for the same fraternal reasons, though we will never know to what extent they altered their ballots to elevate the Longhorns - another cancer to the process that will have to await a separate discussion.
What I do fault is a system that permits those human frailties to become a determining factor. I fault the perpetrators of the system for the shoddy contraption they felt worthy. And mostly I fault those in a position to make a choice, choosing such a mockery of justice and logic.
Evidence hasn't been lacking, had we taken the effort to question more intently. Looking beyond the national championship pairings, the BCS system has shown critical failings in addressing other issues of fairness, as seen in 2003 when Iowa was selected to Orange Bowl instead of playing Washington State in the Rose Bowl, and again this season in the failure to pair Auburn and Utah, two other unbeaten teams, in any of the four headline bowls.
There is a voice that could initiate change to this system, someone who earlier in his career stood up and fought for a more just resolution to a vexing legal quagmire. University of Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer is a member of the BCS committee and I for one would welcome his sense of right and wrong to the debate.
Many, many years ago, while campaigning for public office Mr. Frohnmayer knocked on my front door and asked for my support as a voter. In that era, he was probably the only politician whom I would have welcomed at my doorstep, and I respected the vigor he brought to fight for the integrity of Oregon's political process – parenthetically, Mr. Frohnmayer is necessarily equally the politician today as he was on that day – and he still would be one of the very few to be welcomed at my doorstep.
California's Jeff Tedford did the right thing, the honorable thing when given his opportunity. The time is perfect for Mr. Frohnmayer to do the same. The BCS is long overdue in invoking that magnitude of credibility. But instead, the BCS is content to knock on my figurative doorstep with the digestive residues of a system they have constructed for the benefit of the fewest number possible and have no moral compunction about doing so for as long as we let them.
Lacking an immediate and a far more widely shared vision of how to bring each football season to an end, Mr. Frohnmayer should to initiate proceedings to facilitate a secession from the BCS by the Pac-10 conference. It is assumed that if accomplished, the Big-10 would chose to remain in the traditional partnership it has enjoyed with the Pac-10, both in looking to each other for non-conference scheduling, and certainly in the annual Rose Bowl celebration of that relationship.
Far and way the most prestigious of the New Year's Bowls, the Rose routinely provides better-played games and is a comfortable element of the New Year's Day tradition. That is enough in currency to withstand any shock waves a departure from the BCS would engender.
By taking that action perhaps a true resolution can be forced. It appears the only viable option is the "five plus one" model – the university presidents are not going to publicly repudiate their historic opposition to a bracketed playoff.
Set the clock back 10 years and go back to traditional conference tie-ups for New Year's Day. Perhaps a pecking order can be predetermined to make certain when there are more than two undefeated teams, pairings are adjusted in such a way to keep the bowl tie-ins as intact as possible, while pitting lower ranked undefeated teams against each other in one of the New Year's Day bowls. After the New Years Day games are completed, the two highest ranked winners play for a trophy.
Yes, it is remotely possible that even after the plus one game, two teams could remain undefeated, one of which would have one less opportunity to be defeated (five undefeated teams would be needed for that possibility to exist). Were that to happen, account for the situation with a co-national champion and be thankful for the outstanding teams and the classic games that would had to have conspired beautifully in order to reach such an eventuality.
Two of those crystal footballs in two different trophy cases is less a threat to the credibility of the game than are further repetitions of the BCS process and continually finding the need to confront some new, unforeseen Frankenstein. Storming the castle with only our shaken fists hasn't been enough; it's time to bring the torches.
The bowls wouldn't lose their business model, the teams' followers get a shot at tickets for the pageantry of the traditional bowl destination (all national championship game tickets will go to corporate sponsors, and NCAA types anyway), and we avoid the detritus the present system gives us. In accepting the vagaries of a college football season and by maintaining the "every game counts" predicate to each of those seasons, this is the only option that treat's both with the appropriate dignity.