Magazine article Insight on the News

BCS Bowls ... or Bust

Magazine article Insight on the News

BCS Bowls ... or Bust

Article excerpt

College football is the only major team sport that does not decide its champion with a playoff, and many fans are unsatisfied by the current system that tries to pair the two top teams.

It's that time of the year when college-football fans begin asking, "What if?." -- as in, what if they had a playoff to determine a true national champion?

Several teams are stepping forward as genuine contenders this year, yet only two will meet in Miami's Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, 2001, in what the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) insists on calling its national-championship game. But while it's fun to debate the pros and cons of a playoff system, don't expect one in the near future.

"History says the likelihood is that we would get a consensus No. 1 and No. 2 every year" says SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, who recently stepped down as BCS chairman. That's not always the case, however. Three times in the 1990s, all before the BCS began, the two major polls had different teams ranked No. 1.

Kramer, as one of BCS' major architects, remains among its staunchest defenders, which also means he is vehemently antiplayoff. "The purpose of the BCS has been to enhance the interest in the regular season, and I think we've done that" he says. "It's heightened the significance of regular-season games, and that's the backbone of college football. We've got to protect the integrity of the regular season.... And we've got to find a way to maintain the bowl structure, which is so important to college football."

The bowls are central to keeping the playoff wolves at bay. Not only are there a lot of them -- 26 at last count -- they generate a lot of money. Their directors and supporters form an unofficial but powerful lobby pushing the notion (hard to argue against) that so many bowl games produce so many winners. Bowl games are an incentive and a reward to players and fans alike.

At any rate, the BCS has a lock on college football for the next five years, holding a contract with the ABC television network that runs though January 2006. And there seems to be no strong, organized movement in favor of a playoff system. Citing the increased academic burden of a playoff, most of the presidents of the 114 institutions that play Division I-A football oppose the idea. So do many college coaches, even those who would seem to benefit from a playoff. "I was raised on this," says Florida State's Bobby Bowden, referring to the current system of polls and bowls. "All my life it's been a vote or a selection. That's what I'm used to."

Now in its third season, the BCS seeks to produce a national champion by employing a ranking system which synthesizes several criteria -- team records and strength of schedule, plus media, coaches and computer polls. Winners of the NCAA's major conferences (the Big East, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern and Pacific 10 conferences) along with two additional teams are invited to compete in four postseason games (the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls), with the two highest-ranked teams pitted against each ether in the national-championship game.

"This is the best system we've had" says Dave Hart, Florida State athletic director and Bowden's boss, of the BCS. "But we put too much pressure on the student-athletes and the coaches to be undefeated." In fact, Hart is pro-playoff. "You're telling coaches and members of a team that unless you go undefeated, your odds of winning a national championship go way down," he says. "We've got to continue to find a way to give more teams more of an opportunity."

Other coaches agree. Ohio State's John Cooper likes the idea of a one-game playoff after the bowls are completed. "I don't know why in the world you don't have a playoff" Cooper says. "The bowls are great, but I think we can have both. Have the BCS bowls, and then play one more game. Every year there's controversy over which team is best."

But there isn't always controversy. …

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