The BCS System in College Football is Maybe Kinda Sort-Of Okay
Today, college football bowl games begin. Let me celebrate with a statement with which almost no one will agree: The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a pretty good system.
The system uses polls and computer models to determine the best two teams in the nation. Those two teams play in the National Championship game, which this year will take place on January 9.
The system has few fans. Two congressmen, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) have formed the Congressional Collegiate Sports Caucus. One of its main purposes is to force collegiate football to switch to a playoff system. In 2009, Barton introduced a bill in the U.S. House to do just that.
“Everybody is just tired of the BCS system,” said Chris Petersen, the coach of the Boise State Broncos. Petersen is one of the hottest coaches in college football. His Broncos are currently ranked eighth in the Associated Press poll. UCLA recently offered him $4 million dollars a year to coach the Bruins. He turned down the offer.
In July 2009, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.) asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the BCS is violating anti-trust laws. Sports Illustrated described the Justice Department’s response:
If the letter Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) received Friday from the Justice Department is any indication, get ready to watch the worst fears of the BCS overlords come true. Then get ready for some form of a college football playoff -- because that's where this is headed. When the dust settles, power conference commissioners either will compromise to preserve their partnership with their bowl cronies, or the BCS will cease to exist.
According to the letter, the Justice Department (the rock) may launch an investigation to determine whether the BCS violates antitrust laws. Meanwhile the Obama administration (the hard place) is willing to explore several options, including encouraging the NCAA -- which runs 16-team playoffs in three other football divisions -- to take over the postseason, asking the Federal Trade Commission to examine the BCS and pushing legislation that could "target universities' tax-exempt status if a playoff system is not implemented."
But at least this year, the BCS has performed brilliantly in choosing the top two teams for the championship game. Those teams are Lousiana State and Alabama. LSU, no one will dispute, performed better than any other team in the country. It was the only major-college team to have an undefeated season, which included wins over Alabama and Arkansas, respectively ranked number 2 and 7 by the Associated Press poll.
Perhaps controversial to some is the second choice, Alabama. However, it lost only one game; it played a very tough schedule; and its only loss was to LSU. Indeed, in the latter game it actually tied LSU but then lost the tie-breaker by three points. According to some betting markets, Alabama is favored to defeat LSU in the national championship game.
Clearly, the BCS performed well this year. Perhaps the BCS is similar to the way Churchill described democracy—the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.