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The BCS Conversation Part I- History

Bash the BCS. Why not? Everyone else is doing it. There are a couple of fans out there driving an RV across the country to campaign against it. They even have a website documenting their adventures if you want to follow along. Congress recently jumped into the mix and took time out of a schedule filled with minor issues like a war that is being fought on two fronts and the economic crisis to address the issue. The President of the United States has even publicly stated that he wants to see a playoff. Of note our Commander in Chief is a basketball fan from Hawaii. That may not be a qualifier for having the best perspective on the matter. No disrespect to The President intended, I’m just saying he’s probably on the short end of the experience meter when it comes to tailgates and 12 hour Saturdays in front of the TV. To hear all the fuss being made about the BCS one would think that we used to have some perfect system in place to determine the national champion then the evil entity better known as the BCS showed up in one of those giant space ships from Independence Day, blew up the White House and took over the bowl games in a fashion that has since permanently ruined the lives of every college football fan in the country! Did it go down like that? Did I miss something? I realize this is a multifaceted issue so over the next few days I’ll try to peel back the onion a little bit as I throw my two cents into the ongoing BCS conversation.

For starters take a look back at history. How did we get here anyway? When the Tournament of Roses Association put together the "Tournament East-West Football Game" between Michigan and Stanford in 1902 the intent was not to declare a National Championship. That was already being done in some form or fashion and had been since 1869. The intent was to put on an "Exhibition Game" that would spark tourism and ultimately make money. Sound familiar? Believe it or not the lopsided game, which Michigan won 49-0, was so boring that the Tournament of Roses Association put on chariot races, ostrich races and other inane BS for the next fifteen years before again re-visiting the idea of the East-West Football Game. In 1916 play resumed and in 1923 the game was played in the newly finished Rose Bowl stadium and aptly re-named the Rose Bowl game.

By 1940 the Cotton, Orange and Sugar Bowls had followed suit and were annually staging exhibition games of their own. In 1950 there were eight games and that number held constant for 20 years. So why were these exhibition games growing in number? They were making money that’s why. These games had nothing to do with determining the "Mythical National Championship". In fact it wasn’t until the mid sixties that some of the various polls that determined the National Championship even considered waiting to cast their final votes AFTER the bowl games. Mind you we were almost 100 years in at that point. In 1970 the number of bowl games increased to 11. In 1980 there were 15, in 1990 there were 19 and by the year 2000 the number had jumped to 25. We currently sit at a whopping 34. Too many? I’ll come back to that in Part III.

In 1992 the Bowl Coalition was formed and was really the first recognized effort to put together a true #1 versus #2 National Championship Game. This was following the 1990 and 1991 seasons that had resulted in two more split national championships. Split meaning the various polls that determined national champion reached no unanimous consensus. Just take a look at the Wikipedia page featuring all of college football’s national champions. There are very few years with just one team listed. Hence this "BCS Mess" is not exactly a new issue. That's why Notre Dame and Alabama fans still argue about who has the most national titles. It depends on which polls you count and which polls you don't. But the Bowl Coalition was a real step in the right direction. It made an honest effort to set up the elusive #1 versus #2 title game, but the "Granddaddy of Them All" was holding out and summarily continued to throw a wrench into the works. In 1994 an undefeated Nebraska squad defeated a one loss Miami team in the Orange Bowl while undefeated Penn State defeated a two loss Oregon squad (still in old school Donald Duck helmets) in the Rose Bowl. Nebraska won the AP and UPI National Title having never faced Penn State. Despite its best efforts the Bowl Coalition was still unsuccessful due to the Rose Bowl hold out.

In 1995 the Bowl Coalition became the Bowl Alliance but nothing changed. 1997 saw a repeat of 1994 again involving Nebraska. An undefeated Husker squad blew out a one loss Tennessee team in the Orange Bowl while an undefeated Michigan squad beat Washington State in a Rose Bowl game that had a highly controversial finish. Washington State Quarterback Ryan Leaf spiked the ball deep in Michigan territory with a few seconds left but the clock did not stop and the Wolverines stormed the field claiming victory. A confused/ scared officiating crew let it go and ran off the field giving Michigan the win. I’m still convinced that crazy bastard Leaf was about to get six for the Coogs. Regardless the end result was the same. Another split national championship.

In the aftermath the Rose Bowl finally got on board for the big win and in 1998 that evil entity we call the Bowl Championship Series was born. College Football finally had a guarantee that #1 would face #2 to determine the National Championship. Now the means by which those rankings are determined constitute a whole different can of worms and probably rates an entirely separate discussion. But the bottom line is this. The #1 and #2 teams in the BCS standings would play for the title. That alone makes it hands down better than anything that preceded it. There I said it. We can all jump up and down and talk about how screwed up it is, but for all its flaws the BCS has given college football fans a better chance at declaring a legitimate national champion than any other system that preceded it. It somehow found a way to turn all these exhibition games staged for profit into a pseudo viable means to arrange that elusive #1 versus #2 contest and hand over that shiny crystal football Pepsi/McDonalds/Sears/Circuit City/ADT/American Football Coaches Association trophy coveted by programs and legions of fans across the country. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. Is there such a thing? Before we go down the road of change for the sake of change wrapped up in a "fairness" argument we should probably take a closer look at who the squeaky wheels are and what the end result might actually look like for all the "fans" that are supposedly getting screwed. I’ll start there in Part II.