There are some people (and God help anybody married to one of them) who love arguing simply for its own sake. Unfortunately, those combative souls appear to be in charge of — and enabling — the Bowl Championship Series.
Every year around this time, hand-wringing begins about the latest wrinkles in BCS Madness, which requires not only understanding advanced math but also inordinate patience for TV analysts and sports-talk hosts, whose blather puts the BS in the BCS. No other major sport leaves selecting its champion to so impenetrable a formula of computer programs and poll voters’ whims.
In sportswriter/commentator circles, having two upstarts from smaller conferences invade the BCS — Texas Christian University and Boise State, the latter of the headache-inducing blue field — will trigger renewed calls for a shakeup. No way, BCS officials say, insisting the system is fine, reiterating they won’t do anything that risks undermining the “bowl experience,” allowing college athletes to spend several days visiting an American city before playing a football game that prominently features sponsors wearing ugly if colorful jackets.
Years ago, in my naivete, I thought the TV networks eventually would intervene and compel change. After all, they pay millions to the National Collegiate Athletic Association for the rights to cover college football, and it’s a no-brainer that some sort of modified playoff — even if it’s just a “bowls plus-one” scenario — would boost ratings and end much of the tiresome second-guessing.
But now, with ESPN poised to serve as the platform for the major bowl games, I realize a messed-up BCS — in most respects, anyway — plays to cable TV’s strengths, which is a few hours of actual game action, surrounded by untold hours of former players, coaches and sports hacks sitting around debating it.
This hasn’t stopped arguments about “fixing” the BCS. At Sports Illustrated, for example, Stewart Mandel has reissued his call for the “bowls plus-one” format, which is less disruptive than a full-fledged playoff but at least gives two teams with legitimate claims to No. 1 the chance to settle matters on the field. This would maintain the precious bowl system and extend the season by one week — for just two teams — while creating a Super Bowl-style championship game sure to draw huge ratings.
To me, this makes considerable sense — probably too much, alas, to win the endorsement of university presidents, who are otherwise occupied ensuring that players don’t accept free T-shirts.
That leaves the highly imperfect BCS, where the weekly discussions can become downright comical. Indeed, on ESPN’s “BCS Countdown” show Sunday, no fewer than seven analysts dissected the just-issued standings, poring over thousandths of a decimal point.
Not only do announcers wind up debating style — as in “Did TCU win big enough?” — but they also obsess over things like Notre Dame’s drubbing of Utah, wondering how much that devalued TCU’s win against the Utes.
“The style points matter,” analyst Craig James said, suggesting the gang could contemplate later whether that ought to be the way things operate (they didn’t), then added, “It is what it is.” Thanks for that brilliant bit of insight.
The night before on “College Football Final,” ESPN’s Lou Holtz fretted that TCU’s victory margin against San Diego State was insufficient. “Hey, wait, we better rethink this, because they have not beaten a real marquee team,” he protested.
When fellow analyst Mark May noted that worrying about point spreads was precisely the opposite of what the former coach said a week earlier, Holtz just laughed. Hey, that was then, this is now. We got TV to make here, partner.
Frankly, it might be as simple as this: Can a team whose mascot is the Horned Frogs occupy college football’s grandest showcase? But that doesn’t have quite the same authority as evaluating a .8966 BCS score.
Eventually, the hypothetical to-and-fro approaches levels of silliness normally reliant on the influence of multiple beers, but the networks seem resigned, perhaps even happy, to play along. It’s like breaking down whether boxer Manny Pacquiao could beat Sugar Ray Leonard in his prime. You can shout ‘til the cows come home, and as a bonus, you never have to worry about actually being proven wrong.