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Tweak This

I decided to try something a little different this time with my column. I’m going to try to write a legitimate column about a legitimate subject.

Look, I know that’s not what anyone wants to hear. You can get an opinion in traditional column form just about anywhere. You don’t read my columns for that. You read my columns because they are formless, atypical creations that blur the line between humor and insight. You read my columns because they touch on subjects that popular columnists never dare to explore. But most importantly, you read my columns because (in all likelihood) you know me, and you feel like you’re doing me a favor by reading them.

And I’m banking on the fact that you’ll read this column for that same reason.

But let’s face it, unless Page 2 calls me up anytime soon, I’ll have to write “ordinary” columns to get published anywhere meaningful. So for this column, I’m going to try to write the sort of article that a newspaper could actually print, and I’m going to write it on a pertinent subject that people give a crap about. That’s not to say this will get printed, or that I’ll even try to have it published, but… maybe.

So consider the last 209 words a prologue to today’s actual column. Here goes:

Should there be playoffs in Division 1-A college football? Yes. Absolutely.

But there aren’t, and we’re not getting them in the immediate future. What we have is the BCS – which is far from perfect. And everyone knows it’s not perfect, because every analyst, columnist, and former unsuccessful Notre Dame coach (*cough* Bob Davie *cough*) whips out their soapbox every week and whines about it.

I’m guilty of this BCS-bashing myself. I wrote a column in the 2001 Dorian Scroll suggesting a playoff system, which we all realize is the way it should be. That’s not hard to figure out. My plan in short: Rank the top 8 teams using the BCS formula, put them in a three round playoff, and determine the champion that way. Keep the rest of the bowls, because they didn’t matter in the first place. Simple and effective. I doubt I’d get too many arguments that this system would be better than what we have now.

But… for whatever reason, the powers that be aren’t exactly on the verge of implementing this system. And we all know playoffs would be better, so there simply isn’t a need for everyone with a microphone to bring the playoffs idea up like they invented the internet or something.

But that’s not my real gripe. At least those people have the right idea. What I have a problem with is the 1,800 different solutions to the BCS “problem” that everyone has. Every week, we get the analyst-du jour’s new way that we can “tweak” the system to make sure that “this year doesn’t happen again.” Trev Alberts, when he’s not ranting about Bill Callahan or glaring menacingly at Mark May, takes it a step farther, inserting the word “proactive” into his solution, and thus making it sound more intelligent.

What people forget is that the BCS formula was created to pick two teams to play in the national championship game as fairly as possible. It was supposed to REPLACE the poll system that was in place. Which means that – gasp – the BCS standings might not exactly replicate the polls.

So why is it that every time there’s a discrepancy between the polls and the BCS standings, people start quoting Revelation and boarding up their houses for the apocalypse? The system was created so that the polls WOULD NOT BE the sole factor in determining the top two teams, but yet whenever the standings don’t match up with the polls, everyone assumes that the BCS must be incorrect. Most of these analysts don’t realize that these are the exact circumstances for which the BCS was established – the times when the polls (which are undoubtedly skewed toward teams who began the season ranked highly) may not choose the correct two teams to play in a national championship.

Before I go any farther, let me take this paragraph to clarify something. The BCS, as a whole, does suck. When a team like Pittsburgh, who rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Furman earlier this year, will likely play in one of the nation’s top four bowls, we have a problem. A serious one. But all I’m concerned about is the BCS formula that picks two teams to play in the national championship. That needs to be clear.

So instead of simply letting the system do its job, people like Bob Davie offer up solution after solution to keep the sky from falling. His most recent plan is to scrap the BCS this year, and instead let all 117 Division 1-A coaches choose between Auburn and Oklahoma for the right to play USC. Ignoring the fact that this plan blatantly assumes that every coach thinks USC is the top team in the country, this plan is just another reactionary strategy to bring the BCS closer and closer to the old system.

Why do we need to come up with a new plan every year? If we should let the coaches decide the top two teams this year, why not do it every season? Why didn’t you suggest that in 1998 when the BCS formed, Bob?

Regardless of the fact that I think the BCS formula is less biased and more accurate than a single poll of one group of people, Davie is off-base. Plans like this, ones that “tweak” the system year by year, aren’t going to accomplish anything because they change the criteria year after year. And these plans are almost always geared to pick the two teams that the polls would have selected in the first place.

So as I see it, as long as there is no playoff system, there are only two ways to set up a national championship game: use polls or use the BCS. No tweaking. No “proactive solutions.” It’s time for the college football community to make a decision, and stick with it.

You know where I stand. In this election, I’m voting BCS.

At least until Playoffs gets on the ballot.

Anders Larson Archive