Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Understand the BCS before you accuse it of fraud


A lot of people just don’t get it.

Let the record show that I favor replacing or reforming the Bowl Championship Series with a some form of playoff. My current preference is the “Plus One” model originally floated by the SEC and ACC four years ago and apparently gaining favor among conferences originally opposed to it. Both the Big 12 and the Pac-12 Commissioners have warmed to the idea and only the Big East and Big 10 likely stand in the way.

Let the record also show that I shook my head in disbelief and disgust when the BCS Bowl pairings were announced on December 4 and I learned that Michigan would meet Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl instead of Boise State vs. Kansas State. Or Boise State vs. Michigan. Or any other pairing of BCS qualifiers other than the one that played out last night in New Orleans.

Let the record finally show that I watched almost every snap of last night’s game because I love college football. If there’s a big game on, I’m tuned in regardless of whether I think someone else should be playing in it.

That said…

The college football postseason is broken and it needs fixing. But let’s at least understand the system and what’s wrong with it before we throw everything on the trash heap and start anew.

In an almost reasonable rant against the BCS, The Washington Post’s Matt Brooks and Cindy Boren didn’t understand that Arkansas was ineligible for a BCS Bowl before a commenter corrected them.

The Oklahoman’s Barry Tramel says the Sugar Bowl matchup is what’s wrong with the BCS.

Reid Forgrave of FOX Sports says that the “BCS proves faulty with fraudulent Sugar Bowl.” But Forgrave doubles down on Brooks and Boren—he says both Arkansas and South Carolina were snubbed by the evil BCS.

I could probably hook you up with about 254,391 other links to from mainstream media folks caught up their anti-BCS anarchy and castigating the selection of these two programs.

News flash for Brooks, Boren, Tramel, Forgrave et al: The BCS didn’t put Michigan and Virginia Tech in last night’s snoozer. The Sugar Bowl selection committee did that.Filling non-championship bowls with quality matchups based on two programs’ bodies of work over the season ain’t the BCS’ cross to bear. The bowls fill their slots all by themselves.

The BCS—brainchild of former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer—was formed by a collection of bowl executives and conferences to ensure a matchup between the two top-ranked teams in the country and determine a national champion at the end of the college football season.

So the BCS braintrust has devised a method of delivering at least partial satisfaction of the market’s demand for a championship game by developing an arcane system of human and computer rankings to identify the No. 1 and No. 2 teams and match them against each other for the BCS Championship. It’s crazy. It makes no sense sometimes. It gets things wrong from time to time. But it’s all about paring No. 1 against No. 2.

And the BCS is not the problem.

The BCS is the most glaring symptom of a much larger problem, with its root cause in the decades-old refusal of Division I college administrators to even consider a playoff model. The market demands a legitimate college football champion determined on the field of play. But the presidents are comfortable in the tradition of bowls and revenue streams delivered through conference tie-ins and revenue sharing. They want no part of a multi-round, seeded tournament organized and run by the NCAA and continue to show absolutely no interest in reconsidering their collective position.

Make no mistake about it—as flawed as the BCS is, it is a sea change improvement over the system that existed twenty years ago. Markets have a way of satisfying demand, even in an environment purposefully set up to make it difficult to do so.

Each of the bowls not hosting the BCS Championship Game is free to select any two of the remaining  eligible teams (determined by the same arcane methods). There are no other criteria set by the BCS in who the bowls select for their games.

The Sugar Bowl—using an arguably misguided belief that Virginia Tech would likely be a better ticket and tourism draw than Boise or K State—made a decision based on business considerations, not on-the-field merits. Argue the morality or fairness of that process all you want. But accept the fact that the college football post season is as much about the entertainment business as it is about football. The bowls are meeting local and regional demand and until someone comes up with a way to make money out of satisfying larger concerns, that’s the way it’ll be for a while.

Accept also that the BCS had nothing to do with the Sugar’s decision and isn’t responsible for last night’s matchup. If you don’t understand that then you have no business criticizing the BCS. You can’t reform what you don’t understand and an awful lot of people don’t even know what the real problem is. Hell, there were nationally syndicated sports columnists wondering aloud why Arkansas or South Carolina couldn’t go BCS-ing over Virginia Tech!

The BCS is not a “fraud.” The BCS is not a “cartel,” no matter how many times hardheads like Tim Brando holler into the microphone that it is. The BCS is the market’s response to a bureaucratically imposed market failure and until people wake up, make an effort to understand the system and realize what the real cause of the market failure is, it’s not going to get fixed.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.


Post a Comment

You must have a Google Account to post a comment.

WARNING: Posting on this blog is a privilege. You have no First Amendment rights here. I am the sole, supreme and benevolent dictator. This blog commenting system also has a patented Dumbass Detector. Don't set it off.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.