Non-traditional powerhouses may crash BCS party

Andrew Gordon

College football is epitomized by a number of sights and sounds-the gleam of Notre Dame’s golden helmets in the South Bend sunshine, the fans of West Virginia singing a drunken rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and that crazy, eye-popping blue turf at Boise State. When outsiders think of Idaho, they typically think of one thing – potatoes. Ask a true Idahoan, though, and they will tell you that they have the greatest college football team in the United States in their Boise State Broncos. With such a devoted fan following and a consistently phenomenal record over the past decade, why are the Broncos never given Bowl Championship Series bowl game respect?

It has been said that the answer is that the BCS system is seriously flawed. Too much mathematics and polling decide the fates of the nation’s best programs. In countless other successful college sports, winning games is what earns a team a national championship.

The NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, like every professional and collegiate athletic league, has evolved over time. Every other league, like the NHL with its major post-lockout rule changes, has undoubtedly progressed positively in their development (no matter how much you and I miss the thrilling antics of pre-lockout brawlers). NHL fans have never witnessed such skilled, fast-paced and electrifying hockey as we have in the past five years. College football fans, on the contrary, have been less than pleased with the changes made to the bowl system over the same time span.

The primary reason for the shift in the bowl system from the Bowl Alliance (in place from 1995-1998) to the BCS was to use a more definite, mathematical method of pairing teams to determine a national champion. The NCAA changed to the BCS in hopes that a tangible selection process would give America what it needs – one definite champion. In its first year of inception, the BCS faced controversy when Tulane University finished with a perfect 11-0 record and were denied a bid to one of the lucrative postseason BCS bowl games. Instead, they represented Conference USA in the Liberty Bowl, which they won. After this season, Tulane President Scott Cowen led a campaign to reform the Bowl Championship Series. After a number of championship game snubs and other controversial bowl bids, the BCS finally made the necessary changes in 2005, creating one game (the BCS National Championship Game) to pit the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation against each other to declare one national champion.

The controversy subsisted in the ’06-’07 season when Boise State was denied a spot in the national championship game after finishing the season as the only undefeated team besides Ohio State, who were given a Tostitos BCS National Championship Game berth. Boise State played against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, which they won in one of the most exciting bowl games of the past decade. With the Fiesta Bowl victory and Ohio State’s demise in the championship game, Boise State finished as the only undefeated team in the country, without having a shot at a national championship.

Last year’s college postseason stirred up controversy once again as No. 6 Utah, No. 9 Boise State and No. 11 Texas Christian (all non-BCS teams) finished the season with a higher ranking than the Big East champion No. 12 Cincinnati as well as ACC champion No. 19 Virginia Tech. Cincinnati and Virginia Tech both received BCS bowl bids while only Utah received a bowl bid as a non-BCS team, a rule guaranteed under BCS selection rules. Undefeated Boise State did not go to a bowl game while two-loss No. 10 Ohio State was invited to play in the Fiesta Bowl. As in 2006, a non-BCS team (Utah) was the only team in the nation to finish without a loss (Boise State lost in the Poinsettia Bowl), without getting a shot at a national title.

One argument is small schools from the Mid-Major conferences work their tails off all season long just as the BCS teams do, only to be denied a chance at a national title no matter how spotless their season may be. A reasonable response to this argument is that schools like Boise State and Brigham Young University have a much easier schedule and face few ranked opponents each season. This may not be due to a lack of effort from the Mid-Majors. Instead, scheduling and a relatively short season are responsible for the mismatch in strength of schedules. The only true solution may be a playoff system similar to that of the Football Championship Subdivision.

This idea has been widely supported, even by President Barack Obama when interviewed by ESPN’s Chris Berman in 2008. An eight-team playoff could solve the endless amounts of controversy and criticism facing the current bowl system. Granted, it would still be difficult for the smaller teams to break into the eight playoff spots, but it is far more feasible than seeing a team like the Boise State Broncos top the polls as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the country. All that the Mid-Majors hope for is a fair chance at a title.

A playoff, besides bringing endless excitement for fans, will give the Boise State Broncos and Texas Christian Horned Frogs out there what they really want – a chance to show that no matter how small their student population is, how blinding their strangely colored turf is or how obscure their mascot may be, these perpetual underdogs of the college football world can not only compete with the powerhouses but can win.