Bowl Championship Series

By on November 13, 2003

The normally pathetic BCS rankings have been given a lot of help this year. Losses by contenders to unranked teams have made it all but academic to predict the participants in the Nokia Sugar Bowl on January 4 which will determine the national champion.

The BCS, otherwise known as the Bowl Championship Series, consists of four bowl games each January, the Sugar, Orange, Rose and Fiesta. One of those games hosts the national championship game each year as it rotates every four years. The rankings are computed by mathematically adding, averaging, subtracting, and multiplying a host of unimportant numbers that have no bearing on the game itself.

The first number is the average of the two rankings given to a team in the coaches’ poll and the AP writers’ poll. If Quinnipiac had a football team, and the writers ranked them No. 10 and the coaches ranked them No. 6, their average ranking would be No. 8. Then, the computer average is factored using the Anderson & Hester, Richard Billingsley, Colley Matrix, Kenneth Massey, New York Times, Jeff Sagarin’s USA Today and the Peter Wolfe rankings. The computer average will be determined by averaging six of the seven rankings. The lowest computer ranking is scrapped. Now we have two numbers.

The third number is strength of schedule. To get this number, weigh the cumulative won and loss records of a team’s opponents (two-thirds) and the won and loss records of the opponents’ opponents (one-third). This number is then divided by 25. Oklahoma has the sixth hardest schedule this year; therefore the third number in their equation is .24. The next number is the easiest. A team receives a point for each loss. For two losses, add two points.

The fifth and final number is quality wins. At the end of the season, if a team has defeated a team ranked in the top 10, the team gets quality win points deducted from their point total based on the ranking of the team it defeated. The number of points the team gets deducted, added with the ranking of the team it defeated, will equal 1.1. If Quinnipiac’s non-existent football team defeated the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, they get a full point deducted. If they beat the No. 7 ranked team, they get .4 points deducted. When all those points are added; the poll ranking, computer ranking, strength of schedule, losses and quality wins, the resulting number is your BCS total. Teams are ranked from lowest total to highest.

Now, things were running along smoothly until last week, when Virginia Tech beat Miami. Until then, Miami was easily the No. 2 team in the country. Oklahoma is No. 1, but they are so far ahead, they do not even figure into this article. Just know that everyone is playing for second place.

When Virginia Tech beat Miami, it gave every team figuring into the BCS rankings one loss. So now the computers had to do their jobs. The first poll to be released after that game was the coaches’ poll the next day. Miami was ranked No. 7. This was an absolute travesty when you look at the numbers. Ranked ahead of them at the time were Oklahoma, USC, Florida State, LSU, Virginia Tech, and Ohio State. Miami should still have been No. 2, because of all the one loss teams, which was every team on that list except Oklahoma, the only teams to have lost to a ranked opponent were Florida State and Miami. The Hurricanes had lost to then No. 11 Virginia Tech, and to whom did Florida State lose to? You guessed it, Miami. All the other teams on that list lost to poor, unranked teams, except Ohio State who lost to No. 22 Wisconsin. Wisconsin is not ranked in the BCS, however.

What the poll should have been was No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Miami, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Virginia Tech, No. 6 USC, and No. 7 LSU. Miami being ranked as low as it was was a travesty, obviously, because the coaches and writers are averaged into the BCS rankings, and No. 7 will leave Miami with a very high BCS number.

However, the actual computers did their job correctly this time, and gave Miami the second best computer ranking, so it saved the Hurricanes. They finished out No. 4 in the BCS poll, behind Florida State, USC, and Oklahoma. Not nearly what it should have been, but better than it could have been.

That left a lot up to Miami and Florida State. Both teams would have to win out for Miami not to recapture that coveted No. 2 spot, for a chance to be embarrassed by an Oklahoma team that can beat half the NFL teams this year.

Neither did, which leaves me anticipating this week’s polls. Miami lost to No. 17 Tennessee and Florida State suffered their first ever Bowden Bowl loss to unranked Clemson. This marked the first time son Tommy’s Clemson Tigers defeated father Bobby’s FSU Seminoles. Virginia Tech also lost to No. 22 Pittsburgh, who is No. 25 in the BCS, not high enough to let Virginia Tech slip.

So things are really a mess now. One-loss teams include USC, Ohio State, and LSU. Because Miami, Virginia Tech, and FSU lost, the top six going into next Saturday’s games should look like this; No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 USC, No. 3 OSU, No. 4 LSU, No. 5 Michigan, and No. 6 Texas Christian University.

To determine who would get the two at-large bids, the kind of draw the game would get would need to be examined, the kind of television ratings, and how much money the bowl would give to the two schools for playing in their bowl game.

Let’s run down how the BCS games work. There are six automatic bids and two at-large bids, to round out the eight teams in the four major bowl games. The six automatic bids go to the champions of the PAC-10, Big 10, Big XII, Big East, SEC, and ACC. If Notre Dame finishes in the top 12, because of their popularity and drawing power, they are automatically in as an at-large. Notre Dame is independent which means they are not in a conference. Each bowl has affiliated conferences to play in each year. It gets sticky when a team has to be taken out of a bowl to be put in another, which happens often for the national championship.

The Orange Bowl is affiliated with the ACC and Big East. The champions from each conference play in that bowl unless one of those teams are No. 1 or No. 2 in the BCS poll and has to play in the national championship. The Sugar Bowl plays host to the SEC champ and an at-large team, Big XII champ and an at-large team play in the Fiesta Bowl, and the Rose Bowl has the Big-10 and Pac-10 champions.

If the season ended now, USC and Oklahoma would play in the Sugar Bowl. That means the Pac-10 and Big-XII respectively lose their champions to the title game, so the Rose and Fiesta Bowls have to bid on the SEC champ and an at-large team.

Right now, the other three bowls shape up like this; Orange Bowl would pit Pittsburgh, the Big East champion unless Miami wins out versus FSU, the ACC champion. The Fiesta Bowl will feature two at-large teams. The Rose Bowl will have Washington State, the Pac-10 champion against Ohio State, the Big-10 champion.

Choosing at-large teams to replace other teams in bowl games depend on 4 factors; BCS ranking, geographic location, rivalry, and most importantly money. Another shake up this year is TCU, the only other unbeaten team in Division 1. Because they are in a non-BCS conference, if they finish in the top six in the final BCS standings, they automatically get in a BCS bowl at the expense of one at-large team. The six BCS conference champs are always safe.

So, in summation of all of that, not only does the BCS ranking do a poor job in picking the top six teams due to unnecessary computer numbers and a subjective strength of schedule ranking, two teams are still left to be voted on by the NCAA, which is even more subjective.

Now you are all well aware of how confusing it is. How do we remedy this confusion? A playoff system which is not so simple when there is over 100 Division 1 schools.

Here are two different playoff systems being considered.

Make a 16-team playoff. The regular season champs of the 11 conferences, BCS conferences or not, get an automatic bid into the postseason playoff, Big XII, Big 10, PAC-10, ACC, SEC, MAC, Big East, Conference USA, Mountain West, WAC, and Sun Belt. That leaves 5 at-large spots. Use the BCS standings to place those spots. The rankings will run normally, however, the 11 conference champs will be eliminated from the rankings and the remaining top five will be the at-larges. Seed teams by a committee, similar to what the basketball committee does. Then choose the 15 biggest bowl games, assign them a date, specific round of the playoffs, and bracket the teams accordingly. The first weekend would feature eight games; next weekend would be four, two the next, and the national championship the fourth week.

The second option is to make 12 conferences. Of the existing 11, add a conference formed from the independents, teams not affiliated with a conference, and some teams from the MAC. The MAC currently has 14 teams. The 12 conferences have their regular season conference playoffs. The post-season will be as follows. The 12 conference champions will compete in a bracketed playoff with the winner being named National Champion. The playoff will be two brackets of six teams, each bracket run like the NFL’s playoffs. The 12 number two’s, three’s and four’s will compete in a similar bracketed playoff with those final games being played in the remaining three BCS bowls. The actual bracketed playoff games will be played in other smaller bowls.

Both systems work, both systems are fair, and both systems are decided by performance and performance only. That is the low-down on what is been plaguing the college football season each year. Every other sport, professional and college, ranks teams based strictly on record. College football has to be different, and because of it, has so much controversy surrounding it. Get all the athletic directors together, put them in a room with NCAA committee members and vote on a suitable playoff system.


About Jesse Elgarten