Human nature dictates that the more select and coveted a prize, the greater the impetus to control the process that awards a trophy. No truer statement need be said but for the granddaddy of all the punkishly rigid and controlling processes than that of the national collegiate football championship. The so-called “Bowl Championship Series” is a fiefdom presented with an earthshaking clarion call, but in reality only focuses on one important bowl venue each season. It is neither an actual series, nor an impartial championship journey. Rather, the BCS is a manipulated, subjective process controlled by an oligarchy of interests who assiduously limit the competition to a mere two teams. As a result, the current BCS model is the quintessential study that showcases a sure-fire way to encourage ongoing manipulation and cheating by those who participate in as well as those who control the process.
Not meaning to appear churlish, this columnist last January outlined a more inclusive and fair process to determine the champion on the field by placing the top-four ranked teams in a two-week, three-bowl process. My “Two, Three, Four Championship” process is sensible, reduces cheating and manipulation, adds a new type of playoff excitement to college football without upsetting conference play or team schedules, and most importantly, allows the top-four ranked teams to settle the championship on the field. Furthermore, it involves two more bowls each year that will host the semifinal rounds. Each aspect of the 2-3-4 process is a yang balanced with a positive yin. This quick and clean “playoff” would match the top four teams on New Year’s Day with the surviving two teams playing a week to 10 days later for the championship.
The beauty of the 2-3-4 comes on two fronts — more teams participate, and fewer outside influences determine those teams. It is not out of pique to note that thus far this season more than one Southeastern Conference head football coach has publicly complained that SEC officiating seems to favor the currently top-ranked University of Florida Gators. While each opponent of the number-one and number-two ranked teams dreams of an upset each week, several recalcitrant BSC power centers clutch onto their restrictive self-serving oligarchy of greed. Sportswriters, conference officials (both administrative and those on the field with zebra-striped shirts), bowl committees, university administrators, athletic departments, booster clubs and corporate sponsors each own a piece of that ultimate moment of giddy in January. Reducing the influence of these special interests allows an undefeated Boise State from past years or possibly an undefeated Iowa this season to prove (or disprove) on the field the voting pollsters’ self-proclaimed and usually regionally limited sage sports knowledge.
On the flip side, how disconcerting must it be for a team to lose one game and be ranked number three in the nation at year’s end? No other sport depends on “acknowledging” an undefeated team before it may participate on one hand, or that “special” one-loss team on the other, before crowning its champion as much as the BCS. Yet as it currently stands, both the conscience and unconscious can act with bias to promote a particular team or conference. Schedules are massaged to include as many home games as possible against just the right nonconference opponents to boost late-season BCS rankings. Sportswriters and pollsters can boost a regional team while trashing a truly national powerhouse in an effort to skew rankings. Referees can brag that they work for the conference with the national champion and that they have in fact “worked” that team’s games. Coaches attract better recruits. University administrators and athletic departments can stack their golden coin bowl payouts next to their trophies. But ultimately, sanguine boosters with visions of future trophies dancing in their heads can venerate their current teams and enjoy some personal satisfaction while extrapolating future team glory.
No doubt, the Nay-Sayers will bludgeon a new concept and concoct more doozy replies reminiscent of those who opposed my first 2-3-4 description last January — the most unique complaint lamented that fans would incur financial hardships and uncertain travel reservations to follow their teams to a second bowl appearance. That reasoning ignores the successful following of rabid NFL fans during that playoff system. Such personal chutzpah about attending two bowls makes as much sense as saying Gator fans are currently limited to attend either the SEC championship game or a bowl game.
The BCS stranglehold this season, like most others past, will ignore at least one team that should have been given the chance to prove its metal on the gridiron. How long the BCS oligarchy reigns is anyone’s guess — at least until third and fourth-ranked teams unite for change. We wait until then while the BCS pushes up its two favorite teams and the rest of us are left to push up daisies.
Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ‘73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s
administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.