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Gans: Defending the BCS (Nov. 18)

Sam Gans | Thursday, November 17, 2011

“It is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game…”

That is how the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) describes itself.

And whether you like the BCS or not, that quote is 100 percent accurate.

Yes, you may debate whether those two are the two most talented teams, but you can say without a doubt, unlike any other sport in America, the two teams in the championship game in college football are the two teams that performed the best throughout the season. They were the ones who were the most consistent ⎯ beginning, middle and end.

And personally, I think that’s the true definition of “best.” Not the most talented team that doesn’t show up every week, not the one who gets hot or plays well at the end, but the team who performs at the highest level throughout the entire season. Games in September are just as important as ones in November and the national championship in January.

That’s the one thing the BCS does. It makes every game count. Every game. And it’s what makes the entire regular season so great. Every game is a de facto playoff game, whether it be against a weak MAC school or the top two teams in the country, as was the case between LSU and Alabama just a few weeks ago.

The same cannot be said for college basketball. When Belmont had Duke on the ropes last week, people were intrigued, but even had the Blue Devils lost, they’re still going dancing in March and likely as a high seed. Pittsburgh lost at home by double digits to Long Beach State on Wednesday, but it will have virtually no effect on the Panthers’ season. In the college basketball world, 15 percent of a team’s season means nearly everything and 85 percent means almost nothing. The Occupiers might have a problem with that ratio.

But if LSU or Oklahoma State lost to a weak non-conference opponent in football in September, they’re likely out of the national championship race. People may argue this isn’t fair, but I think putting as much emphasis on the early part of the year as the end actually makes things more fair when determining who is the best team over the course of a season.

Another argument for a playoff is the champion will prove its worth by beating other top teams. This may be true in a smaller playoff, but it’s not the case in a large one. Take Connecticut men’s basketball this past year. They faced zero No. 1-seeds in the NCAA tournament and only one No. 2-seed in San Diego State. The rest were No. 4-seeds or lower.

A playoff is built off the transitive property. Because Connecticut beat Kentucky and Kentucky beat Ohio State, Connecticut would beat Ohio State and is better. Because Connecticut beat Arizona and Arizona beat Duke, Connecticut would beat Duke and is better. But sports doesn’t work like that. If it did, Michigan State would have lost to Michigan in football this year, because Notre Dame lost to the Wolverines and the Spartans lost to the Irish.

Now, the BCS isn’t my most preferred method for college football. I would like to see a four-team playoff most, since the No. 3 and No. 4 teams often have a legitimate argument to have a chance at the national championship. Even eight teams wouldn’t be terrible, though I’d still rather have the current system. It’s a bit unfortunate that losing one tough conference road game can knock you out. If you’re good enough to be one of the top eight teams in the regular season ⎯ meaning you’re undefeated or have one or two losses and a difficult schedule ⎯ and then you beat three of the top eight teams in the country at the end, then yes, you are the best team throughout the year.

But a 16-team playoff? 32 teams? Four-loss teams being let in?

I’ll keep my wonderful, exciting and, most of all, meaningful four-month season which leaves only the team that was the best from September through January standing, thank you.

Contact Sam Gans at sgans@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.