Bye-Bye, BCS: A Long, Controversial Era Comes to an End
Newport Beach, Calif. — There will be a funeral amid the celebration after the BCS championship game on Monday night.
No. 1 Florida State or No. 2 Auburn will be the last team to hoist the $30,000 Waterford crystal football that goes to college football’s champion and has become emblematic of the Bowl Championship Series. Then the BCS will be buried in the Rose Bowl after 16 years of revolutionizing the sport — and frustrating so many of its fans and participants.
“We wouldn’t have a playoff if we didn’t have the BCS,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Saturday during media day for the championship game.
In the end, the BCS turned out to be not a destination for college football’s postseason, but part of its evolution.
Even one of its harshest critics concedes it did some good.
“It’s better than what we had, but it should have lasted four years, not 16,” said Yahoo Sports writer Dan Wetzel, who wrote the book Death to the BCS.
The idea for the BCS came from former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Roy Kramer. The story goes that he jotted it down on a napkin. The goal was to take a bowl system that rarely matched the top two teams after the season and give it a structure that would produce 1 vs. 2 every season.
Before the BCS, there were 11 bowl games in college football history that matched the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in The Associated Press college football poll.
The BCS produced three such matchups in the first six seasons, and there was even a split championship in 2003, when Southern California finished No. 1 in the AP poll, but didn’t reach the BCS title game. LSU won that. Clearly that wasn’t what the conference commissioners who ran the system had in mind. So they tinkered, often.
“I think some of the criticism came because of the tweaks early on that were made,” Hancock said.
The LSU/USC controversy was followed a season later when the BCS’ simple, fatal flaw was exposed. What happens when there are three worthy teams for a game built for two? Undefeated Auburn was the odd team out among perfect USC and Oklahoma. At that point many fans were in revolt and the BCS became an easy target for its detractors.
“It became cool to criticize it — which is unfortunate,” Hancock said.
Maybe so, but it’s not as if it was all unfair. And it was hard to buy some of the reasons commissioners such as Jim Delany of the Big Ten and Mike Slive of the Southeastern Conference were pushing to explain why a playoff just wasn’t possible.
They cited the academic calendar, the charity work the bowls did, the soundness of the formula used to pick the teams, the negative ramifications a playoff would have on the regular season and scheduling, Wetzel said.
“They used so many excuses that were demonstrably untrue,” he said. “It drove fans crazy because fans were not as dumb as the BCS wanted them do be.”
Slive, motivated by what happened to Auburn, proposed a “plus-one” in 2008, which would have changed the BCS to a four-team playoff. It was shot down, but it was the beginning of the end.
Wetzel’s book came out in 2010 and it challenged everything about the BCS from how it picked the teams to where the money went.
“Very few people understood the whole system,” he said.
More and more the questioning of the BCS was coming from people who were ostensibly a part of the system.
“That’s when I knew the thing was doomed,” Wetzel said.
With momentum building for change, the last crack that made the BCS crumble came after the 2012 season, when the national championship game matched two SEC teams: Alabama vs. LSU in New Orleans.
The commissioners met a day after the game and started constructing a four-team playoff.
Hancock said the leap from the old bowl system to the BCS was far greater and more difficult than the move from BCS to playoff.
“The culture was already there,” he said.
And now that the BCS is about to be laid to rest, as with any funeral, the last word should be something nice about the departed.
“Although it was heavily criticized and misunderstood,” said Hancock, “the BCS did everything it was intended to do and then some.”