Last Call For BCS
Orlando, Fla. — It’s been kicked and punched and slammed year after year.
Outsiders have called the Bowl Championship Series every name in the book, decrying it as the worst thing to happen to college football.
Others call it the greatest system ever, typically while hoisting a glass football trophy.
But the one word that best represents the BCS is this: survivor.
The BCS has been one of the most controversial postseason models to date.
Proponents argue it established a postseason that featured a true No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup for the college football championship. There’s no denying the sport’s popularity has been booming during the past 15 years.
Critics, however, argue the system is skewed to favor already established powerhouse teams. They compete for the national championship and get the biggest share of revenue, while teams from non-automatic qualifying BCS conferences have no real shot at making a title game appearance and collect far less money.
“When the BCS came in, it threw everybody into the same pool and everybody had a chance to try to have a great year and end up getting to the championship, which I thought was great,” said ESPN college analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who along with Brent Musburger, have covered the past three BCS national championship games. They will be on the call for this year’s game as well.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of negativity, some of which I certainly agree with, but I do have to give the BCS credit for one thing ... it’s made college football more of a national game,” added Musburger.
The BCS did accomplish what it was set out to do, according to one of its chief architects, Roy Kramer.
“It was always subject to a lot of criticism and it always will be and everybody always wanted to make fun of it, but, nevertheless, it did what it was suppose to do,” Kramer told the Orlando Sentinel last year from his home in Tennessee.
Kramer was the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference back in the 1990s, and was partly responsible for moving the Bowl Coalition into the Bowl Alliance and eventually into the Bowl Championship Series in 1998.
The idea was to pit the two best teams in the country in an actual national championship game. Bowl games between the nation’s top two teams were rare. Under the new system, the national champion would be decided on the football field and not by pollsters who compared performances in bowl games. Thus, the BCS was born.
The first BCS National Championship Game was played on Jan. 4, 1999, and featured No. 1 Tennessee against No. 2 Florida State, with the Vols coming out on top 23-16.
Right from the start, the BCS changed the college football landscape.
Fans were no longer solely focused on regional matchups between the SEC or ACC. They cared about what was happening in the Big Ten or the Big 12 or out west in the Pac-12.
“It knocked down all of these regional barriers and everybody was paying attention to everybody,” Herbstreit said.
“And I think that was what was great about the BCS.”
Current SEC commissioner Mike Slive said, “As the season wears on, everybody playing everybody everywhere in the country is relevant to your own aspirations.”
The game was gaining in popularity, but, critics cried, at what cost?
The amount of money generated by the BCS National Championship Game and its affiliated bowl games — Sugar, Fiesta, Rose and Orange — has grown exponentially during the past 15 years of its existence, but the majority of that revenue has been split by automatic qualifying conferences — the ACC, Big East (now the American Athletic Conference), Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
Conferences outside the elite group of power conferences had little to no chance at competing in BCS games.
After changes to the system in 2004, Boise State, TCU, Hawaii, Utah and Northern Illinois were among the teams who climbed from lower-profile conferences who became BCS busters. However, they never played for championships despite undefeated records. Only eight times in the past 15 seasons has a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference find its way into a BCS bowl game.
“Where the BCS failed is in the other bowls surrounding it, to a great extent,” ESPN college analyst Joe Tessitore said. “I think you can point a finger at games like UConn-Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, thanks to the watering down of the former Big East and this automatic qualifying status as a lot of people viewing it as fraudulent. I’m not saying that, but a lot of people view it that way.”
Fraudulent or not, the BCS will have a unique place in history. And history is what it will become starting in 2014, when the college football moves to the new College Football Playoff model. A model that some argue wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for its predecessor.
“It’s fair to say that the foundation of the College Football Playoff is the BCS and it deserves credit for that,” Slive said.
And much like the BCS, proponents believe the new playoff system can only continue to help the sport grow.
“It’s already the second most-popular sport in America and you add in a playoff that simplifies everything — that’s easy to understand to a point of paint-by-numbers,” Tessitore said. “A sport that is already immensely popular ... is about to be elevated to that rare air next to the NFL and everything else is just in the rearview mirror.”
However, there surely will be critics of the new system.
“Well, there will always be people who want to criticize it,” Kramer said. “They will want to criticize the new one. As soon as somebody gets left out, then it’s a terrible program.”
Musburger agrees the four-team playoff will face scrutiny, adding, “... I await the outcry from the teams that are ranked fifth and sixth.”
Through it all, there are those who believe the BCS will get its due.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock has spent years defending the current postseason format and is set to be the chief defender of the new playoff format.
“It’s undeniable that the game grew tremendously in popularity during the BCS era,” Hancock said. “I’m confident that history will view the BCS in a positive light.”
Only time will tell.