Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Left Out in New Jersey

If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score? ~Vince Lombardi

Okay, let me see if I've got this straight. There are currently four undefeated Division I-A college football teams: Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, and Boise State. According to the Bowl Championship Series (also known as the BCS or “that stupid piece of ...”) poll, they are ranked 1,2, 6, and 12 respectively. According to the computer portion of the BCS, they are ranked 3,1,2, and 10 respectively. As things stand now, once Ohio State beats Michigan, there could still be three undefeated teams, but only one of them, Ohio State (oh, okay, or Michigan if they should defy the gods and win in Columbus) will get into the national championship game.

Now, Boise State, which plays its home game on an azure blue field, is in a weak conference and doesn't play any significant non-conference foes, so one could understand how they might be excluded from the party. But the State University of New Jersey at Rutgers, as it is properly known, is getting the shaft.

Here's a team that is 9-0. Louisville was ranked number 3 when they met Rutgers and staggered home after losing to a team that was outmanned, out-talented, and outgunned. All Rutgers did was win. This was the same Louisville team that trashed West Virginia the previous week, when West Virginia was ranked number 3. Yet most people are saying that West Virginia will beat Rutgers.

What they really mean is that they hope like the dickens that West Virginia beats Rutgers. If they don't, we're going to have the embarrassment of an undefeated team that played some of the same opponents as teams above them, and beat them more impressively, yet will be left out of the championship picture.

Some of the rationale for promoting teams with 1 loss ahead of the Scarlet Knights goes like this:
  • Rutgers is in the crummy old Big East Conference. Last time I checked, there were three teams from the Big East in the top 10. There's only 1 from the PAC 10, that supposedly might conference that USC waltzes through each year. Only the Big 10 has as many in the top 10 as the Big East.
  • Rutgers doesn't have as much talent as Ohio State or USC or insert-name-of-traditional-powerhouse-here. You want talent? Auburn has talent; they got whupped by Georgia, a team that can barely get out its own way this year. I thought the idea of football was to win games, not to look good on scouting reports. If you go 9-0, there's some sort of talent on that field.
  • Rutgers can't beat Ohio State in a playoff game (no, really, I actually heard this one). Well, it's entirely possible that no one can beat OSU in the championship game, assuming they get there. So far, 11 teams have failed to beat OSU. If you used that criteria, according to most sports pundits, OSU should show up at the championship game and just conduct a scrimmage. But, after the Louisville game, no one should be saying that Rutgers has any worse chance than anyone else.
  • Rutgers is Mr. Magoo's alma mater. Well, maybe that one hasn't come up, but that's about as good an argument as the others.
The human pollsters are to blame mostly, but the BCS is at the root of the problem because while the BCS is run as currently constituted, there's no playoff structure to give a Rutgers a chance.

The BCS apologists always go on about how well the system works. It works so well that's it's been changed every year since its inception. Simply put, it's no better than the “mythical” championships that were handed out over the years by AP, UPI, and other press outlets, magazines, and networks. What makes the BCS worse is that it masquerades as some sort of “real” title game. Hell, it's not even what it calls itself; it's not a championship series. It's one game based mostly on two human polls with a computer poll thrown in just to confuse things.

The BCS has given us such farcical situations as:
  • A one-loss Miami team not getting to the championship game in 2000, while a one-loss Florida State team did. Who beat Florida State? Why, Miami, of course.
  • In 2001, a team ranked number 4 in the human polls, Nebraska, going to the championship (and getting pounded) over number 2-ranked Oregon State. Why? Strength of schedule, even though Nebraska didn't even win their conference, and Oregon State played in the mighty PAC 10 (which is now supposedly the toughest conference in the country).
  • Oklahoma loses its championship game but plays LSU for the title in 2003. USC was ranked number 2 in both polls, but, whaddya know, that ol' weak sister PAC 10 conference bit them again in the BCS poll.
  • Auburn, 13-0 in 2004, not only doesn't get to the title game, despite playing in what most people regarded as the toughest conference in the nation (the SEC), Texas is voted past them (thanks to politicking by coach Mack Brown) in the final poll.
Now, the lame apologists will say that this sort of stupidity makes for spirited discussion and arguments among fans, which is somehow good for the game. Well, here's a bulletin for you guys: People have been arguing about the national champ ever since Parke-Davis called both Princeton and Rutgers national champions in 1869. We don't need any more arguments; we need a playoff system. And, please, don't give me that stuff about adding games to the schedule. The NCAA saw no problem with giving teams a 12-game schedule, allowing teams in a conference with a title game to play 13. So, what are two or three more in a playoff series?

After Ohio State, the team I'll be rooting for most will be Rutgers. I don't know if it's possible to embarrass the NCAA, but leaving a school that beat two top-10 teams to stay undefeated (assuming they get by West Virginia) on the sidelines while some team with one loss is playing for the championship ought to do the trick. Then, perhaps the school presidents will think about doing what much smaller schools and all other Division I sports have been doing for years: Determine the champion in a playoff.

I won't be holding my breath.

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