Professional football may be the sporting face of American culture, but college football defines this country’s soul. The passion, rivalries, characters, scandals and rhetoric of the college game are second only to our politics, but surely many partisans would swap election victories for football championships. I know I would.
And much like our politics, college football fulfills us in the moment but disappoints us down the stretch. Under the current BCS system, great seasons by great teams routinely go unrewarded, and once-great regular seasons end in controversy or dissatisfaction. The arguments against the BCS are many, but they boil down to this: it leaves the college fan unsatisfied and the season unresolved.
It’s even more important to realize that the BCS itself is a secondary issue; this is primarily about providing a proper conclusion to a compelling story. A playoff is used in every major sport, why should college football be any different? The NCAA even uses a playoff to determine national champions in its other football divisions. The problem is that the BCS creates an unfair playing field, one where the equity of sportsmanship has been eschewed for the greed mentality of business. The largest universities and most significant college football programs have colluded with one another to form a cartel that threatens to choke off major universities in diverse communities from their right to enjoy college football at the highest levels. We need capitalism in our economy, not in college athletics.
Utilizing a playoff to determine college football’s national champion shouldn’t have to be a groundbreaking idea. Why utilize computer models and human voters, composed of biased media and former colleagues when we could simply play the games? Imagine if instead of having March Madness we just used the RPI to determine who would be in the Final Four. No Cinderellas, no Gus Johnson, no buzzer beaters. Now imagine those things in college football. Awesome, right?
BCS supporters often cower behind arguments of tradition, protecting the “student-athlete,” and maintaining the high stakes of the regular season. But none of these arguments survive scrutiny. First, the bowl games could be retained as sites to host playoff games. And what about the student-athletes of the other football divisions? Does the NCAA just not care about them? Or do they demonstrate that you could work a playoff schedule into the fall academic year? And as for maintaining the significance of the regular season—there are only twelve games! College football fans are attending games and watching on television at unprecedented levels—every game is always going to matter.
Really, the BCS is about money. The ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12 and SEC Athletic Directors, University Presidents, and Conference Commissioners realized that they could make more money for their schools by thinning the herd. The BCS is certainly not about competition. Since the BCS began, non-BCS teams (teams not included in the previously mentioned conferences above) are 4-1 against BCS teams in BCS bowl games. In fact, seven teams from non-BCS conferences have finished their seasons undefeated; yet none has done enough to impress the computers and people enough for them to anoint a non-BCS school to the National Championship game. Texas Christian University even won the Rose Bowl in 2011, taking down Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin, no less.
In the end, a playoff is simply the only reasonable way to determine a champion. The students and communities of the non-BCS universities shouldn’t have to settle for a second-class level of college football. These are major institutions and large cities. They shouldn’t be shut out of a market like an inferior corporation. College athletics should still be academic on some level, and fair and transparent at all times. Again, this isn’t about the BCS, this is about making college football better. A playoff system is the obvious better choice.