PRO: Defending the BCS

By: Sam Laughlin

120 teams.

Presently in the 2011 season, 120 teams fill the ranks of the Bowl Championship Series division in NCAA college football.  Every year, these 120 teams vie for coveted positions in bowl games, their rankings determined by a complicated three-aggregate system some consider strange, outdated and perhaps even evil.

People often look to the NFL and wonder if the BCS will ever emulate the professional calendar.  Surely, if the pros can have a simple playoff structure, college football can, too.  But comparisons between the two are as sharp as they are difficult.

The BCS has 120 teams.  The NFL has 32.  Players in the BCS are full-time college students and part-time athletes.  The NFL is a professional organization where players are players, all day long.  The players in the BCS deal with the pressure of school and the prospects of reaching the NFL, outside the stress of playing the game.  NFL players are free to focus on their next victory.

Due to these distinguishing factors, the concept of adding more games to college players’ schedules is not only impractical, it’s dangerous to their health, their future careers and their education.

While many consider the BCS system unfair and overly complicated, the truth is far different.  The system operates by combining three polling systems: the Harris Interactive Poll, managed by a marketing firm that includes coaches, former players, and members of the media; the USA Today Coaches Poll, comprised of 59 of the head coaches in division I football; and the most controversial, the computer poll, operated by the BCS, that calculates an average among several other computer matrix’s run by independent companies.  This system determines the ranking structure for the entire BCS, and the ranking structure determines who goes to bowl games and who reaches the championship.

This system strikes many as cold.  What do computers have to do with football?  The answer is simple: fairness.  The number of teams in the BCS and the way the conferences are structured would give too much power and influence to teams at big schools if a tournament structure were enforced.  Basically, the same teams in weak conferences would reach the top spots in the tournament every year.  By having this complex system, teams are judged by their own merits, not just by their wins.  Small teams with excellent players can afford to lose a game if their conference is harsh, while teams in weak conference are given no greater ground due to the ease of their schedule.

Some people point out the fact that the same teams tend to fill the top spots of the BCS ranking every year as a slam to the fairness argument.  The answer is money.  Simply put, big teams at big schools have big bank accounts.  They have the money to train better, recruit better, and hire better coaches.  This fact would never change in a tournament structure.  In fact, it would become worse.  Decent teams in weak conferences would coast through the playoffs, never finding a worthy opponent until the championship game.  And the process would repeat every.  Single.  Year.

At least the BCS bowl system attempts to throw in a bit of democracy and a bit of science.  Teams with the best stats, the best players, and the best spirit can rise above the limitations of their conference and their losses.  If there was any doubt that the Alabama Crimson Tide was the best team in the 2011 season, just talk to an LSU fan.  If you can get him to stop crying.

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