The people who run Division 1-A college football, primarily the folks behind the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), have come to believe something bizarre: A loss is better than a win. They even think, in certain cases, that two losses are better than two wins. Why is this? It allows them to forgo unbeaten but less glitzy teams in order to try to get a super-mega college football championship game for the TV network, bowl game organizers and sponsors who seem to have complete control of their sport.
Division 1-A college football is the only sport where this insane concept is accepted. None of the other football leagues — the NFL, CFL, and Division 1-AA, Division 2, and Division 3 college football — consider a loss better than a win, and, to no surprise, all of those leagues have a playoff system where the championship is determined on the field and not in some boardroom, TV studio or programmed computer hard drive. Division 1-A college football is scared to death of a playoff. Its leaders think that unless the two teams playing to determine the national champion are from 20 or so premiere teams, the sponsors and viewers would not show up. So to make sure the “right” teams are in the big game, a loss has to become better than a win.
Imagine: The Vikings win the NFC North, but the NFL informs them that since they played a winless Detroit Lions twice, their strength of schedule has been deflated so the Dallas Cowboys, who coincidently have a larger fan base, will go to the playoffs instead. Crazy.
Not popular enough
And forget the fringe colleges that make a run at it (Boise State, Utah, Ball State); if the Minnesota Gophers went 12-0, there is no way they would play in the national championship game either. Their crime would be that they are not a popular enough college football school, as opposed to Ohio State, Texas, or Florida. The funniest part would be the college football “expert” screaming how “Minnesota is not worthy of the BCS Championship Game because they play in a Big Ten Conference having a down year,” only to follow it up 30 seconds later by saying “an 11-1 Ohio State team does deserve the chance to play in the game because they play in the tough Big Ten.”
What has this led to? A handful of colleges have seen their fan base rise dramatically. Just head over to the Mall of America and look into the numerous hat and jersey shops. Alongside all the pro sports teams are the same 20 or so college teams in every store. But the NCAA’s cost for this popularity is the apathy for college football with the fans of other 90-plus teams. Sure they might get good crowds for the rivalry game, but that’s it. It’s reminiscent of the NFL when the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49’s were the only two teams with a real chance every year. The NFL realized having only two teams in your sport that matter was killing the league. With the changes it made, the NFL now is unpredictable and the most popular league in the country. Since we should never go back to the old bowl system, I propose two solutions.
The first is what I think the people behind this mess really want. Take the 20 or so teams currently in the running for the title each year and put them into a “Super Division.” This allows the BCS people to get weekly must-see games, ending in a monster championship game. You can then give the bowl games back to the regular Division 1-A and forget the whole loss/win fiasco. There are two downsides to this. You’d have to realign the conferences, probably eliminating two, and in the regular 1-A, the bowl games would revert back to their imperfect solution, but this would be over looked by the Super Division’s lineup.
Eliminate Conference championships
The second solution begins by making every team play 12 regular season games, eliminating any conference championships. At the end of the season, take the top 16 teams, including any undefeated teams, and slot them into a playoff bracket by record, where 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15 and so on, with the higher-ranked team hosting. The weekend leading up to Christmas you play the eight first-round games, the weekend leading up to New Year’s you play the four second-round games, and the first weekend of January you play the semifinals. Then the weekend between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl you have a must-see, true national championship with an undisputed winner. And for those who need the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls, those games would go to teams not in the playoff bracket, and they would be played on New Year’s Day.
Until they solve this debacle, let me salute the Boise State.-Utah Championship game that will not happen. I hope they both win their bowl games and force these idiots into pretending 1) two undefeated teams are not as good as the one-loss winner of their BCS game, and 2) their system, as broken and flawed as ever, doesn’t need to be fixed. Let this be a lesson to all sports leagues: When you put people who are more interested in money rather than the betterment of your sport in charge of it, don’t be surprised when you hear asinine arguments to justify your soulless product.
Matthew McNeil is the host of a radio show on KSTP AM 1500.
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