First it was Urban Meyer in the 2006 season. Now we have Jim Harbaugh in the 2010 season. Both said essentially the same thing: if the BCS leaves us out, it is an unfair system and should be scrapped for a playoff. Uh oh, looks like we have some unhappy puppets. What is the BCS to do?
First let’s look at both circumstances. In 2006, Florida had lost one game leading up to the SEC championship against Arkansas. Michigan and Ohio State were both undefeated leading into their regular season finale against each other. Ohio State beat Michigan and Florida beat Arkansas. The question now was, which 1-loss team should be #2, Florida or Michigan? Urban Meyer didn’t hold back. When asked about the potential for a rematch between Michigan and Ohio State for the BCS championship, he gave us this gem:
“If that does happen, all the [university] presidents need to get together immediately and put together a playoff system. I mean like now, January or whenever to get that done.”
Ah, I see, and if Florida gets the nod? Well, that’s exactly what happened, Florida got the #2 spot and Urban Meyer was eerily silent on any further need for a playoff…like now. Florida went on to pummel Ohio State. And the following year? Michigan beat Florida in Lloyd Carr’s final game at the helm. I’m not really sure how but that must have been really satisfying for Michigan.
So you see, proponents of the BCS really only want it when it is convenient. Our latest case in point? Jim Harbaugh- head coach of Stanford and hottest commodity on the coaching market at both pro and college levels. So what irked his anger against the BCS? Well how about a little lesson on the rules.
The purpose of the BCS is to try and pit the two best teams in the country against each other at the end of the year in a championship bowl game. The BCS also provides 4 highly competitive bowl games featuring top teams in the country. Of the 10 participants in these five bowl games, 6 are required to be the conference champions of the Pac-10, SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, Big East and ACC. The other 4 spots are at large bids. One at large bid is guaranteed to a school from a non-automatic qualifying conference if they win their conference, finish in the BCS top 12 and are ranked ahead of at least one conference champion from an automatic qualifying conference. Notre Dame is guaranteed a spot simply by finishing in the top 8 of the BCS rankings.
Certain bowls are required to take certain teams. The Rose Bowl is required to take the Pac-10 champion and the Big Ten champion. The Fiesta Bowl takes the Big XII champion. The Sugar Bowl takes the SEC champion. The Orange Bowl takes the ACC champion. The Big East champion is passed back and forth from bowl to bowl each year. For 2010 the Fiesta Bowl is stuck with them. Now if the conference champions of any of these conferences turns out to be #1 or #2 and is taken by the BCS championship game, those bowls get first pick at replacements. Since Auburn is currently ranked #1, if they finish that way then the Sugar Bowl gets first pick at replacement and essentially selects two teams they want from the top 12. This would more than likely be Arkansas and Ohio State.
Since Oregon is #2, the Rose Bowl would get second pick at replacement. There’s only one problem. If either the Pac-10 or Big Ten champ is taken by the championship game, then the available slot is by rule given to a team from a non-AQ conference is one qualifies. This year that would be TCU. So the Rose Bowl must take TCU and the Wisconsin, unless Ohio State or Michigan State hops them in the BCS rankings for some reason.
It gets better now. BCS rules state that if a team finishes in the top 4 but does not win their conference and is from an AQ conference, then they are guaranteed an at large berth in a BCS bowl. Right now this is Stanford, but barely. Wisconsin is right behind them. How could anything change? Well Wisconsin is #4 and Stanford is #5 in both human polls. Stanford wins in the computer polls where they are #4 and Wisconsin is #7. However, there are some Pac-10 games this week, teams Stanford played. One team Wisconsin played as well. This could affect the strength of schedule of both teams and shift the computer rankings just enough to bump Stanford out of the top 4.
So there’s our background. If Stanford stays in the top 4 they are guaranteed a BCS bowl bid. Since Fiesta hosts the championship game, they get last pick of team, and they will get Stanford. No one back east wants them. Since they don’t sell out their own stadium, chances are they wouldn’t sell out in Louisiana or Florida. But Arizona is close, and who wouldn’t want to see them dismantle the likes of Uconn, West Virginia or Pitt? Depends on which pathetic teams manages to win the Big East.
But not suppose Stanford finished at #5. Oregon and Auburn are in the title game. TCU and Wisconsin are in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State and Arkansas are in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma and Uconn are in the Fiesta Bowl. Virginia Tech is in the Orange Bowl. Who gets the last at large bid? The only possible teams eligible would be Stanford, Boise State or Missouri, as the rankings now sit. Why? A conference can have at most 2 teams in the BCS. Michigan State is out for the Orange Bowl if Ohio State goes to the Sugar, which they will. LSU is out if Arkansas goes to the Sugar, which they will. So who would the Orange Bowl take against Virginia Tech? Certainly not Boise State since they already played each other. Stanford or Missouri? If I were the Orange Bowl, it’s Mizzou hands down. Why? The money.
Which brings us to our next quote from Stanford’s coach. Feast on this delicious BCS dissension:
“One of the disturbing things is to hear that how Stanford travels to the game keeps coming up. I keep getting asked about that, keep hearing about that. Didn’t notice that for any of the criteria there for the BCS rankings or what bowl you will go to…If something else is at play here that’s going to knock us out of that in the next couple of days or week then you might have one hot guy at next week’s press conference…If the almighty dollar is at play in determining who the best teams are on the field then count me in for a playoff. I can’t say it more emphatically than that.”
What Jim is trying to say is that if Stanford isn’t #4 on Sunday and guaranteed a BCS bowl bid, there’s no way they play in a BCS bowl. He thinks this is unfair for some reason. I’m sorry Jim, but why exactly is it fair that any bowl game trying to make money is stuck with your team simply because they reach #4 instead of #5? No one wants to take Stanford precisely because they can’t fill up their own stadium. Reality paging Jim Harbaugh…the dollar doesn’t determine who the best teams are, it just determines who plays in the best bowls. Reality is Stanford students would rather spend a Saturday protesting about some trivial social issue than attend a football game. No reasonable person should feel that a bowl game would be any different.
It’s funny how unfair the system seems to those who get screwed by it. I agree with Jim; Stanford is one of the best teams in the country. They deserve a shot to prove they are one of the best. But then again, I can think of other teams who have deserved a shot but gotten screwed, like Auburn, Utah, Boise State, TCU…well, you get the point. Now Jim Harbaugh knows what it’s like to be a little guy. This is how every non-AQ conference team feels every year. No matter what you do any given year, the system works against you. And even though Stanford is in a comfortable place, just the long shot that they could get bumped has their coach clamoring about how unfair the system might be. Alls well if Stanford gets a top tier bowl against a certainly bottom tier Big East champion.
I really hope something crazy happens this week. And don’t get me wrong, it certainly could. UNLV plays a good Hawaii team. If they win, that will boost Wisconsin for beating them earlier in the season. If Uconn holds on to win the Big East, well, Michigan handled them, and Wisconsin handled Michigan, which could help computer rankings some more. Arizona State lost to Wisconsin and plays Arizona. Of course, Stanford played them both, so regardless of who wins, their strength of schedule would stay the same. Meaning the Sun Devils could boost computer rankings for the Badgers too. Certainly anything can happen. Should Stanford get bumped and left out of the BCS, I would love it. I would love to see what Jim Harbaugh says then. But given the disappointing nature of this season thus far, I wouldn’t count on it.