Dick Bestwick vs. Sloppy Joe- BCS or a Playoff?

Many of you long time readers may recall an article a couple of years ago about Dick Bestwick. He is a columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald. I criticized his column about the BCS and the fun and frivolity of bowl games. As luck would have it, one of his former players recently pointed out this article, and he responded with an email to me. Because of my abrasive tone the last go around, I felt I owed it to him to read through his articles and present a fair critique. So here goes.

Dick emailed me all of his articles, but I figured it would be easier to link to them rather than repost them, so here they are:

Bowls are the best option for college football
College football playoff still bad idea
College football playoff would hurt game, players
College football playoff system would be unfair to athletes
College football playoff system would hurt players
Stop whining about the BCS

I believe you get the point if you read through all of those articles. It’s mostly the same argument each time just in the context of that particular season’s controversy. So I thought I would sum up what his main points are and explain why I disagree, how a playoff could easily work and then propose a change to the BCS that we could both agree on.

1. Dick strongly advocates the BCS against a playoff because he believes it is better for the players: “Such a system [playoff] would, though, be the worst thing that could happen to college football, particularly with regard to the toll it would take on players.”

In a poll conducted by ESPN, 62% of college football players want a playoff. Just a little higher percentage of fans want a playoff. Some very prominent coaches, like Steve Spurrier, Joe Paterno and Tommy Tuberville want a playoff. Dick would have you believe that only crazed fans, pundits and politicians want to scrap the BCS and go with a playoff. This is simply not true. People involved with college football at every level want a playoff. The people who don’t are the ones who are running the current system.

Now, as for the toll a playoff would take on players. As it stands now, 70 teams play in a bowl game. In a 16 team playoff, there is no extra toll on the players in the first round, as that is the same toll a bowl game would have taken. So 8 teams play one more game, 4 teams play two more games and 2 teams play three more games. That is a maximum of three more weeks of practice and three more high intensity games.

Could some players get hurt? Yup, they sure could. But players get hurt every week in football. Players get hurt in bowl games. Injury is a part of the sport. The NFL regular season is four games longer, includes a pre-season and for some teams a four game post-season. Yet many an NFL player has managed to hold together just fine. Other levels of college football participate in a postseason playoff, and those players have held together just fine.

I don’t buy this argument. A playoff would increase the chance of an injury for just a handful of teams. And something tells me if you asked the players, its a risk they would be more than willing to take.

2. Dick seems to think that bowls are very sacred to players, coaches, fans and communities and are the highlight of the season for a team: “Bowls exist because communities want to show themselves off by offering a great week of fun and frivolity for players, coaches, administrators, parents and fans.”

This is from a linebacker from Georgia named Rennie Curran, speaking about playing in the Independence Bowl: “Definitely a bummer. I don’t know who came up with that rule to keep us away from our families on Christmas Day. I know for a fact that nobody wants to be away from their family on Christmas Day.”

So I agree that lots of people enjoy the bowl experience. But one big downside of the bowls is timing. Nothing should be played on Christmas, that’s just not very fair to the players. I think Dick would agree with that statement. If the bowls are here to stay, let’s at least keep December 24-26 open so players can be with their families on the holidays.

I would again point to the ESPN survey showing a majority of players wanting a playoff in college football. While players may enjoy bowls and that’s fine and all, they seem to want a playoff more than a bowl experience. Just because bowls are tradition and have been around for a long time, doesn’t mean they are some sacred institution that must be preserved. Look at the last 12 years since the BCS was formed- we already have 15 new bowls since then.

And why is that? Because bowls mostly benefit the bowl executives, not the players, coaches, fans or communities. Most bowls cause schools to lose money while bowl executives run off with near 7 figure salaries. The entire bowl system is really messed up. No one can argue with that. If the bowls are here to stay, they need to clean up their acts.

3. Dick is of the assumption that the regular season is already a playoff: “Here, then, is what all the teams not playing in the nation title game need to do now: Quit whining, get set to play their best football in their final game, enjoy their bowl trip, and make certain next year to take care of business from the first game through the last game of the season. There’s no better playoff system than that.”

This is a tired, worn out argument. The regular season is a playoff for about 65 teams or so. If two front runners just can’t be established among that group by any stretch of the imagination, then one of the other 55 teams maybe allowed in. How many times has an undefeated team not played in the National Championship? Well, since 2004 we have more undefeated non-champions than we do champions.

If the regular season were indeed a playoff, then all the conference champions, winners of their “brackets” you could say, would then face each other in a tournament. As it stands, when the “playoff” is over, two teams are selected to play for a championship. So what happens if you have 11 undefeated conference champions at season’s end?

The BCS rankings completely discriminate based on who you play, not how you play. So if every conference champion did go undefeated, the teams in “harder” conferences would be rewarded, even if they never even played that well. The regular season is not a playoff. To consider it such mocks the sport.

4. Dick claims that a playoff would not end the controversy and teams would still feel left out: “No matter how many teams might be involved in a playoff scheme, the problem of which teams should be in the bottom tier of those selected to play would remain.”

So in 2009 when TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati all went undefeated, you think they’re being left out of a championship opportunity is equal to the complaints we would have had from Miami, Oklahoma State or Wisconsin if they were left out of a playoff? Sorry but the two aren’t even close.

In a playoff, it would be unequivocally impossible to go undefeated and not get a chance at the championship. The current system allows undefeated teams to not participate in the championship. You think the BCS and playoffs share a problem in that regard?

While there would be bickering as to who gets in, it would not nearly be at the scale it is today. A playoff would be a much more fair way, mostly because you can set clear criteria for getting into a playoff- win your conference! With every conference winner guaranteed a spot, you make it completely fair and equitable. If 9-3 Utah were upset at not being in the playoff while 9-3 Virginia Tech was, well, beat TCU next time and win your conference.

5. Dick believes college footballs rise in popularity is due to the BCS: “It also might be noted that the popularity of college football has skyrocketed since the BCS was formed.”

Check out the actual FBS attendance figures here: http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/stats/football_records/DI/2010/Attendance.pdf

Dick is correct that you are seeing attendance figures steadily climb basically from 2001 to present day. Naturally he attributes this to the BCS. I would like to offer a few contributing factors.

1. Since 1982, the FBS has added 23 more teams. More teams in more places equals more popularity.
2. College football broadcasts have grown extensively. College football available in more places equals more popularity.
3. NFL attendance also increased from 2001 to 2008. No BCS in the NFL, so perhaps football was just getting more popular.

All of these and plenty of others are contributing factors to the increase of popularity. What the BCS did to make the game more popular was improve the old bowl system. If you think the current bowl system is bad, you should have seen the old bowl system. The BCS did a great job of that. Unfortunately, its still the bowl system.

BCS proponents like Dick love to compare the BCS to the old system because the BCS is better. Well, try comparing the BCS to a playoff system for once. I bet interest in the sport would grow even more. The reason the BCS is popular is because it created more competition and consequence. We got better bowl matchups, and for the first time we got a championship game. Now just imagine if that championship game was the culmination of a real playoff. How the popularity of the sport would grown even more!

A Realistic Alternative to the BCS and a Playoff

Now we all know a playoff just isn’t feasible. The people in charge don’t want it, and no matter what anyone says, we won’t get it while they are in charge. It will be years and years before a playoff exists in college football. So in the meantime, what we should focus on is making the BCS a better system for determining the national champion. Here’s my proposal.

First, add a fifth BCS bowl, the Cotton Bowl makes the most sense. Good location, good capacity, good tradition, everything makes sense.

Next, at the end of the season, the same BCS requirements apply. The 6 AQ-conference champions are in, the highest ranked non-AQ team if applicable, as well as an independent if applicable. The remaining spots are filled strictly based on BCS ranking. The highest ranked teams not in a BCS bowl are put in one until the spots are full. Period. No more bowls picking whoever they want in the top 12 or whatever it is. Top 2 teams are included here.

Third, rank the ten teams according to their BCS rankings, so that the ten teams are ordered 1-10. Teams 1-5 get “home bowl” locations. For simplicity sake, suppose these were the conferences of the top 5 teams:

1. SEC
2. Pac 12
3. Big Ten
4. ACC
5. Big XII

The SEC team would play in the Sugar Bowl. The Pac 12 team in the Rose Bowl. The Big Ten team would get the Cotton Bowl. The ACC team would get the Orange Bowl. The Big XII team would get the Fiesta Bowl. No one in the top 5 plays each other.

Now, the bowls will then select the opponent for their team from the remaining five teams, starting with the bowl hosting the #1 team. So the Sugar Bowl people would look at the five teams left and pick the one they want. Then the Rose Bowl would pick, then the Cotton Bowl, then the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl gets whoever is left.

Once all five of these bowl games have been played, and all other bowl games have been played, the BCS releases new rankings. The No. 1 and No. 2 in these rankings would then play in the national championship at the same time the game is held now.

There are several advantages here. The championship game participants won’t have been off for more than a month and would be able to play their best football. Every top team would get an opportunity against a quality opponent in their bowl game to prove themselves. In 2008 we could have had something like this and found that maybe Utah was the best team out there, then they could have played Florida for the championship.

This is still the same as the BCS is now for the most part. It only adds one more game for two more teams. It adds no extra practice time however, as the championship game is still played the same day. So it is literally just one more game for two more teams. Who knows, No. 1 and No. 2 might not even change, but at least they got to prove themselves and the other top teams had a chance too.

This post has gotten way too long, but I hope I was able to make my point. The BCS has improved college football, but it is still inferior to a playoff.