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Special Feature


Commentary: Lack of Quality Leadership Opens the BCS To Annual Controversy

by Dave Congrove
12/8/03

If the leadership of the BCS had a backbone, they could avoid at least some of the annual controversy that looms over their so-called "national championship" game each and every year. But all it takes is for someone to utter a negative word and those in charge offer placating apologies instead of intelligible defense.

The Bowl Championship Series was born from a desire to reduce, if not remove, the emotion and bias that tainted the previous system where voters with questionable motives were left solely to determine teams' fates.

It doesn't take much effort to see voter bias even to this day.

Just look at any preseason poll and you will always find enough Notre Dame sympathizers to get them ranked in the top 25. This past season began with the Irish ranked 20th in the AP Poll. The Congrove Computer Rankings, which are not affiliated with the BCS and are designed to predict the outcome of games, had Notre Dame ranked 62 with a preseason projection of a 6-6 record (they finished 5-7).

Look now at how poorly they have treated Miami (Ohio) and Boise State. The RedHawks are riding a 12-game winning streak after losing to Iowa in their season opener. Since then, eleven of their twelve wins have been by margins of 20 points or more. Yet, they are ranked just 14th in the latest AP poll and 15th in the Coaches poll despite a 12-1 record and the presence of a superstar quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger.

Boise State is also 12-1 and has an incredible record of 27-2 over their last 29 games. The Broncos are ranked 15th by the AP voters and 12th by the coaches and are playing TCU, another one-loss team, in the new Fort Worth Bowl.

When Steve Spurrier was at Florida, he admitted that he gave Duke his 25th place vote in the preseason poll each year as a gesture of support to the school he once coached. That's a small and insignificant gesture when compared to the many times that coaches have raised or lowered other teams' rankings based on their level of animosity or respect toward other coaches.

Do you honestly believe that no sportswriter has ever used the rankings to seek revenge on the hated rival of a team he covers? If you buy that, I have some ocean-front property in Arizona that I can sell you at a bargain price.

It doesn't take much effort to see the emotional knee-jerk reactions of voters, either. When West Virginia leveled Virginia Tech in Morgantown to hand the Hokies their first defeat, they dropped the Hokies like a lead baloon from No. 3 to No.10. But when Virginia Tech romped over Miami to end their 39-game winning streak the following week, they bounced them right back up to No. 5 and back in the national title hunt.

They may as well be picking petals off of a daisy while they utter, "I love them, I love them not, I love them, I love them not..."

This past weekend's results produced the same type of irrational behavior.

Oklahoma was the darling of every pundit, pontificator and pen-pusher all year-long. Proclamations were given daily of how the Sooners were head-and-shoulders above everyone else. But after becoming one of just three teams in the BCS mix to lose one game, they kicked them out of the house quicker than a family dog that bit the baby. Suddenly, they were only the third-best team out of three BCS schools with one loss.

Hadn't the public already been forewarned that a loss by Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game would not remove them from a first or second-place finish in the BCS? Didn't their season-long dominance earn them that much respect?

Apparently not, as just 10 of 128 voters (only two media voters) put the Sooners in first after the loss to a Kansas State team that is now on a seven-game winning streak. LSU (losers to a Florida team that was 3-3 at the time) was ranked number one by 39 voters. And 79 voters went with the Trojans, who lost to a California team that barely finished bowl-eligible at 7-6 and was only 2-3 at the time they played.

You have to wonder if they didn't purposely try to kick Oklahoma down far enough to offset the potential outcome of the computers. Gee, could humans be unethical and manipulative?

Or did the voters simply say, "Look at how badly they got beat! For crying out loud it was 35-7!".

Ohhhh. So humans can use "margin of victory" as a determining factor in their logic while the BCS computer rankers were emphatically ordered not to do so prior to the start of the 2002 season.

I am not here to defend the BCS but no one needs to take much effort to shoot them down. They constantly seem to have the chamber loaded and pointed at their own heads as they cower under any expression of dissatisfaction.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, this year's "head" of the BCS, was on ABC-TV's bowl selection show yesterday apologizing for the result and suggesting change could come.

What's new? They change it practically every year. Any complaint, justified or not, prompts change.

Here are some examples:

  • Beginning in 1999, each BCS conference became subject to review and possible loss of automatic selection by the BCS should the conference champion not have an average ranking of 12 or higher over a four-year period. This was a knee-jerk reaction to Syracuse winning the Big East with an 8-4 over-all record and barely ranked in the top 20 heading into the bowl games.
  • In 2001 they added the stipulation that teams ranked No. 3 or 4 in the final BCS standings that did not win its conference championship must be selected as an at-large team.
  • Later they added that any non-BCS conference team ranked sixth or higher in the BCS standings, will also be eligible for the BCS.
  • Prior to the start of the 2002 season, the BCS mandated that the computer rankers eliminate "margin of victory" from consideration, causing David Rothman and Herman Matthews to remove their respective rankers from the mix. The New York Times replaced them.
  • When they first instituted the "Quality Win" component in 2001, it applied to wins over teams ranked in the top 15. It was reduced to the top 10 prior to the start of the 2002 season.

And here we were again on Sunday, listening to the brilliant Mike Tranghese - the man whose conference fell apart under his supervision with defections by Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC - tell us that change will be considered.

At some point, if you are going to attempt to sell the country on the system, you have to develop enough backbone to defend what you have.

All Tranghese really had to say was this:

"The BCS recognizes the participation of two voter polls and seven computing systems in the process of determining its national title participants. The patently unbiased rankings of the computers countered what may have been a knee-jerk reaction by the voters in the wake of Saturday's Oklahoma loss. The final analysis is that Oklahoma and LSU will play for the BCS title. USC will play Michigan in the Rose Bowl where the Trojans can rightly claim a possible AP national championship with a victory. We had hoped to prevent such controversy but three teams simply can't play in the same bowl game."

Controversy exists because the public has not accepted the union of computers and traditional polls and because, above all else, they favor a playoff system.

He could have added that "LSU fans will consider the BCS computers to be genius. Oklahoma fans will see them as a savior. And USC fans, as well as many interested and casual observers, will view them as a scourge on society. Anyone with a functioning brain and a beating heart can understand the displeasure numerous people feel as a result of the bowl selections. But what you ultimately had were three teams with fairly equal records and a guarantee for animosity from whichever team was going to be left out."

That's all he really needed to say.

But I would have applauded loudly if he added, "and if the voters don't straighten up and quit their incessant whining every year, we're going to eliminate YOU from the mix because we are sick and tired of hearing it."

If the leadership of the BCS can't successfully defend its own rules, why should anyone else take them seriously.

Also See:
Whining About Whining About the BCS

Suggested Changes For BCS
BCS Bashing Has Big Bandwagon
Did BCS Do The Right Things With Its Changes?
Computer Rankings and National Titles