Old habits die hard, but it seemed wrong to embark on another season without a traditional stab at college football’s dead man walking – the BCS.
With only two seasons left until the worst championship system in all of sports gets euthanized in favor of a four-team playoff, it was impossible to resist listening in on BCS executive director Bill Hancock’s teleconference on the eve of the 2012 season.
Those who know Hancock insist he’s a very nice person. No doubt. He was the primary steward of the NCAA’s best postseason franchise – the men’s basketball Final Four – for 13 years before being hired in 2009 to defend the indefensible. As the only full-time employee of the BCS, Hancock had the most unenviable job in sports.
Hancock has done it as well as he could without ever getting bitter and angry about the criticism that buried his tired rhetoric and talking points. I like to believe that behind the scenes, his experience with March Madness enabled him to exert quiet influence from within that ultimately led to this summer’s landmark agreement to stick a toe in the water of the playoff pool with the four-team scenario that will start after the 2014 season.
Wishful thinking, perhaps, considering he’s still the guy to build the playoff selection committee and steer the championship site selection process for the new playoff when it gets here.
But Wednesday, Hancock was still earning his pay as the BCS mouthpiece. He’s got two more years to work it as best he can.
“I would just like to say a couple of things about where we’ve been,” Hancock said in the tell-tale tone of the apologist about to start rationalizing.
“As all of you know, this will mark the 15th year in a row for the BCS, which brought the top two teams together in a bowl game, which almost never happened before,” he said. “And I just think it’s worth another reminder, that before the BCS that the top teams almost never met for the championship in a bowl game.”
True enough. Only eight times prior to 1998 did the No. 1 and 2 in the AP poll meet in bowls. It’s happened nine times since. I’ll give him that, even though it can be argued that the top two teams weren’t always the two teams the BCS claimed. Or that the two most worthy teams didn’t always get consideration. The constant flow of tweaks to the system illustrated just how flawed it was in accurately separating the wheat from the chaff.
But I digress. Go on.
“And it was a seismic change when the BCS came in,” Hancock continued, perhaps forgetting the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance that preceded it. “And it had some wonderful good consequences. I tend to think the best one of those is what it did to the regular season because the BCS turned what I considered to be basically a regional game into an extremely popular national sport.”
Perhaps ESPN and College Gameday and the evolution of sports into the 24/7 world that changed the game-of-the-week mentality of the 1970s and ’80s to the wall-to-wall range of options that exists today played a part in “nationalizing” what was once a more regional game. But certainly the incessant BCS debate and the rage it often engendered added something. The only thing worse than being talked about negatively is not being talked about, right?
“And yes, we all understand our format has had its share of controversy,” Hancock added, “but I believe and will always believe that the BCS is the reason college football has grown so exponentially from a regional sport to truly a national one. So as the BCS is taking its last laps, so to speak, I just want to remind folks that our system will be recognized for having been a powerful and positive part of the sport’s great and wonderful history.”
Hadn’t thought of it that way before. By that same logic, we should probably hail Jim Crow laws for being a “positive” bridge between slavery and civil rights. After all, without separate but equal, how would we ever have made it to just plain equal?
Perhaps the BCS would be viewed more favorably in the history books if it hadn’t operated like such a selfish cartel and stubbornly fought every reasonable argument for an inclusive playoff in its own transparent attempt at self-preservation.
Had the BCS just been a brief stepping stone to a legitimate playoff, it could have gone down as a noble experiment. Its many flaws could have been forgiven had they been more swiftly corrected.
Instead, it won’t be held in nostalgic high regard. Its platitudes such as “every game counts” (except the first LSU-Alabama game or anything played by Boise State or TCU) and “a playoff will kill the bowl system” (except that it won’t) will not be missed.
We’ve got two more seasons to endure the BCS. Just two more incomplete national champions to crown. Just two more years of complaining about which teams got hosed and which Southeastern Conference team will win it all. It’s not close to perfect, and neither is the four-team solution.
But just knowing the BCS has a set expiration date of Jan. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif., is enough to make the next two football postseasons palatable.
The regular season, conference quest and traditional rivalries, as always, remain great and fans can’t wait. The classics – just like real playoffs – never get old.