College football blows the bowl season
And now the best regular season in sports gives way to the worst postseason in sports. That was the opening line for Pat Forde’s column on the ugly bowl matchups, and it’s a statement difficult to argue with.
This was an extraordinary college football season. Lacking a truly dominant team, we instead were given a plethora of very good teams playing different styles of football and showcasing different types of superstars (think Manti T’eo and Johnny Football).
With so many great teams, the potential matchups for bowl season were incredible. Instead, the system blew it.
Here are some of the good matchups:
- Alabama vs Notre Dame
- Texas A&M vs Oklahoma
- LSU vs Clemson
- Oregon vs Kansas State
Here are some of the blown matchups:
- Wisconsin vs Stanford
- Northern Illinois vs Florida State
- Florida vs Louisville
The problem is that there are two major challenges of a postseason system. The first is to deliver the championship game between the top two teams. In that regard, the BCS is likely superior. College football rewards the best two teams from the entire season compared to what most sports do which is reward the team that gets the hottest at the end of the season.
Secondly, the postseason system is tasked with delivering other postseason games – in college football, we call them bowl games. In that regard, the system is failing miserably, but the blame should not entirely be placed on the BCS. I’ll take it further, the next system will have the same issues.
Remember, the playoff only addresses task #1 which is determining a champion. The same issues will be present when the selection committee and contract bowls place teams in the other 4 “access bowls.”
The main issue here is that there are a number of independent interests in play. Bowls have contracts with conferences. The BCS selection rules interfere and only permit two teams from a conference which opens the door for jokes like Northern Illinois. The system is not intended to place the best teams in America in the BCS bowls. Otherwise, we’d just take the top 10 teams in the BCS (of which six are from the SEC). No, the system is intended to provide balance between conferences and also honor traditions and contracts of specific bowls.
What about Northern Illinois? What a disaster. The selection rules state that a non BCS-league champion is automatically in if they are in the top 12 of the BCS. That threshold moves to the top 16 if it finishes in front of a BCS-league champion. NIU finished in front of two: Wisconsin and Louisville. Why is this even a rule? Because of the relentless assault by the media on the BCS with respect to “fairness.”
So, in essence, you should be blaming the Big East and the Big Ten for being so crappy which in turn opened the door for the worst Orange Bowl matchup ever.
Here’s the problem, though. Northern Illinois would have gotten a spot in the new playoff system as well. In the new system starting in 2014, NIU would be guaranteed a spot as the highest ranked non-BCS champion. I say again: why is this a rule?
So Kirk Herbstreit’s rant about NIU is valid, except his statement about how he can’t wait to get to the next system is invalid. Sorry, Kirk, NIU lives on in 2014.
If you need another reason why teams like NIU shouldn’t be in BCS bowls (do you really need another reason?) then consider that there’s a good chance that when a team like this has a dream season and gets into the BCS, their coach is often targeted to be hired away, and they play that BCS game with an interim coach. Yep, it’s that way with NIU this year. Coach Dave Doeren has already accepted the head coach job at NC State. Louisville could very well be playing with an interim coach against Florida if Charlie Strong lands an SEC job.
If you want an ideal postseason in college football, you need to emphasize the best teams in the country. Period. The BCS rankings are the closest thing to listing the best teams in the country. Note that conference championship teams are irrelevant. Half the teams in the SEC would slaughter the Big Ten Champ this year. Emphasize the best teams in the country. Forget conference champions except with regard to how it affects the rankings of the best teams in the country.
If for political reasons, you need to throw the small conferences a bone, give them a “BCS” Bowl before Jan 1. Let the top two ranked teams from non BCS-leagues to play eachother. Don’t pit one of these crappy teams against one of the awesome teams we want to see take on another awesome team. Florida State should be squaring off against Georgia or something, not NIU. Florida should be squaring off against a team like Oregon, not Louisville. Let Louisville and NIU play eachother in some midwestern fair grounds coupled with a nice little carnival in order to draw fans, televised on Univision.
Some might consider that I’m advocating an 8-team playoff since I’m advocating something like the top 8 teams in the country. I’m not. I’m advocating bowl games between the top teams to showcase fantastic matchups for fans. I don’t want an 8-team playoff. I want the same regular season that flows into awesome non-conference matchups between the best teams in college football during bowl season.
Here’s the other point we’re missing. Who says that the playoff field will be the best teams in football? We’ve already been told conference championships will likely be an emphasis. How’d that work out this year? There are a number of competing interests that go head-to-head with the idea of putting the best teams in the land against eachother. If and when, we expand to an 8-team field, I’ll guarantee you that there will be plenty of talk about making sure one of the small conference teams gets that 8th spot every year.
Pat Forde is right. College football has the best regular season and arguably the worst postseason. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the next system changes that much.
Photo Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports