Carolina/Duke and the BCS

February 11, 2009 |

Tonight the Harlem Globetrotters invade Cameron Indoor. OK, I guess it’s not the really the Globetrotters, but this game, one of the focal points of the NCAA men’s regular season, while being a wonderful spectacle of both coaching and player’s talent, will, in the long run, amount to nothing more than a gloried exhibition.

Think about this. In college football, thanks to the BCS, the greatest rivalry of the sport, Ohio State and Michigan, is a winner-take-all affair. It’s the last week of the regular season, and if either of these teams have national championship aspirations, they can’t lose that game. There’s no two ways about it. There’s no eight-team or sixteen-team playoff tournament. They’re not playing for seeding. They’re playing for the championship lives. And it’s great!

Tonight, as far as the National Championship is concerned, what are Carolina and Duke really playing for? The answer……nothing. You can make your arguments about “getting a number one seed” or “proving to themselves that they can win” blah, blah, blah. The fact is, by the time these teams make it to the Big Dance, they will have played each other at least one, and probably two more times. Do you think by that point, when the brackets come out, either team will say, “back on February 11th….”? No way. Not a shot. That would be like saying “back in November, when Maryland hammered Michigan State….” The tournament, for all the magic and the unbridled excitement of the first four days, takes away almost all of the meaning of the regular season.

What if it were like the old days, when you had to win your conference to make the NCAA Tournament? And what if that was the regular season title, which it should be, as opposed to the conference tourney? Tonight’s game would be HUGE! Instead, tonight’s game, while interesting, will be old news in about 48 hours.

This is, once again, where the current BCS system shines. It puts incredible value on the regular season. More value than any other sport. And the thing that still gets me, is how, through the annual BCS b**ch-fest, people have lost the ability to think for themselves. All the people who hate the BCS system, certainly must be appalled at the NFL system, right? The Patriots were left out of the playoffs, after going 11-5 in a tough division, to let the Chargers in, who went 8-8 in an awful division. For my money, the Patiots were the third best AFC team, behind the Steelers and Titans, but they were left out. And, why again, did the Dophins and Ravens make the playoffs with 11-5 records and the Patriots didn’t with an 11-5 record?

When people have matching records in college football, usually 11-1, the BCS system decides who’s better. They do this by using a mathematical formula, combining human polls, and computer polls (which take into account strength of schedule) and determine who the better team is. It seems like a fair system to me, but I must be wrong because everybody hates it. OK then, can you tell me, off the top of your head, why the Ravens, at 11-5 were given a wild card over the Patriots, who were also 11-5? What system did the NFL use? Was it fair? Was it better?

I love some of the complaints about the BCS, because, quite frankly, the people who you sit next to at a game or on a barstool, who spew this stuff out, aren’t really giving you any original insight. Rather, they are reciting, or maybe regurgitating is a better word, something they heard someone else say. Here are my two favorites.

#1. Let them settle it on the field! I’ve heard this so much, and it has so little actual thought put into it, that it’s akin to going to a track meet and listening to someone yell “run!” So you want college football to settle things on the field like the NFL does? I mean, the NFL is perfect with everything they do, right? OK, so in the 2007-08 season, the NFL crowned their champion by letting them settle it on the field. The Giants lost more games in the first two weeks of the season than the Patriots lost all year. The Giants lost five, as a matter of fact, while the Patriots lost one, and they split their two meetings. How exactly was that settled? OK, forget about the Patiots. Let’s look at the Giants/Cowboys rivalry. They played three times, the Cowboys won twice. It seems settled on the field to me, yet for some reason, the Giants got to go to the Super Bowl. Why is that? And why aren’t we up in arms about that system? It obviously failed.

#2. In the BCS system, you can lose, as long as you lose early. As opposed to the NFL? Let’s look at this year’s Super Bowl participant, the Arizona Cardinals. They played a home and home series against the Philadelphia Eagles. When they went to Phily, they got embarrassed, 48-20. It was awful. (Not quite as awful as the time the Cardinals went to New England and lost 47-7, but it was close.) Then, in January, the Eagles went to Arizona, held a fourth quarter lead, and lost by seven. Again, each team won at home, and while one was much more convincing, the one that carried the day was the one that happened in January as opposed to November. So I guess what we’re saying is the BCS system doesn’t work because early losses are weighted much less heavily than late losses, even though in the NFL, early losses are weighted much less heavily than late losses. I guess, somehow, that makes sense. No, no, actually it doesn’t. Not at all.

That’s enough for my regular BCS defense. I know I’m the only person anywhere in the American sports media who does defend the BCS. Thank God the college presidents are with me on this one. But the thing that bothers me about the whole BCS bashing is that people have stopped thinking for themselves. Does the BCS system have problems? Sure it does, but so does every other playoff system. Be smart enough to figure out where the other systems have failed as well, and have the gumption to complain about them, even if no one else is. There’s a talk show host I listen to regularly who says “people are sheep.” They follow what you tell them to follow. Since the masses, say “the BCS stinks,” many sheep have followed along. In the past few months, we’ve seen that the BCS system stinks a lot less than the system of the almighty NFL, but the sheep don’t compain about that because the sheep haven’t been told to.

Tonight, when you tune in the match-up between Duke and Carolina, ask yourself, “what if this game really meant something”? If it was Ohio State and Michigan, it sure would.