[Cross-blogged for Leland Quarterly]
In the beginning man created the game and the sport.
And the sport was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of man moved upon the face of the football field.
And man said, LET, and there was a postseason.
And man saw the postseason, that it was good: and man divided the victorious from the defeated.
And man called the victorious Champions, and the defeated he called The Also-Playeds. And the East against the West was the first bowl game.
That first game showcased man’s proudest creations: the University of Michigan as Adam, made in man’s image as the archetypal eastern football team, versus our own Stanford University as Eve, cast from the rib of eastern football but startlingly unique and beautiful in its own western right. The date was January 1, 1902, and the game was an exhibition game in Pasadena following the annual Tournament of Roses.
And Stanford lost 49-0, forfeiting in the third quarter.
But the beautiful concept of the bowl game was born! Yet in those dark and medieval days, it wasn’t always easy to figure out which teams should play each other. And so, in 1998, a great flood washed over the landscape of college football—and when Roy Kramer released a dove from the summit of Mount Ararat, it returned with the bylaws of the Bowl Championship Series, which have governed the postseason of college football to this day.
BCS rankings have been used since 1998 to determine which two teams play in the National Championship game, and also somehow vaguely influence the four other so-called BCS bowls: Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange. There is a (ahem) byzantine and confusing selection process behind this that I really don’t think I could fully decipher or explain, so I’ll just say that the Wikipedia summary takes no less than ten bullet points to fully delineate all possible selection criteria and the breakdown of each week’s rankings involves a lot of numbers:
In an effort to stave off the eventual triumph of our future robot overlords, the current BCS system weights two human polls with a single composite computer average, ensuring the human voters still have a large say in the final rankings. Each computer has its own unique algorithm that’s secret and proprietary and may range from sophisticated statistical techniques to monkeys throwing feces at a map of FBS teams. No one’s really sure.
Like the total lack of a system before it, the BCS has some… quirks. It seems to hate the Pac-12, for example, though given the number of completely fubar win-loss triangles in our conference this year, that may turn out to be justified (USC beats Oregon but loses to Stanford and is crushed by Arizona State?). And then there’s the whole unbeaten-doesn’t-mean-you’re-the-best issue. Ask Boise State or TCU about that one.
But weirdest, in my mind, is the Notre Dame clause. Our opponent this week is an independent team, with enough of a devoted (read: rabid) fan base to succeed while not belonging to a conference like the rest of us. But there is a specific line in the BCS rules that says Notre Dame must go to a BCS bowl game if it’s ranked in the top eight teams—which, admittedly, would probably happen anyway because no bowl in its right mind is going to turn down the hordes of Notre Dame fans coming to watch the Fighting Irish Irenicons play some football, but the fact that it’s actually codified still reeks of privileged 1%-ishness.
So: is the BCS broken? Well, probably not. With only twelve games per season, it does a pretty decent job of making a ranking system that makes at least a bit of sense. But there’s perennially talk of switching to a playoff system between the top eight teams—a December Delirium to match NCAA basketball’s March Madness. In fact, one of the biggest supporters of a playoff system is President Barack Obama.
Valid way to win votes in Texas and Idaho? I’d say so.
Finally, a look at some rhetoric from around the internet:
- David Shaw: BCS system ‘flawed’—I wrote the body of my column about six hours before this article came online, so that makes it the epitome of the ancient Greek concept of kairos
- Cardinal will sport whole new look against Notre Dame—yeah, you didn’t forget about that, did you?
- Brian Kelly has Notre Dame heading in the right direction despite serious distractions—two of which, in my mind, are that 1) this article’s mediocre use of the phrase “the luck of the Irish” was the best I could find in a week when the Fighting Irish play Andrew Luck, and 2) Brian Kelly looks like someone pissed in his Lucky Charms
- And I’d just like to point out that of the 120 FBS teams, two have their own dedicated ESPN blog—an important part of rhetoric, after all, is knowing that you have an audience