Nostalgia has begun to slowly seep into the national discourse when discussing the long awaited end of the BCS. Last Monday’s BCS National Championship game between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn was the final National Championship game played under the Bowl Championship Series model. While most college football fans agree that even a small playoff is an improvement over the arbitrary status quo College Football has endured since 1998, there has been a counter insurgence to defend the BCS as not being so bad after all. The argument follows that the BCS gave every week’s regular season games meaning, the Bowl games were big revenue streams for the schools and for the most part the BCS has ‘gotten it right.’
The former two points are reasonable and for the most part true. The latter one, however, is nonsense. For years now, it has been said that the BCS ‘got it right’ with the Championship game (as opposed to getting it wrong?). This kind of logic supposes that there is a predetermined, rightful and objectively correct endpoint to the college football season that the two best teams will play for the championship. If the two best teams play, so it goes, then the system has worked. This was the whole point of the BCS after all. Looking at previous championship games along this paradigm, it could be argued that the BCS has gotten it right quite frequently. In 2009, the two clear ‘best’ teams Alabama and Texas played each other. In 2005, USC and Texas played in a memorable game. 2002 provided Miami vs. Ohio State (what a great game it was), and even last year’s tilt between Alabama and Notre Dame was unanimously considered the ‘right’ matchup. This is to say that any other outcome would constitute ‘getting it wrong’ — something we can obviously not stand for.
Such as the 2008 Super Bowl, when the undefeated New England Patriots lost to the 10-6 Wild-Card New York Giants. Surely this did not fit any kind of objective model. Did the NHL get it wrong in 2012 when (gasp!) the No. 8 see Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup? Clearly they didn’t ‘deserve’ to be there. How about the Butler Bulldogs who made back-to-back national championship games in March Madness? Do the almighty brackets do us injustice every year when the four No. 1 seeds do not inevitably meet in the Final Four? Fans in New York, Los Angeles and Indianapolis as well as anyone who has ever joined a bracket pool would disagree with such a thesis.
The edict from college football fans that a system ‘get it right,’ however, cuts against the very core of any postseason structure that fans virtue: unpredictability. March Madness is one of the best sports times of the year precisely because a team like Florida Gulf Coast can win their way into the Sweet 16. A team is worthy of winning its national championship because it persevered against everything that could possibly be thrown at it and still succeeded. A playoff system, even starting as small as four teams, is the best avenue to guarantee this. The one critical factor that has plagued college football for years now is that year in and year out teams have very little to play for if they are not undefeated. TCU in 2010 and 2009, Cincinnati in 2009, Auburn in 2004, Utah in 2006 as well as a host of other teams all finished seasons undefeated and could not have done anything more to deserve a shot at a national championship. When a team’s ceiling is not a chance to play for a championship, how does a team get motivated to play week in and week out for its fans? This does not even touch on the plethora of one-loss teams that were arbitrarily chosen over for other equally formidable one-loss teams.
Will the college playoff be perfect? Assuredly not. In effect, humans will subjectively choose between No. 4 and No. 5 rather than half-subjectively choosing between No. 2 and No. 3. But the days of hoping and praying that an arcane computer system will ‘get it right’ are over – the playoff will do something that the BCS never did: make college football fair and fun again.