The “bowl game” portion of the college football season began this past weekend, as of the day I (Scott) am writing this. Bowl games are a unique feature of college football. For many, they are a part, if not the source, of college football’s problems. For me, they are harmless fun during the holidays.
Who is right? Mostly me, of course.
This is part two of a series begun last week on why playoffs have ruined college football. If you missed the introduction, feel free to go back and read that first.
What you are about to read is a story about wealthy men in smoke-filled rooms, greed, and wealthy, greedy men in smoke-filled rooms who are too close to a problem to fully understand what the problem is.
What Are Bowl Games?
College football has a regular season, and then any team who had at least as many wins as losses are eligible for a bowl game. A bowl game is a postseason game on a neutral field between two qualified teams. That is all. They carry little meaning beyond bragging rights.
But they have some epic names, usually due to sponsorships. Here are my five favorite bowl game names from this year’s slate:
- Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl
- Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl
- Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl (I just love that it has a plus sign in it.)
- TaxSlayer Bowl
- Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Over the years, the number of bowl games has grown. This year, there are a total of 40, which means that 80 teams are playing in the bowl game “postseason.”
Before there was a playoff, all of the bowl games were played, and then some writers and coaches, the college football elite – I imagine them puffing on cigars in a smoke-filled room – voted the next day. That vote would determine the national champion.
What About the Bowl Championship Series?
And then there was the BCS. In 1998, the college football elite decided to improve upon the simple, next day voting process by creating something called the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS. The BCS improved the voting process (in theory) by getting more people involved. Multiple polls were used; some of them were computer rankings using unknowable algorithms. Once all of the polls and algorithms were combined, through yet another unknowable mathematical process, the final BCS rankings were released. The top two teams would play in the BCS National Championship Game.
This solved the problem in one way. For all of the people who hated the original voting process, this new system provided one final championship game. College football’s national champion would now be decided “on the field.”
It still felt wrong, though. After all, how good can this system be if only a handful of mathematicians understand how it works?
People wanted to scrap the complicated BCS. Give us a playoff, they said. We understand playoffs. Figure out how to have a playoff after the regular season, and we will be happy.
Sure, the BCS was providing a champion which was decided on the field, but how do we know that it is picking the top two teams correctly? What if the third-best team should actually be in the championship game instead?
It’s a fair question. And yet, there was something interesting about the BCS.
It worked. Every time. Every single year.
Even in 2007.
To be continued…