It was the end of 2006. Ohio State had just defeated Michigan in a battle between the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the country. A week later, USC – the #3 ranked team – lost, while Florida – the #4 ranked team – won. All of the games had been played, but one question remained.
Ohio State was #1 to finish the season, but who would be ranked #2 and play Ohio State in the national championship?
There were two candidates, Michigan and Florida. Michigan was still ranked above Florida, despite losing to Ohio State. Should they get a rematch? Florida had the same record as Michigan, but should they leapfrog Michigan for little apparent reason?
It would all come down to polling and computer algorithms. As 2006 came to an end, we got a picture into everything that was wrong and right about the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) at the same time.
This is the third installment of this blog series and the second one about bowl games. If you have not read the first post of this series or the first post on bowl games, you may want to do that before proceeding.
Finishing the 2006-07 Story:
So what was wrong with the BCS? Well, the games themselves did not decide who would be the champion. The system didn’t allow for it. The polling and algorithms would make the decision. This did not sit right with anybody – and rightfully so. The system needed to be changed.
How did this scenario show what was right with the BCS? Well, the polls and algorithms made the right decision. Instead of giving Michigan a rematch – and thereby diluting the importance of the Ohio State-Michigan game already played in the regular season – they chose Florida.
Florida went on to defeat Ohio State to win the national championship.
Misidentifying the Real Problem:
When the BCS was implemented in 1998, it did not fix the real problem with college football. In 2013, when college football began with its current playoff system, everyone thought that the major problems would be fixed.
Of course, we now know that was not true. Playoffs cannot fix the problem; they only perpetuate the real problem. And now that we know playoffs have not fixed everything, some want to blame the continued existence of bowl games.
Bowl games are the one thing that has survived the three “eras” of college football: the pre-BCS era, the BCS era, and the current playoff era. How is that possible? There are two answers.
Why Do Bowl Games Exist?
The first answer is because they still make money. The second answer is that we as fans watch them. Simple but true.
Because they still make money and because they still get us to watch them, they continue to exist. Even when the college football elite gave in and created a four-team playoff, they did it in the context of the bowl games.
Every other team that qualifies for a bowl game still gets to play in them, but now, it is even more obvious that only three games matter – the playoff games.
There is an irony to this, though. As I keep mentioning, the college football elite “fixed” the wrong thing.
What Is Actually Broken?
Everyone thought that the postseason was broken because the bowl games did not always decide the champion on the field. The writers, coaches, and computers did.
Admittedly, that is not a good solution. However, the compromise between having a four-team playoff and bowl games for everyone else was not a good solution either. I can say this because we are now, in 2017-18, having the same argument.
What no one considered was that the regular season was broken instead. Teams were not playing identical schedules, so no one really knew who the champion should be. The system for determining regular season schedules was keeping the best teams from playing each other. This system, or conference structure, is the real problem.
If the regular season had been addressed, a playoff would not have been needed.
Why Is a Playoff Still a Broken Solution?
The playoff has not solved much. A committee (maybe in a smoke-filled room, but I’m not sure) decides the four teams who participate in the playoff. Does that sound like “deciding the champion on the field?” Of course not. The fifth-best team still holds a grudge almost every year.
Already, fans are realizing this and asking for more. Before the first playoff game was played four years ago, people were asking for an eight-team playoff instead. This year, after a second year in a row with a controversial committee decision, the clamor is even louder. Alabama got into the four-team playoff as the #4 ranked team, which was very controversial.
Clearly, the playoff is not really working.
Plus, the playoff has only made the regular season worse. And the more playoff teams you have, the worse the regular season becomes.
But that’s a story for another day…