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Problems With the BCS Playoff System: Testing the Champions

By Yong-yi Zhu


I know that the BCS system is not perfect. The real question is whether there is any way to make it close to perfect.

For those of you not aware, BCS stands for Bowl Championship Series, a system designed to find the top two Division 1-A College Football teams in the nation. It takes into account polls of both Associated Press writers and coaches, polls from seven computer ranking methods, number of losses, strength of schedule, and whether or not a team has beaten other teams in the top ten. The computers then sum all the numbers from each individual section and create a total. The teams with the two lowest totals play for the national title game.

This system was originally installed in 1998 to settle disputes between the Associated Press and the coaches and to determine, via a set system, who should play for the national title and who gets the Sears Trophy. However, since then, we’ve come to some very close calls. In fact, two of the last three championship games have not come without much debate.

In 2000, Florida State lost one game all year, to Miami, who had also only lost one game. In fact, Miami was voted to be the second-ranked team in both of the human polls, while FSU was third. However, when the computers cranked out the numbers, FSU got to play in the title game and not Miami, creating a possibility for a split national championship if FSU and Miami had both won their bowl games. Obviously, the BCS needed to be fixed, and it was.

Then, in 2001, Nebraska lost in the last game of its regular season to Colorado. Thus, they did not get a chance to go to the Big XII Championship Game and did not win their conference. Colorado won the conference and was voted highly by the human polls. However, once again, when the computers did their job, Nebraska beat out Colorado by the slimmest of margins to get a chance to play Miami in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship. Again, talk of fixing the BCS was in the works.

What many are looking to do is to implement a system where several of the top teams get a chance to play in a playoff, much like that of the National Football League. This way, the best team in the country can truly be tested before being crowned, and nobody will have qualms about voting for a particular national champion. However, is there really a solution that will appease everyone?

Although this system would allow more teams to have a chance to play for the national title and for the best team to be determined, it would also cause other frenzies. If we take a look at the college basketball system, there are 65 teams that get into the tournament and there are still people that complain. When there is a cutoff somewhere, the people right on the borderline will object. Sure, the more teams one includes in a tourney, the less complaining there exists, but what does that accomplish?

The systems that we create are quite artificial to begin with. There will not necessarily always be two teams that stand out. Take this year, for example. It had appeared that Oklahoma, USC, and LSU were all great teams. But who is to say that Michigan or Texas or even Florida State were not good enough? Where does the line get drawn? I think that the most important thing to do is to have a system and stick with it. The BCS has given the title to the undefeated team every year thus far. Granted that will change this year, but it’s a system. It will work to the best of its abilities. We can either sit back and complain every time something goes wrong, or we can simply take it as it comes. The NFL has a system; the NBA has a system; the Final Four has a system; at least for now, the BCS has a system.