Inequity in the BCS

October 20, 2009

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No, this won’t be a story about the hoops that teams from “Non-BCS” conferences must jump through in order to gain entry into the BCS games.  While I dislike this inequity – particularly now that computer analysis allows us much greater insight into strength of schedule than in decades past – but this is an issue that many others have raised, and I will let them continue their worthy crusade.

My concern is about the inequity amongst the BCS conferences themselves.  There are six conferences whose champions have automatic berths into the BCS – the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big 10, Pac 10, and SEC.

Three of these conferences – the ACC, Big 12, and SEC – end their season in a battle of the titans (otherwise known as a conference championship game) in which the winners of two divisions face off to determine who the best team in the conference is.

I love watching conference title games because it means seeing two great teams face off, and gives a good glimpse in which teams might be peaking at the end of the season and which teams might be cooling off a bit down the stretch.  The conference title games are also a financial windfall for the conferences.

Two other conferences play a round robin conference schedule.  One of them is the eight team Big East conference.  With just eight teams, a round robin is really the only reasonable schedule.  This conference has changed considerably from the Big East of the past, having lost Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College as members (replacing them with South Florida, Cincinnati, and Louisville).  The current configuration draws criticism as being too weak to deserve an automatic berth in the BCS. 

The second conference that plays a round robin schedule is the Pac 10.  The conference has, of course, ten teams, meaning that they play nine conference games.  There is a strong likelihood that the conference will dump the round robin schedule in the future, as an informal poll of coaches showed that six coaches were opposed to the round robin schedule and four were in favor.  The reasoning behind dumping the round robin?  To allow teams on the cusp of bowl eligibility to replace a Pac 10 rival with a cupcake team on their schedule.

This brings us to the one team that has neither a conference title game nor a round robin schedule.  This is the Big 10 conference, which has, of course, eleven teams.  Big 10 teams play eight conference games, meaning that they avoid playing two conference rivals every season.  My concern is that this could allow two undefeated Big 10 teams to end up in the national championship game, simply because they were able to duck each other during the regular season.

Does this sound far fetched?  Let’s turn the calendar back to 2002.  At the end of the regular season, Ohio State and Iowa were both undefeated in conference games.  Ohio State was 13-0 and headed to the national championship game.  Iowa had tripped 36-31 in a game against Iowa State during the non-conference game early in the season.  If Iowa had been able to make it through the non-conference schedule without a loss they would also have been in serious consideration for a spot in the title game.  (Note: an undefeated Miami was the BCS #1 team that year heading into the title game, so in all likelihood, one of the Big 10 teams would have been left out of the game – but the possibility would have been there).

I am strongly opposed to the possibility of settling a conference title in the national championship game.  If two teams from a particular conference emerge as the two best teams in the land, I’m OK with that.  But don’t leave open the door for two strong teams to duck the most difficult team in their conference en route an undefeated record.

I am calling for the BCS to change the eligibility for the BCS title game to allow only teams from conferences that decide their champion on the field – either via a round robin schedule or a conference title game.  This would force the Pac 10 to retain their round robin schedule and force the Big 10 to either add a conference title game (which would necessitate adding a twelfth team) or expanding the conference schedule to ten games (allowing only two cupcakes per season instead of four).  After all, if you’re not sure who best team in the conference is, why should we crown one of your teams as the national champion?

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