How the BCS' swan song proves college football needs more than a four-team playoff

Even under 2014's business model, deserving teams will still be left in the cold
12/10/2013 9:30 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Even if a four-team playoff happened in 2013, Art Briles and his 11-1, Big 12 Champion Baylor squad would still be left out.(AP)
The 2013 college football season marks an end to the BCS era, and it’s only fitting that it ends with further proof that in said era, it matters not if, where, or to whom you lose, only when.

As late as last Friday, the paths were clear for several; undefeated BCS No. 2 Ohio State simply had to top Michigan State in the Big 10 title tilt and a spot in Pasadena was theirs; Big 12 leader Oklahoma State needed one last “Cowboy Up” against Oklahoma to win the conference title and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl; and potential BCS-buster Northern Illinois was a win over Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference title game away from their bringing MACtion to the BCS for the second straight season.

The end result? Three losses when it counted the most, and now the BCS Championship Game is Auburn vs. Florida State while Oklahoma State gets to play another team that controlled its BCS destiny on Saturday morning, SEC runner-up Missouri, in the Cotton Bowl and Ohio State plays Alabama – who didn’t even play on Saturday, mind you, because they were already out of contention for the SEC crown – in a “what could have been” Sugar Bowl that just three weeks ago was pegged as a potential BCS Championship pairing.

The “other” BCS games then have Baylor, who won the Big 12 crown Oklahoma State couldn’t, getting the Fiesta nod against American Athletic Conference champion UCF and Clemson – who, like Alabama, didn’t even play in their conference championship game – against those wacky Oklahoma Sooners in an Orange Bowl filled with two-loss at-large teams.

Oh, and as for Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, and the MAC? After going 12-0 and ranking as high as the mid-teens in both polls, NIU gets to play 8-5 Mountain West runner-up Utah State in a Dec. 26 Poinsettia Bowl that airs at 9:30 on a Thursday night, and the now 10-3 team that beat them and cost their conference millions of dollars gets the “reward” of playing 6-6 Pitt in the Little Caesars Bowl…which airs immediately before the Poinsettia Bowl on Boxing Day.

And people ever thought this system was a fair representation of college football?

Don’t let those who say the four-team playoff that starts next year will “fix” things, either. If that system were in place this year, No. 1 Florida State would be playing No. 4 Michigan State and No. 2 Auburn would have an Iron Bowl rematch with No. 3 Alabama; you can say everyone would love to see that particular game, but I’m not sure that “everyone” includes 11-2 Pac-12 champ Stanford (No. 5), 11-1 Big 12 champ Baylor (No. 6), and 11-1 American Athletic Conference champ Central Florida (No. 15), all of whom won a BCS conference title but would still be left out.

The four-team playoff may be a start, but it’s time for NCAA Division I FBS football to move out of the dark ages and simply put on some kind of all-inclusive tournament for their national title. Seeing as every other division does it, no one can say anything negative about added games, athletes being taken away from classes, or any other snafu that could be associated, and there’s even surely a way to do a tournament where the bowl system, including the current BCS bowls, could be kept mostly intact.

Just how that could be done is all up to conjecture – and I myself have a theory (which I will reveal in this space next week) on just how to do that in perhaps the most balanced manner – but the fact of the matter is that college sports have recently proven that money trumps tradition, and the more teams that have a shot at the brass ring, the more money there will be to go around.

And, if you don’t believe that, or are less of a “let’s be fair to everyone” type and are more of an educational or institutional purist, might I remind you that instituting a system where the Florida Atlantics and South Alabamas of the world have (theoretically) the same chance as Florida State or Alabama does to be crowned champion will benefit everyone in the long run.

Just getting the chance to play will bring in revenue for the smaller conferences – like, say, the millions the MAC missed out on when Bowling Green beat Northern Illinois – and that means they’ll have a better chance to compete, which means better and more lucrative games in the future as the cream of the crop gets spread among all silos and not just some.

It also means that maybe, just maybe, someday, a team like Rice can do what Butler nearly did in basketball a few years back and bring a national title back to the rest of the pack.

Until all that happens, someone will be crowned champion every year, but they’ll often be champion in name only; after all, if Auburn does knock off Florida State on Jan. 8, then at least record-wise, the 12-1 Fiesta Bowl winner and the winner of the Sugar Bowl end up just as good as 12-1 Florida State…except that in the end, they didn’t lose when it counted against them the most.

Actually, that would be kind of a fitting cap to the BCS era, no?

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