Archive for Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: USC could spell doom for BCS

December 30, 2003

Rah, rah North Carolina State.

The team from Raleigh hardly had to rally against Kansas last week as the Wolfpack prevailed in the Tangerine Bowl in a 56-26 rout.

ESPN didn't quite get that classic eight-man track meet score -- you know, such as the 52-49 game between California and Virginia Tech on Friday in the Insight Bowl. But the network covered that game as well, so all is well in Connecticut.

As a bonus, ESPN settled for a record-setting passing effort in Orlando, Fla., for the second straight season. Kliff Kingsbury set the Tangerine Bowl record for passing last year and NC State's Philip Rivers embarrassed Kansas and set the record this season.

Viewers might have gotten to know more about KU's Bill Whittemore, who has battled numerous injuries during his career, but Whittemore doesn't have a wife and child as Rivers does. Oh, and Whittemore didn't complete what seemed like 94 of 97 passes on the day as Rivers did.

The Jayhawks didn't envision ending the season with such a whipping, but a bowl bid is a bowl bid. Kansas had a few extra weeks to practice and put itself on national television. The pasting could hurt recruiting, but it also could help. Some top prep and junior college defensive players could be interested in aiding the Jayhawks next season.

Many people moan that a 6-6 team shouldn't receive a bowl bid, but the calendars only will allow the normal 11 game regular-season schedule again next fall. Most bowl-eligible teams next season will have no worse than 6-5 records, unless a team plays in an early-season game.

And perhaps there are too many bowls, but 97 teams advance to postseason games in Division-I basketball between the NCAA and NIT tournaments.

Even if you prefer fewer bowls, that is not the major issue.

It's time the NCAA worries more about a fair shake for teams and less about an outdated tradition.

In what other sport does a team forget about its national title hopes after losing a game or two?

Another doesn't exist. The opposition cries "politics as usual" but no one really seems to be listening.

Even with the Bowl Championship Series, major questions usually exist doubting the BCS.

And every year, the normally solid John Saunders sits in the ABC studios at Times Square proclaiming to everyone that the critics are wrong and the BCS works. Of course it does when your network has a convenient contract with these four bowl games.

This season, however, Saunders has a lot of explaining to do. He must give reason as to why USC is left out of the national championship as Big 12 Conference runner-up Oklahoma plays Louisiana State. All three have one loss.

Computer formulas combined with polls decide who will be the national champion, but humans could have even more say this season.

If USC defeats Michigan in the Rose Bowl, the Associated Press could deem the Trojans as their No. 1 team. The coaches' poll has a contractual agreement with the BCS to pick the winner of the designated national championship bowl as its No. 1 team. So, depending on how the Rose and Sugar bowls play out, the sport again could have co-national champions.

Let's hope so.

D-I football needs a playoff system. Whether its four teams, eight teams or 16, it's time to make a major rule change.

These bowls still can be played, but with a playoff they would carry so much more weight. Winners of the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls would advance to a national title game or be crowned NCAA champs with a revolving title game among the four sites.

It would be such a tough sell -- again -- for the always stubborn Rose Bowl that prefers a Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup, but the format has to change.

Some coaches complain that a playoff would bite into too much of the student-athlete's academic world. But between tutors and student centers for athletes, the resources are available to offset these extra strains.

Besides, about a month lapses every season between the regular season's end and the national title game.

Academics shouldn't be sacrificed for a playoff. Plenty of D-I players will put up the pads and cleats once their college eligibility expires. Those degrees are important. But take a look at other sports and one will see scheduling can conflict with finals.

No playoff is perfect. Picking 16 teams means another five or so teams would have legitimate gripes for getting in.

With a playoff, Kansas State gets in this season. After a stretch in which its No.1 quarterback was hurt, the Wildcats bounced back and now sport an 11-3 mark.

Hopefully K-State's dominance against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game threw a heavy wrench in the system.

But as the NCAA has done in the past, it likely will tighten a screw here or there and call the system fixed. With Oklahoma's loss to K-State, the BCS probably will stipulate in the future that a team must win its conference championship game to be eligible for the national title.

It's difficult to match the allure of college football. From rivalries and marching bands to game day atmospheres at stadiums across the nation, D-I football is a wonderful thing.

But for the machine to function on all cylinders, the national champion should be decided the same way every other level of football and every other sport determine their winners -- with a playoff.

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