The long-awaited end of the BCS era
By Mark Miller
College football as we’ve known it for more than two decades is about to dramatically change to something its critics have sought seemingly for eternity.
The Bowl Championship Series system that has determined the top major collegiate football team in America since 1998 is nearly history as it will determine its final champion on January 6, 2014. Replacing it finally will be a four-team playoff with the simple name (until the powers that be secure a corporate sponsor) of the College Football Playoff. The inaugural CFP title game will be held right here in DFW at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015.
No longer will anyone be able to complain about football being the only college sport without a postseason playoff tournament. That was the major criticism of the BCS and its predecessors, the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance that date to the early 1990s. While those agreements were better than when national champions were selected by separate polls of sports writers and college coaches, they still weren’t true playoffs.
Though the BCS did ensure the top two teams always met for the national title, it sometimes keep out other worthy teams. Some were undefeated. Too many were schools from outside the major conferences.
The BCS was created to attempt to solve the problem of no true national championship game because of the automatic conference tie-ins with the traditional bowl games. Back then, the nation’s top team might be bound to one bowl while the next-best squad would have to play in another bowl. When No. 1 and No. 2 didn’t meet, it prompted some split national champions.
Turns out the nation’s top two teams met just eight times in the first 56 years of postseason play. College coaches and administrators began to change that equation in a set of lengthy meetings late in 1991 and early in 1992 that created the Bowl Coalition. Directly involved were commissioners of the Big East, Atlantic Coast, Big Eight, Southeastern, and Southwest conferences plus Notre Dame. The Pac-10 and Big Ten were not included. That took place for bowls after the 1992, 1993 and 1994 seasons.
In 1995, the relationship between the conferences was modified to come even closer to matching No. 1 and No. 2. The Bowl Alliance moved the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls to the front and center but with the flexibility to select their best matchups without being tied to specific conferences. That lasted for bowls after the 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons.
By 1997, discussions took place to include the Big Ten, Pac-10 and Rose Bowl to forge the BCS. Only teams ranked in the top 12 at season’s end were eligible to compete for the 10 spots. Only No. 1 and No. 2 would have the chance to win the national championship as the BCS’s five-bowl showcase ultimately was designed so the top two teams could meet in the finale.
While not perfect, the BCS did a good job of definitively determining the nation’s top team while attempting to maintain the traditions of the long-time bowl structure. Still, it never met the growing groundswell of support for a true playoff. That changed earlier this year when it was announced that the College Football Playoff would begin in 2015 with headquarters in Irving.
College Football Playoffs
Finally bowing to the years of pressure, college football leaders created a four-team, three-game playoff. Semifinal games will be played either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day at traditional bowl game sites with the championship contest at a separate venue on a Monday night at least a week later.
In October, the 13-members of the committee who will chose the teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff were named. They include 10 people who played college football, two former top-level university administrators, five current athletic directors, three College Football Hall of Fame members, three former college head football coaches, a former United States Secretary of State, a former member of the U.S. Congress, and a retired three-star general.
Members of the committee and their credentials are:
• Jeff Long, vice chancellor and director of athletics, University of Arkansas, chair
• Barry Alvarez, director of athletics and former head coach, University of Wisconsin
• Lieutenant-General Mike Gould, former superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy
• Pat Haden, director of athletics, University of Southern California
• Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive vice-president
• Oliver Luck, director of athletics, West Virginia University
• Archie Manning, former University of Mississippi and all-pro NFL quarterback
• Tom Osbourne, former head coach and director of athletics, University of Nebraska
• Dan Radakovich, director of athletics, Clemson University
• Condoleezza Rice, Stanford university professor, former Stanford provost, and former United States Secretary of State
• Mike Tranghese, former commissioner of the Big East Conference
• Steve Wieberg, former college football reporter, USA Today
• Tyrone Willingham, former head coach of three FBS institutions
“We wanted people of the highest integrity for this committee, and we got them,” said College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock. “Every one of them has vast football knowledge, excellent judgment, dedication and love for this game.”
Committee members were chosen by the College Football Playoff Management Committee consisting of the commissioners of conferences overseeing the playoff.
“They will no doubt have one of the hardest jobs in sports,” Hancock added. “But their skills and wide variety of experiences from coaches and athletes to university leaders and journalists will ensure that they will be successful. And they are committed to investing the time and effort necessary for this endeavor. We are grateful that they will be serving this terrific game of college football.”
Teams selected to partake in the new playoff will be selected by whatever criteria committee members deem important rather than the current combination of computer rankings and human polls. Those criteria are expected to include an undefeated regular season, strength of schedule and injuries.
How much money is involved with the new playoffs? According to USA Today’s George Schroeder, more than $500 million, about $470 million of which goes to the 10 top conferences. No wonder the new system is popular.
Will the College Football Playoff please everyone? Highly unlikely since it’s virtually impossible for everyone to agree on anything. But if done right, the College Football Playoff could become for football what the Final Four is for basketball.
So long BCS.
It was nice knowing you.