Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Love It or Hate It, BCS Delivered More Often Than Not

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The BCS was more than a grand experiment. It was a bold attempt to break with college football's past, a system that was designed to remove the "mythical" prefix from the "national championship" through a novel concept of settling the title debate on the field.

By and large, the BCS was a success.

"I’m proud of our track record and I’m proud of the BCS," executive director Bill Hancock said Monday morning at the annual awards breakfast of the Football Writers Association of America. "It matched No. 1 and 2, enhanced the regular reason, improved the bowl system and introduced new schools to top-tier bowl games."

The BCS era ended Monday night with a spectacular finale at the Rose Bowl, in which Florida State overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat Auburn, 34-31, to complete a perfect season. While Hancock called the 16-year run "a golden era for college football," I probably would stop a bit short of that, even though you can count me as a late convert.

In the initial years, the BCS was fraught with problems. The first seven years of the BCS were wracked with controversy, as I've chronicled in the ongoing review series. The cause of all that could be squarely placed on one single thing—the convoluted first version of the BCS standings.

There was the Miami-FSU controversy in 2000, Nebraska fiasco in 2001 and then the mother of all debacles in 2003 when No. 1-ranked USC was left out of the BCS title game. The standings would undergo four revisions in five years until it settled on the final format in 2004.

That's when the BCS wised up. It quit monkeying around with the standings. And when Hancock, who built his reputation by running the NCAA basketball tournament for 13 years, came on board in 2005, the BCS finally had a trusted spokesman. It stopped knee-jerk reacting to every complaint or grievance and just let the public judge it on the outcome that was produced.

In that regard, the last nine years of the BCS, which began on the same Rose Bowl field with a different epic finish—Texas' 41-38 victory over USC—were better than just qualified success. There were minor controversies but no major meltdowns, and the championship matchups proved mostly just.

Had the BCS just used its final formula for all 16 years...heck, had the BCS just matched the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in both the AP and coaches' polls every season, it never would've had to experience the massive growing pains of its initial years.

And now, as the BCS is consigned to the ash heap of history, to be replaced by the College Football Playoff next season, its legacy will remain unsettled for some time. Was it a stepping stone toward a multi-team playoff that inevitably will go from four to eight to even 16? Or was it the best college football could've done, leaving CFP and its successors to only ruin the best regular season in sports?

This much we do know: For better or worse, the BCS made an enormous amount of cash for college football's major conferences and their members, and raised the sport's profile manifold, as it is now only second to the NFL in America.

Without the BCS, there would never have been the 12-year, $7.3 billion contract ESPN signed to bankroll the CFP. The "golden age" of college football indeed.

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