The grass on the field is fresh and neatly trimmed. Hope abounds, as 120 teams think that this season is the one where they win the big one. But what is the big one? It is not the same for each team. For the Alabamas and the Oklahomas, that means having a shot at the national championship, but for schools like Hawaii or Fresno State, that is most definitely not the case.
Granted, those two schools do not tend to have football teams on par with the titans of the college game, but even if everything broke right in a given year, they would still have almost no chance at winning the national title. The reason? The Bowl Championship Series.
Now, as I am sure most of you know, there will be a shift to a four-team playoff system starting with the 2014 season. While the playoff will be an improvement over the current modus operandi of determining the national champion, it does not solve all of the problems with the current system. At present, the two teams selected to participate in the National Championship Game are the top two teams in the BCS rankings, which are determined by a combination of the USA Today Coaches Poll, the Harris Interactive College Football Poll, and the computer rankings. With the computer rankings, six different people/organizations vote and the middle four rankings are averaged to determine that specific score. Votes in the Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll are given point values inversely related to rank, one through 25.
Doesn’t it seem a little odd that college football coaches are partially in charge of determining who receives the opportunity to play for the national title? Appearances in the BCS National Championship and in other important bowl games bring in massive amounts of cash for not just the participating universities but all the other universities in their respective athletic conferences.
This influx of funding leads to improvements in athletic facilities, more uniform options (cough, cough, Oregon), and, in some cases, bonuses for the coaching staff. If a team can string together a series of appearances, more benefits will follow. This is where being in a BCS “automatic-qualifying” conference makes a major difference. The six conferences with automatic bowl tie-ins are guaranteed at least some BCS money every year. Some conferences, like the SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12, will get more by virtue of sending two teams to a BCS bowl. But what about the little guys?
Smaller conferences are lucky to send a single team to a BCS bowl. And even when the teams from these “non-automatic qualifying” conferences, like Texas Christian and Utah before their respective conference switches, do win in a bowl game, there is almost no hope of sustaining the success from year to year because teams like the aforementioned have to go undefeated to even have a chance at going to a BCS bowl. Compare that to the Big East, where 2010 conference champion UConn posted an 8-4 record and still had the privilege of getting thrashed by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
This monetary advantage among schools in the conferences with contractual tie-ins to the major bowls gives them a massive recruiting boost. Rather than using most of the football program’s revenue to offset losses in other sports, the extra money allows teams to make improvements that will wow recruits, even if they only won a single game (I’m looking at you, Indiana).
Over time, the money divide has gotten bigger and bigger, making it more and more difficult for the schools from the conferences deemed less important by the BCS to succeed. Which is why I welcome the upcoming playoff system as a hopeful sign of things to come.
Georgetown University Class of 2016