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The BCS Blows Another Chance to Fix Itself

By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, May 5, 2008 5:39 PM

This is not normally the time of year to be writing about the travesty that is the Bowl Championship Series. That's for November and December, when we go through the annual ritual of having computers, biased coaches and people who know nothing about college football pick two names out of a hat someplace and declare them the last remaining contenders for the national championship.

It isn't as if there isn't plenty to write about this week: There's the Eight Belles tragedy, which has once again sparked conversation about the way race horses are treated -- or mistreated. One newspaper story Monday included this line: "This was the second time in two years that tragedy befell the sport."

The reference was to Barbaro falling at the Preakness in 2006, but the fact is tragedy befalls horse racing on an almost daily basis. It's just that 99 percent of the population isn't paying attention when the tragedy takes place somewhere other than the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. Horses dying on the track isn't new just as football players dying in summer practice or boxers dying in the ring isn't new. The difference is the boxers and football players have a choice about competing. The horses don't.

There's Roger Clemens. His reputation falls further on nearly a daily basis now. If Clemens had come out the day after the Mitchell Report was released and said something like, "I'm so sorry. I made a terrible mistake. I thought my career might be over and, in an act of desperation, I tried these performance enhancers. I hope that someday people will find it in their hearts to forgive me."

Guess what? He would have been forgiven. Clemens might not have made The Hall of Fame on his first try, but he would have made it. Time heals. Now? He can start his own Hall of Shame along with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro -- they can invite Pete Rose if they want -- because none of them are going to Cooperstown.

Maybe the baseball cheats can invite the guys who run the BCS to join them because they certainly deserve to be there. Last week, the BCS bozos had a chance to take a step in the right direction. They were handed a proposal from one of their own, Southeast Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, suggesting they add one more game. It would have created a so-called "plus-one" system that seeded the top four BCS teams in two bowl games, and had the winners of those games play each other for the championship.

It wasn't nearly as good as an eight- or 12-team playoff, but it would have been an improvement. The fact that the impetus for the proposal came from the president of Georgia, who was upset that his team didn't make last season's championship game, didn't matter. What mattered was that it would have made things a little bit more fair.

It was shot down in about 15 minutes. Amazingly smarmy and dishonest comments followed from people such as ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who claimed that the health of the BCS was "unprecedented."

Maybe Swofford is angling for a job in the Bush White House, because he'd fit right in. The BCS's health is unprecedented in the same way that all is well in Year Six of a never-ending war.

What's infuriating is that the BCS continues to get away with this garbage. Because people love college football so much, they continue to accept the ridiculous system currently in place. Many coaches actually like the system because there is less pressure on them to win a national title. They can go 11-2, win their bowl game and say, "Hey we didn't get a chance to compete for the championship," and be telling the truth.

What it boils down to, though, are the 66 BCS presidents and their mouthpiece commissioners who keep insisting the emperor's new clothes look great, when it is clear that he is buck naked. There are even those in the media who parrot their comments and say things like, "The regular season has meaning in college football."

Really? If you want meaning, create a 12-team playoff with four byes and home games in the first round. The teams at the top would be fighting for a week off, the next group for a home game, and the last few for a chance to make the field. There would be meaning at the end of that regular season.

But this has nothing to do with the regular season. It has everything to do with absolute greed and absolute power.

The BCS is an illegal cartel. Ninety-nine times out of 100 when Congress gets involved in sports, it is nothing more than a dog-and-pony show designed to give members of Congress some easy publicity. (See Clemens, Roger et al). This is one time though when Congress should step in and say "enough." They should threaten to take away tax breaks from BCS schools if they don't change this system. That would get their attention.

Of course if the NCAA wasn't so busy trying to take over summer basketball, it could put an end to this in a heartbeat: All it has to do is say the following: if you want your basketball team to be eligible for the NCAA tournament, you must participate -- if invited -- in the NCAA division I-A football tournament. The BCS schools will squirm and pontificate and threaten to break away from the NCAA but they won't. Remember, basketball is the money-maker at far more schools than football, regardless of what you hear from the football apologists.

The great irony here is the short-sightedness of the BCS buffoons. They don't want to give up the BCS because they get to divide almost all the money amongst themselves, leaving some chump change around for the non-BCS schools. But if there was a tournament -- eight teams; 12 teams, take your pick -- with a national championship game the weekend in between the NFL conference championships and the Super Bowl -- it would be such a big event that the money coming in would double. Even forced to (gasp!) share, the BCS schools would end up with more money.

The bowl system need not be changed: bowls can be used for the quarterfinals; semifinals and final on a rotating system. The 473 minor bowls can continue so that every 6-6 coach in America can declare is season a success.

But someone needs to -- excuse the coaching cliché -- step up and tell the BCS presidents, commissioners and apologists to shut up. Maybe the NCAA and Congress can get together and, for once, accomplish something positive.

This farce needs to stop. The only difference between the BCS and the Bush administration is that 1-20-09 doesn't exist as a date when we can all escape the nightmare. In college football, it just goes on and on and on ...

John Feinstein's latest book, "Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember," was recently published by Little, Brown and Co.

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