The BCS again strikes out, and should be struck down

By John Feinstein
Special to
Monday, December 7, 2009

Let us begin today by turning to John Swofford, the commissioner of the ACC, a football conference that might -- might -- have one good football team. As it happens, this is Swofford's year to be the spokesman (read: spinner) for the BCS because the six commissioners who run the so-called power conferences take two-year turns trying to defend their indefensible system.

After Sunday night's BCS "selection show," -- which had all the suspense of the tallying of the electoral college -- Swofford said this about the fact that undefeated Texas Christian and undefeated Boise State had been so graciously included in the BCS bowls -- actually one BCS bowl, since they will play one another in the Fiesta Bowl.

"I think it certainly shows that there's more access than before in terms of the BCS system," Swofford said. "If you look back in recent years, there's a consistency in that access that is evident and very healthy for college football."

Gee, why does the BCS need to spend all that money on former White House flack Ari Fleischer when it has Swofford and his fellow commissioners out there to drop such words of wisdom on us?

To paraphrase another former White House press secretary, here's what the commissioner meant to say: "Look, Congress pretty much forced us to let them [non-BCS schools] into our house, but you can be damn sure they'll be using the back door."

For the moment, let's forget all the questions that surround Texas being selected over Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State to play Alabama for the so-called national championship. Is Texas, which did not beat a team all season that finished in the top 20, better than the other three unbeatens? Who knows? That's sort of the point of having a postseason tournament in every other sport on earth: there's no arguing or speculating about who is better than whom based on schedule or margin of victory or what conference someone played in.

The power-conference apologists can't claim that the Big East, Cincinnati's league, was weaker than the Big 12, the Big 10 or the ACC. They just can't. In fact, they'd be hard-pressed to make that claim about the Mountain West, a non-BCS league that not only includes TCU but also features a Utah team that stomped Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season -- an Alabama team that had taken Florida to the wire a few weeks earlier. Sadly, most of my gutless colleagues who vote in the AP poll decided to play the role of sheep and voted for Florida over Utah in last season's final poll when they had the option not to do so.

Perhaps the case can be made that the Western Athletic Conference, top to bottom, isn't as good as the BCS leagues, but in Boise State's one chance to play a team from one of the so-called power conferences this year, it beat Oregon -- the champion of the second-strongest league in the country. So anyone who claims that they know Texas is better than the other three unbeatens also has some oceanfront land in Nebraska to sell you.

But let's get back to Swofford and his claim of "more access." The BCS had absolutely no choice but to take TCU and Boise State. By rule -- a rule forced on the BCS presidents a few years back because Congress was threatening to label it an illegal cartel -- TCU had to be chosen. The BCS responded to Congress's threat by generously allowing a non-BCS team into its exclusive club if it finished in the top 12 in the final rankings. So the BCS had to take TCU.

Up until Thanksgiving weekend, the BCS boys were still trying to find a way to keep Boise State out. The Fiesta Bowl people suddenly decided that Oklahoma State, with its impressive victory at home in September over a five-loss Georgia team, was looking very good at 9-2 even though the Cowboys had been crushed at home by Texas and had also lost at home to Houston -- the same Houston that has losses to UTEP and East Carolina on its résumé. The only problem with anointing Oklahoma State as a quality team was that it promptly went out and lost to Oklahoma -- another five loss team -- 27-0.

At that point, the BCS was pretty much out of options. Miami with three losses in a lousy league? Southern California with four losses? Don't think so. Penn State, which beat no one, had only two losses but, alas, no league can send more than two teams to the BCS, and the Orange Bowl chose Iowa as the Big Ten's second BCS team along with Ohio State.

So the BCS came up with the best solution it could think of under these difficult circumstances: have TCU and Boise State play each other. If you have to invite unwanted guests to dinner, make them eat in the kitchen.

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