By John Feinstein
Special to washingtonpost.com
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.
This way, neither the Horned Frogs or the Broncos will have the chance to do what Boise State did a few years ago and what Utah has done twice in recent years: embarrass a BCS school in a bowl game. God forbid if TCU were to beat Florida in the Sugar Bowl or even claim its third ACC scalp of the season (it has already beaten Virginia and won at Clemson) by beating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Swofford and company certainly didn't want to include Boise State in a game against Cincinnati just in case it happened to, you know, win the game. That wouldn't do.
You can bet there will be some kind of payback from the BCS to the Fiesta Bowl folks for taking one for the team this year. TCU beating Boise State (which it did in last year's Poinsettia Bowl) or Boise State beating TCU will prove what? Nothing. Which is exactly what the BCS wants. They can laugh their way all the way to the bank and then send Fleischer out to explain why this is all such a good thing.
It's a shame that TCU and Boise State can't tell Swofford and his cronies to take a hike and take the Fiesta Bowl with them. Of course they can't do that, not when being willing to eat dinner in the kitchen is worth $17.5 million to each team. It would be nice to think that the writers and broadcasters who vote in the AP poll -- which took itself out of the BCS formula before the 2005 season -- would do it for them by voting the winner of that game the national champion. That won't happen either.
You see, that's the problem here: there's no one out there willing to stand up to the BCS bullies. There's no one willing to say that comments like Swofford's are complete garbage and that the BCS simply must die. People keep saying that President Obama has more important things to do and they're right.
But in the time that he spent at the George Washington-Oregon State men's basketball game nine days ago, he could have met with the BCS presidents and told them he wasn't going to tolerate their spinning and their stonewalling anymore. He should give them six months to come back to him with a plan for a playoff system. No excuses. ESPN, which has the next television contract, would cancel the deal in a second to replace it with a playoff, so that's not an issue. In fact, there are no issues except for no one telling the BCS presidents that their time is up.
The year is 2009. We have put men on the moon, we have elected an African American president and we've invented Google. There is not a single reason not to end the BCS.
It just takes the right people deciding to make it happen. Barack Obama overcame a lot more than the specter of the puffed-up BCS presidents to sit in the Oval Office. The end of this debacle should begin -- needs to begin -- with him. And it needs to begin now.
For more from the author, visit his blog at http://www.feinsteinonthebrink.com