College Football Is Bowled Over By Criticism
Monday, December 3, 2007; Page A01
One of the most dizzying college football seasons in history reached a fitting climax yesterday: Two schools that suffered deflating losses in the past three weeks were selected to play for the national championship, leaving at least five other teams with r¿sum¿s they viewed as equally deserving to lament the selection system that left them out.
Yesterday's announcement that Ohio State will play Louisiana State in the national title game on Jan. 7 set off unexpected celebrations on those respective campuses but also fueled almost unprecedented controversy in the sport, as well as renewed calls for a different method of settling its championship.
"Every sport in college sports has a playoff," said Southern California Coach Pete Carroll, whose team was one of those snubbed in favor of Louisiana State, which finished second in the ratings. "Every professional sport has a playoff. I can't imagine there are many coaches who would not want to do that. There are [Bowl Championship Series] issues every year, they come in all shapes and sizes, and it happens every year. There were a number of teams who had great seasons and we waited today on a vote."
Division I-A college football is the only major team sport that does not crown its champion by using some sort of playoff system. Instead, a formula that takes into account computer rankings and human polls is used to compile the BCS ratings, and the top two teams in those ratings at the end of the season are selected to play for the national championship.
The system has been under criticism since its inception before the 1998 season and has produced controversy almost every year. The debate, however, usually focuses on one school that feels slighted, not five, as is the case this year. The unforeseen turn of events this season, in which teams ranked among the nation's top five lost to unranked foes 13 times, will undoubtedly amplify calls for a true playoff system.
"I don't think it is so much the system [at issue] as it is the year," BCS Coordinator Mike Slive said. "Is this year an anomaly or was this year a precursor to what we might see in the future?"
The hopes of Ohio State and LSU appeared to be dashed after each suffered late-season losses, but a string of upsets -- including upsets of No. 1-ranked Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia on Saturday night -- refocused the spotlight on the once-beaten Buckeyes and the Tigers, who will become the first team with two losses to play for the national championship of the sport's highest level.
"We always talk to our guys about the fact you have to win all your games if you want a chance to play in the title game," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said in a television interview. "We did not do that, but here we are. We still have an opportunity. It's been a crazy football season."
Over the past year, there has been a push to tweak the current postseason format to include an extra game after the bowls are concluded. But even the addition of another game, called the plus-one model, would not solve matters this season because as many as seven teams could make a case for inclusion. Slive said regardless of whether an additional game would have worked this season, he remains committed to "exploring it in great detail."
In this season of upsets, the safest place to be each week was off the field. That was certainly the case for Ohio State, whose season concluded with a Nov. 17 victory over Michigan. The Buckeyes, whose lone loss came Nov. 10 against Illinois, were expected to rise to No. 1 in the final BCS ratings because both teams ahead of them lost.
It was far less certain which team would fill the No. 2 position. Only one-third of the formula for the BCS ratings accounts for the average of six computer rankings. That meant that the voters in the Harris Interactive poll and the coaches' poll played the largest role in determining who would play the Buckeyes, and coaches from the schools in contention began campaigning loudly in the hours after Saturday night's upsets opened the door. Voters considered the credentials of five two-loss teams -- LSU, Oklahoma, Southern California, Virginia Tech and Georgia -- and once-beaten Kansas, each school's body of work having unique strengths and weaknesses.
After Saturday night's 38-17 victory over top-ranked Missouri, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops showed no reluctance in stumping for his team.