Zemek: The Disastrous BCS Selections

Posted Dec 5, 2011

Zemek Week 14 Thought: The BCS selection committee problems

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- Cirminiello: TCU - Totally Consistent U.
- Harrison: The BCS changes that need to be made  
- Zemek: The BCS selection problems
- Sallee: Honey Badger for the Heisman 
By Matt Zemek

You, as a college football fan, are reading a lot of arguments today. You're also likely making them or defending them to friends, family and co-workers. This is what happens on the day after the bowls, specifically the BCS games and especially the BCS title game, are announced. It would be a pointless exercise – an inchoate outpouring of mad, scattered thought – for me to simply rail against the Bowl Championship Series system.

That's too easy; recycling the same old arguments wouldn't add to this discussion or point the sport (and all of collegiate athletics) in a healthier direction. Anti-BCS argumentation needs to be more than just an intellectual exercise or a head trip. It needs to lead to a new and more holistic global understanding, pointing the way to a true reformation of how lives are lived on this planet, inside the college sports world and beyond it.

Do you realize that what happened on Sunday evening – and what has happened in the 14 years of the BCS bowl era – is not just a college football problem, but an American problem?

Dan Wetzel, the elite reporter-columnist for Yahoo! Sports who has done more than any other journalist in the country to expose the rot and corruption of the BCS and the bowl cartel, tweeted something very revealing after Virginia Tech's laughably ridiculous Sugar Bowl invite hit the wires. Wetzel pointed out, with his keen sense of the important story lurking behind the headlines, that one year after Jim Delany intervened to preserve the TV-friendliness of the 2011 Sugar Bowl between Ohio State and Arkansas, the Sugar Bowl owed the Big Ten commissioner a favor.

The Sugar's selection of Michigan was not controversial in an immediate sense; everyone knew that the Wolverines, out of the BCS mix for several years and ready to bring a massive group of fans, would be TV and tourist gold for a bowl committee. Yet, Michigan was still a team with a very weak profile – the Maize and Blue owned just one win over a top-20 team (No. 20 Nebraska). If the Sugar Bowl wanted to get a TV-friendly "name" program in the Superdome on Jan. 3, that was its right. Michigan was that choice. However, as much as the BCS gravitates to dollars and not merit, it was still hard to think that the Sugar's second choice would also lack any legitimacy whatsoever.

No one in his or her right mind could have imagined that Boise State or Kansas State would get jumped by a Virginia Tech squad that got absolutely annihilated by Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. The thought just didn't occur to anyone with a basic grasp of fairness or competitive integrity. Even by the BCS's standards, it was hard to imagine any team other than KSU, Boise, or – if it cracked the top 16 of the BCS standings – TCU in New Orleans against Michigan. After all, if the BCS wanted pure ratings gold each year, it would take 8-4 or 9-3 Notre Dame teams, right?

Just what forces were at work in the Virginia Tech selection? Let's go back to Wetzel. If the Sugar Bowl owed Jim Delany a political favor, it was this: Not only did a Big Ten team get an at-large bid to boost TV ratings and ticket sales, but it received a favorable pairing. By taking Virginia Tech over Kansas State and Boise State, the Sugar Bowl and CEO Paul Hoolahan did their level best to give the Big Ten a shot at a prestige-enhancing bowl victory. When one also realizes how much the Big 12 got pushed around in backroom maneuverings over the past 18 months of conference realignment – 18 months in which both Delany (of the Big Ten) and ACC Commissioner John Swofford dramatically increased and consolidated their behind-the-scenes power in collegiate athletics – it should not come as a surprise that Kansas State got shafted. Since pro-playoff advocate and (ineffective) Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson was lobbying for Boise State to get to the BCS, it's similarly unsurprising that the Broncos were also locked out of a premium (revenue-bearing) bowl game despite another strong 11-1 record and a 49-3 cumulative mark over the past four seasons.

Boise State, for all it has given college football over the past four years, has received only one BCS bowl bid in turn. The Broncos have gone 22-2 over the past two regular seasons, but have been relegated to two straight MAACO (formerly Las Vegas) Bowls. In 2008, BSU went 12-0 and was told to go to the Poinsettia Bowl and like it. Boise State was forced to play fellow non-AQ teams (TCU twice, Utah once) over the past three years in bowl games, and now the Broncos will face 6-6 Arizona State (without a full-time coach) in a terribly unattractive pre-Christmas game.

The BCS did indeed give Boise State more access to premium bowls than previous systems did, and that much has to be acknowledged. In the same breath, however, it's now painfully clear how limited and conditional that extra bit of access really is. Boise State (and TCU... and Houston) should at least be able to play an upper-tier non-BCS bowl against a quality opponent such as Michigan State, South Carolina, or Oklahoma. Instead, all the non-AQ contenders were shown this past season – with a level of forcefulness transcending idle, innocent coincidence – that the price for one loss is substantial. Boise, TCU and Houston were given access to a BCS bowl… but they were certainly held to far greater standards – and more severe penalties – when they lost.

West Virginia and Clemson are part of the power-conference club. Their three losses don't matter. TCU's two losses, as a conference champion, somehow mattered more.

Virginia Tech's and Michigan's paper-thin resumes, combined with two losses, didn't matter. Boise's sole loss mattered a lot more in the chase for an at-large BCS bid. Somehow, Boise's decision to play its season opener against Georgia in Atlanta – followed by a convincing win – did not give the Broncos anything of lasting value.

It should be obvious by now: The rewarding of political favors not only rings true; it IS true as a reflection of the heart of the BCS process. The rewarding of political favors is and has been pervasive in all the wining and dining which goes on behind the scenes of each BCS bowl operation. The notion that the system is fixed and that the game is rigged against the likes of Boise State and TCU – teams who have done so much for the sport – is not merely controversial; it's obvious.
- Cirminiello: TCU - Totally Consistent U.
- Harrison: The BCS changes that need to be made  
- Zemek: The BCS selection problems
- Sallee: Honey Badger for the Heisman