Zemek Thought: Division Problems & The BCS

Posted Nov 26, 2012

Matt Zemek Thought: Division Problems & The BCS Chase

By Matt Zemek
E-mail Matt Zemek

Yes, it makes sense that the SEC champion should go ahead of an SEC at-large team in the bowl pecking order. Yes, if you fail to win your division, you shouldn't be allowed to play in the BCS National Championship Game, barring rare (2007-style) circumstances.

Yes, divisions are bad for college football – not in terms of moneymaking or creating politico-economic leverage, but in terms of enhancing the quality of the sport. Divisions really shouldn't exist in college football if the first priority of the sport is to provide as many high-level matchups as possible over the course of the regular season. It is clear how the proliferation of divisions in large conferences creates imbalanced schedules (say, "Thank you," Georgia Bulldogs…) that allow top teams to avoid formidable opponents in the other division.

Yet, as undesirable as divisions in fact are – and as appropriate as it in fact is to deny a non-division winner a spot in the national title game (see Nebraska in 2001) – we are left with a loophole and a point of manifest inconsistency in college football at the moment.

The loophole? There's no official edict or policy which mandates that a conference champion MUST be sent to the BCS National Championship Game ahead of a non-division-winning team in that conference. Alabama or Georgia will likely be sent to the BCS title game against Notre Dame instead of Florida, but that is a point based on real-world rankings, not a point based on law or contractual mandate.

The inconsistency? This is the even more obvious answer: Alabama was sent to the BCS National Championship Game last season as a non-division-winning team. Sure, LSU was the SEC champion, waiting in the No. 1 spot, but the point remains: If Bama could even be allowed to fall into the No. 2 BCS title game slot last season, what is stopping college football from putting Florida into the national title game this season?

Again, Florida – because it did not win its division – should not be allowed to play in the national title game. The same imperative would have existed if Oregon – denied a division title by Stanford – had remained in the hunt for Miami.

Yet, it's hard to argue that Florida's resume is inferior to Alabama's. If Alabama were to beat Georgia this Saturday, it would be a close call, but the Gators would still wind up with more high-quality scalps (Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina, Florida State) than the Crimson Tide (LSU, Georgia, with perhaps a half-credit for Michigan). If the body of work should be the main criterion for evaluating teams and placing them in (or out of) the BCS title game, Florida should get the nod over Alabama if indeed the Tide beat Georgia.

There are two very simple conclusions to make before the final full week of the 2012 regular season runs its course: 1) We need to have a debate about this topic, particularly the fact that college football doesn't have airtight policies that lend clarity to the "non-division-winning title game participant" conundrum. 2) This debate, while slightly different from 2011, nevertheless maintains several strong similarities to last year's BCS controversy… similarities that are being weighted quite differently from how they were 12 months ago.

No, Florida's not being robbed or shortchanged. However, Alabama is being given the benefit of the doubt in two consecutive seasons despite sitting on opposite sides of the fence in each of them. As a non-division winner in 2011 and as the competitor of a non-division winner in 2012, Alabama is poised to make the BCS title game in both situations.

Don't you just love this sport's consistency, clarity and evenhandedness?