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Inside College Football | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The BCS? That Must Stand for Bowl Confusion System

November 14, 2002|Chris Dufresne

College football is the only sport in which the best way to get questions answered about the bowl situation is to hire a contract lawyer.

It is the only sport where a team's chances of going to a big-money bowl championship series game depend on what your definition of the word "or" is.

It is the only sport where Iowa calls the Rose Bowl to inquire about a clause that might keep the 11-1 Hawkeyes out of Pasadena and Notre Dame has to get back to you regarding a question that could involve a $13-million paycheck.

In baseball, you have clear-cut division champions and wild-cards entrants.

In pro basketball, eight teams from each conference make the playoffs.

In college basketball, 65 teams qualify for the tournament in an event so formatted you can print out the bracket on your home computer.

But in college football, "any team from a non-BCS conference or an independent institution, which is ranked three through six in the BCS standings, shall qualify for a guaranteed selection in one of the BCS games unless more than two teams meet this criteria. If one or more teams other than Notre Dame qualify for automatic selection, Notre Dame shall also qualify provided it is ranked in the top 10 in the BCS standings, or has a record of at least nine wins, not including exempted games."

We're just getting warmed up here.

In basketball, the anchor is usually your starting center.

In college football, the "anchor" is a school tied to a certain bowl by region.

Most sports measure strength of character; college football measures strength of schedule, calculated by quartile rank.

In basketball, a good point guard distributes the ball evenly to his teammates.

In college football, a good commissioner slowly reads to you a page in the media guide titled "2003 BCS Revenue Distribution."

We have become so bogged down in this four-year-old BCS system, so mired in the minutiae, we view minor breakthroughs as the equivalent of the Salk vaccine.

Last weekend, we rejoiced when Miami and Ohio State emerged as the only two unbeaten teams because it was the first time all year reporters could type a definitive sentence regarding the championship race:

If Miami and Ohio State win out, the schools will meet for the BCS national title in the Jan. 3 Fiesta Bowl.

Of course, it will be that simple when Razorbacks fly, because one tiny toe-stub from Miami or Ohio State and then it is back to the BCS loony bin.

The BCS rule book has more provisions in it than a Donald Trump prenuptial agreement. Unfortunately, some of these convoluted clauses contain incredibly important information as it pertains to multimillion-dollar bowls and transportation plans for "Bevo," the Texas Longhorns' living bovine mascot.

For example, it came to light this week that Iowa, even if it finishes 11-1, could be denied a Rose Bowl berth because of two airtight clauses.

It was only natural to assume if the Rose Bowl lost Big Ten champion Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl, it would happily take 11-1 Iowa as an at-large and keep intact its traditional Pac-10 vs. Big Ten partnership.

But that can't happen if Texas and Notre Dame earn automatic at-large berths under BCS guidelines, the template used to place six major conference champions and two at-large teams in the BCS bowls: Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta.

Texas can get one of the at-large spots by virtue of the "Kansas State Provision," not to be confused with the Missouri Compromise or the Monroe Doctrine.

In 1998, Kansas State finished No. 3 in the first BCS standings after a gut-wrenching overtime loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game. Because all the major bowl bids had already been filled, Kansas State got knocked to the Alamo Bowl.

Wildcat fans coined a new phrase -- forget the Alamo.

The BCS decided that wasn't fair, and amended rules to state any at-large team that finished third would be guaranteed a major bowl bid.

This week, Texas stands at No. 5 in the BCS and can't win the Big 12 unless No. 4 Oklahoma stumbles down the stretch.

If Texas can navigate its way to No. 3 as an at-large candidate, it gets one of the bids. It also qualifies at No. 4 if the three teams ranked ahead of it are conference champions already designated for BCS bowls.

Notre Dame has special access to the BCS because 1) it's the only major school not tied to a conference and 2) it has excellent lawyers.

It is written in the BCS rules Notre Dame will receive an automatic BCS berth so long as it is No. 6 or better in the final BCS standings.

This provision applies to "any team from a non-BCS conference or an independent institution," and that would include the Irish.

The Irish are No. 7 this week in the BCS.

Notre Dame can be considered for a BCS game if it wins nine games and finishes in the BCS top 12.

To review, class, that's an "or" for Notre Dame in the first provision but an "and" in the second.

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