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Inside College Football | J.A. Adande

They're Still Just Faking It in BCS

September 23, 2004|J.A. Adande

USC will not win the national championship.

Sure, the Trojans could run the table, get themselves a trip to Miami and win the Orange Bowl, but that wouldn't make them true champions.

It would be just another fraudulent title, like all of the other college football champions chosen by sportswriters in hotel rooms, coaches in their offices and computers on their hard drives.

What, you think just because the top-ranked Trojans have an inside track to the bowl championship series title game that the system looks any better this year than it did last year, when the Trojans were shut out of the Sugar Bowl?

No. Although the selection process has been updated more times than Microsoft Windows, the BCS still can't assure us that every worthy team will get an equal shot at No. 1.

So let's get the BCS griping out of the way early this year and file the first protest before conference play begins for USC.

Last season the Trojans received a trophy for finishing No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. They deserved something for their outstanding season.

They deserved something better -- their own moment, not a shared stage with Louisiana State. And if they win again this season they deserve a test that won't allow any detractors to say they did it simply by taking advantage of a suspect Pacific 10 Conference.

Complaining about the lack of an NCAA Division I-A football playoff is an annual rite, like Florida State missing a field goal against Miami. I'm already getting queasy in anticipation of yet another unsatisfying finish to the college football season.

So far USC and Oklahoma appear ready to run away from the rest of the top 25. But what if one stumbles? Should they be denied a chance to fight their way back to the top? That's the problem with college football: It demands perfection from teams on unequal playing fields.

And sometimes not even perfection is enough. Fresno State and Utah could finish undefeated and not only miss out on the Orange Bowl, but not land one of the other BCS spots and the $13-million payout that comes with them.

That's why I don't have time for arguments about the "tradition" of the bowl system. The recent tradition is riddled with mistakes. If the current, supposedly improved system for determining the championship participants had been in place last year, the Trojans would have played in the Sugar Bowl instead of Oklahoma, and two years earlier Oregon would have played in the Rose Bowl instead of Nebraska.

Maybe those schools can award themselves banners and rings, the way the South Korean Olympic Committee gave a replica gold medal to gymnast Yang Tae Young, who finished behind Paul Hamm at the Olympics because of a scoring error.

Why not let anyone who wants to be a champion call themselves a champion? It makes about as much sense as letting sportswriters and coaches call it.

That's essentially what we're back to now, after the BCS tweaked its criteria to give two-thirds of the ranking process to the AP media poll and USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll. An average of six computer rankings constitutes the other third.

When the BCS took over before the 1998 season it tried to eliminate some of the human elements -- bias, ignorance, etc. -- by feeding the data into computers. It turned out you couldn't write a program for common sense. They kept making changes, trying to get it right. They dropped something called "quartile rank," which no one understood. They added a component for quality wins, trying to find an objective measure for a subjective term (a coach would tell you any win is quality).

Now we have returned to where we were in the days of the old Bowl Alliance, which was like the BCS without the participation of the Pac-10, Big Ten and Rose Bowl. That was preceded by the Bowl Coalition, which was flawed because the major conference champions were committed to their traditional bowl tie-ins and couldn't move to set up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.

Hmmm, they didn't mind tossing aside those traditions, did they? So they said goodbye to the Southeastern Conference winner to the Sugar Bowl, the Big Eight winner to the Orange Bowl and the Southwest Conference going to the Cotton Bowl (come to think of it, goodbye to the Big Eight and the Southwest conferences as well).

The only tradition anyone in college football wants to continue is the squadron of bowl reps in colorful sport coats showing up to hand out checks and bowl bids to practically every team with a winning record.

The university presidents argue a playoff system would intrude on the classroom. They even rejected an ABC-proposed, one-game addition to the bowl system. Meanwhile, some teams could have as long as 6 1/2 weeks between the end of their regular season and the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4, with much of that time falling in winter break.

There would be enough time to squeeze in an eight-team tournament during "bowl season," which begins Dec. 14.

Too bad there isn't enough time to get a playoff in place this year. So good luck to the Trojans in their pursuit of what isn't there.

*

J.A. Adande can be reached at: j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Adande, go to latimes.com/adande.

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