THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Why not? Think before you ask the computer
Who I am to question Robert Kennedy? After all, I'm just a little girl from Virginia. I'd say Kennedy's claim that "I dream of things that never were, and ask why not" ranks near the top of inspirational sayings, and sometimes, for some of us, it's the only way to go.
Of course, Robert Kennedy didn't intend to encourage irresponsible behavior. You've never put ground glass in your salad, and why not? Gucci never built a Compton boutique– what the heck? Sometimes the "why not" is pretty formidable. In that spirit, I'm sure Senator Kennedy might have reconsidered passing his advice along to the Bowl Championship Series.
For readers unfamiliar with college football, the one thing important to know about the BCS is that it claims as little human involvement as possible. Earlier this week, it was announced that Florida and Oklahoma will be meeting in the national championship, and anyone who doesn't like it can take it up with the computer. (Fox Sports columnist Dave Borst is leading the charge.)
See, the BCS rankings are an average of three components: two polls and a composite computer ranking based on six separate computer tallies. The college football powers-that-be like to pretend it's a system born of necessity. Since 1869, human beings decided who would be the national champion, and the team rotation was pretty limited. In fact, from 1869 to 1913, there was only one year (1904) that didn't see Princeton, Harvard, or Yale take home the cup.
For most big-time football programs, human bias was A-okay. Notre Dame had no problem with how the championship was run. It's a little hard to find fault with a system that provided 13 national titles. But in 1984, Notre Dame, along with other powerhouse teams like Alabama, Penn State, and Oklahoma witnessed (to quote Led Zeppelin), "what is and what should never be."
Ah, Brigham Young U, the straw that broke the camel's back, the final nail in the coffin, that last grain of sand that tipped the scales. In 1984, the little-Mormons-that-could defeated Michigan in the Holiday Bowl, 24-17. It wasn't just the last game of Steve Young's college career; it was also the last time a piddly little conference like the NCAA Division I-A Mountain West could hope to produce a national champion.
The subsequent formation of a Bowl system wasn't a necessity, but rather a knee-jerk reaction to pure embarrassment. From the initial incarnation of the Bowl Coalition to the current Bowl Championship Series, the major conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, and SEC) have managed to develop a system of nepotism, self-interest, and exclusivity unmatched in college athletics.
What's it called when the powerful few impose their will on everyone else? Oh yeah, an oligarchy– or maybe a junta. I reckon it's no coincidence that Big-10 giant Michigan State has a Spartan for a mascot.
Suffice to say that if a team isn't a member of one of the six major conferences (independent Notre Dame excepted), that team is shafted is almost every possible way. Utah is this year's BYU, an undefeated team from the Mountain West Conference. They might have had a chance at being national champions 24 years ago, but not today. The best Utah can do is play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which, according to BCS standards, should be honor enough.
The BCS has its fair share of critics. Every year hundreds of columns are written complaining about strength of schedule, preseason rankings, and geographical location– basically any criteria the computer system takes into account (not to mention what's not included, i.e. margin of victory). The BCS just isn't fair.
Why doesn't the BCS take the bull by the horns and institute a playoff system? Isn't that more fair than computer rankings? How many times have you heard that argument? Even Barack Obama pressed for a playoff during and after his campaign. If the President-elect is dissatisfied, how can the BCS fail to recognize the problem?
The BCS knows but doesn't care. The BCS is so unfair that the NCAA doesn't formally recognize it. Prior to 1984, no one had dreamed of so blatantly stacking the proverbial deck. But after the BYU debacle, the big boys of college football got together and said why not?
Why not indeed? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Poor Robert Kennedy. How could the Harvard end have known that his own stirring philosophy would ultimately render his team virtually ineligible for a national title?
No playoff system will change that.