Bill Hancock is executive director of the BCS and former director of NCAA basketball's March Madness.
As head football coach of the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, Gary Patterson surely must oppose the Bowl Championship Series and the current bowl system. Right? Wrong. Patterson not only supports the current structure but makes an excellent case for why the arrangement works well for schools like TCU.
"We had a vision nine years ago of reaching a BCS bowl and going to a national championship," ESPN quoted Patterson as saying. "A lot of people laughed and shook their heads and said, 'Well, that's nice.' We're now crossing that threshold."
The BCS has given teams like the Horned Frogs and and the Boise State Broncos the chance to play in major bowl games, earn significant revenue, and become national powerhouses in college football. But more than that, the BCS has given such teams the chance to win a national title. Here is how Patterson explains it: "Is it easier to win one game for a championship? Or to have to win four? If you have a playoff, you practice and get on a plane and play. And if you lose, it's over. If you go to a bowl game, you're there seven days, and the kids can enjoy a place and get rewarded."
Rep. Joe Barton represents a district a few miles from the TCU campus. He is the primary force in Congress pushing for a change in the current arrangement in college football. Barton compares the BCS to a "cartel, much like OPEC," and even adds, "To me it's like—and I don't mean this directly—it's like communism. You can't fix it." He argues that an "arbitrary computer system" determines which football teams will play in the "mythical championship game."
Where to begin to correct all these exaggerations?
First, rather than restricting marketwide output as cartels do, the BCS expands output by creating an annual national championship game that would not otherwise exist. Before the formation of the BCS, the Associated Press's No. 1 and No. 2 teams met in bowl games only eight times in 56 seasons. In contrast, since the conferences created the BCS 12 years ago, the top two teams have played every year if you use the BCS measurements and nine times if you go by the AP poll. The BCS is the best format ever devised to match up the nation's top two teams in a bowl game.
Second, the BCS offers a real championship game, not a mythical one. But don't take my word for it. Who are the top two teams in the Associated Press poll? The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Texas Longhorns. Who are the top teams in the USA Today poll? Alabama and Texas. And who are the top two teams in the ESPN.com Power Rankings? Alabama and Texas.
How is it a mythical championship when the two teams that lead in every major poll are playing for the title? But remember this: Were it not for the BCS, Alabama and Texas would not be playing each other. That's because the previous bowl system anchored certain conferences to certain bowls. As a result, Alabama would most likely be playing in the Sugar Bowl, and Texas would probably be in the Fiesta Bowl. Now, thanks to the BCS, they are playing each other to determine on the field who the national champion should be. There is nothing "mythical" about that at all.
The second problem with Barton's complaint is that he believes college football needs a "single-elimination postseason playoff system." The congressman may not realize it, but we have that now. It's called the regular season. Every game counts, and a team can't afford to lose, lest it ruin its chances at a national title.
But the bigger problem with Barton's argument is that it does not anticipate the pressure that will mount if a playoff system is implemented. Should there be four teams? Maybe eight? Sixteen? How about just including everyone? Wherever a line is drawn, the teams on the outside looking in will inevitably start clamoring to enlarge the playoffs. That's exactly what has happened with the NCAA men's basketball tournament, which has grown from eight teams to 65 teams and now is under pressure to expand to 96. Barton's playoff idea turns out to be more of a problem than a solution.