22 November 2010

Boise State: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Playoff

As a student of history, I have always harbored an affection for tradition in sports. With the possible exception of baseball, no other sport is as steeped in tradition as college football. I love the classic fight songs, marching bands, mascots, unchanging uniforms and helmet stickers. I loved that the Pac 10 Champion played the Big Ten Champion in "The Grandaddy of Them All" every year. In fact, I always loved the bowl system in general, which I believed was responsible for the exciting atmosphere of collegiate football.

Then in 1994, I watched a dominant Penn State squad go undefeated, win the Rose Bowl with ease, and get shut out from the National Championship because Tom Osborne of the similarly undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers had never won a title; JoePa had two.

So when the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was created a few years later, it was exactly what I felt college football needed. Now, regardless of conference affiliation, the two best teams would decide the title on the field instead of the AP voters deciding it in the polls. Finally, the biggest problem with college football had been fixed.

Unfortunately, the BCS has never functioned as intended. It was supposed to create an undisputed champion every year. Yet in 2003 USC and LSU ended up splitting the National Championship. The problems didn't end there: there was 2001, when the 4th ranked Cornhuskers ended up in the National Championship over the very team that defeated them in the Big 12 Championship Game; 2008, when the only undefeated team in the country, Utah, found themselves shut out; and now 2011, when a four-loss Big East team will likely play in the Orange Bowl while an undefeated Boise State or TCU may find themselves shut out from BCS bowl entirely.

Could somebody explain to me again how the season functions as a playoff?

The system has generated such controversy that a new opponent, the federal government, now has the BCS in the crosshairs. Orrin Hatch, junior Republican senator from Utah, was so peeved at the Utes being slighted in 2008 that called for congressional hearings and wrote a letter to the BCS executive director. When unsatisfied with the response from the BCS he said in part "...the BCS system is biased, secretive and harmful to schools and competitors."

The Attorney General of the state of Utah has met with the Department of Justice to investigate the possibility of bringing legal action against the BCS for perceived violations of antitrust laws. Even President Obama has weighed in on the issue in favor of a playoff. If you're counting at home, that is two out of three branches of the federal government with potential for the third to soon join the party.

As noted above, I was once a strong supporter of the BCS. However, I recall the exact moment I made a complete 180: the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Up until that point, I bought into the prevailing theory that Boise State was merely a gimmick that could never hang with the big boys. I thought so little of them at the time that I didn't even bother to watch their game until the waning moments of the 4th quarter.

Three gutsy play calls forever sold me on a playoff.

Top it off with Ian Johnson's proposal (at 1:05 in clip) to his girlfriend--the head cheerleader--after scoring the winning touchdown and Hollywood couldn't have written a better script if they tried. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl is now considered one of the greatest games of all time.

Imagine if other sports went with a BCS type system: forget the Football Giants shocking the undefeated Patriots or scrappy underdogs San Francisco and Texas fighting their way into the 2010 World Series. Forget Butler going blow-for-blow down to the final possession of the 2010 Final Four with perennial powerhouse Duke. Instead, accept a no-surprises Cuse-Kansas final.* Other than Billy Packer, few non-partisan college basketball enthusiasts would be willing to make that trade off.

*Or a Clinton/Giuliani 2008 presidential election. Oh, wait, that's not a sport...or is it? --J-Doug

If college basketball has taught us anything--and it has--it's that David can hang with Goliath. So why not extend that excitement to major college football? Lets give the Broncos and the Horned Frogs of the nation the opportunity to prove themselves on the field. Let Auburn and Oregon prove they don't belong there.

Sometimes tradition needs a change. So maybe marching bands should evolve with the times, certain mascots should to be replaced, uniforms can get much needed updates. And who needs helmet stickers when you wear 4 different helmets? So I say forget the BCS; bring on a playoff!

(Photo Credit: Examiner.com)

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