Cant Spell BCS Without BS?

December 4, 2011

Dirty Hands, Political Theory


As the Michigan Wolverines march forward with great chances of a BCS bowl berth, and selection day looms in the distance, it becomes the time of the year where everyone hates the BCS system. Standing for Bowl Championship Series, the BCS is the postseason system for College Football. For the past decade and maybe longer, the BCS has taken a lot of heat for being an unintelligent and unfair system. I’ll start this post quick rundown of how the BCS works for those who are unfamiliar. The system revolves around 35 postseason bowl games, five of these being deemed the prestigious BCS Bowl Games. The system is also paired with a BCS ranking system which combines computer made rankings with human voter rankings to compose a list of the BCS top 25 teams. One of the five BCS bowls is the National Championship that year, and pits the top two ranked teams in the BCS against one another. The rest of the bowls are more complicated. While some bowls have scripted conference tie-ins (i.e. the bowl must take a certain conference’s champion), the picks of the remaining bowls are mainly selection based (i.e. the bowl may pick whichever team it wants). This becomes a problem because it often ends up being a marketing issue for a bowl, and they often end up selecting a bigger name team that had a worse season over a smaller name team who did better.

While there are a lot of problems with the BCS system, there are a few big ones. The first one is that the national championship game is determined by computers and voters, and can often ignore a very good, undefeated team that deserved to have a shot as well. In a playoff system, this team would get their crack at a title too. The second issue is access to the “Big 5” BCS Bowl Games. It is extremely hard for small conference teams who go have great records to gain access to one of these games due to their typically easier schedule in tandem with not getting love from the voters because their name is not extremely recognizable. This problem is also confounded with the fact that, of the teams eligible to go to these big games, the teams with the best seasons do not always go. Often times, a more marketable school is taken over a more worthy school. Let’s look at this year for example. If nothing too crazy happens this week when Michigan does not play, Michigan will be eligible to play in one of these bowls. If eligible, Michigan is nearly a lock to be chosen to play in one. This is not because they are clearly the best team of the bunch, but because their name is so big and their fans travel so well that a Bowl representative would be making a huge financial mistake to not pick Michigan. It all revolves around money, and schools that proved themselves on the field will be left out of the games they should have earned. Two years ago, there were 3 undefeated teams at the end of the season. Two of these were big names, and one was a small conference team, TCU. They had, however, played some big teams over the season and one. However, the BCS did not choose them to go to the championship game despite their spotless record. Overall, there are a lot of huge controversial problems with the system. Most of the public as well as a large portion of sports analysts have called for a playoff system. This way teams would be able to all have their fair, deserved chance at the title. Sports expert in the matter Dan Wetzel even says “The current formula is nothing more than nonsense math and an unsound popular vote that gets polished up by television. Anyone who cares about college football should demand something better. If we can’t get a playoff, can they at least stop insulting our intelligence? Can we at least get some attempt at sanity?”

But what does an issue like this have to do with our political science class? Well, it’s an issue involving inequality and even Dirty Hands. First of all, as explained previously, there is a striking inequality of access to the bigger bowl games. Furthermore, the bowls which live off the marketability of the team they chose and the revenue they can draw so much that the BCS bowl representatives and the bowls have now been caught in scandals involving stolen money and misuse of funds. In the most recent case, Fiesta Bowl (one of the big five) executives were found to have personally used over $33,000 for personal events including a trip to a strip club and a personal birthday party. Those with power over the system which decides how a full season of prestigious college athletics ends are practicing inequality and stealing funds which the system is praised for raising. What is this system good for anyways?

Once again, Dan Wetzel makes his comments on the subject in an article on yahoosports (http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=dw-wetzel_football_hostage_illegitimate_bcs_112911 ) “It currently consists of two-thirds human opinion polls that are ripe for political foolishness, full of oft-uneducated voters and subject to groupthink. The other third features an average of six computer formulas, which quantitative analysts have declared mathematically unsound and their own proprietors admit are not as accurate as they could be. Five of the computer formulas are secret, even kept from the BCS, which means no one, absolutely no one, knows if they are accurate or honest. It is a total disaster of a system. No one who cares about the game would ever invent such a thing. Just because ESPN does a fine job dressing it up each week like it’s a legitimate process doesn’t mean it is.”

But what does this postseason collegiate system have to do with political theory? Well, it certainly has ties with many of the ideas we talk about in class. First of all, Rosseau would despise this system. It is a system stacked top to bottom with inequality. Furthermore, as state earlier, there is a large problem of dirty hands. Lastly, a good way of looking at this system is an unfair social contract; a social contract where big names and big teams have the clear advantage. This just doesnt seem appropriate, right?

As it stands, Michigan has a large shot at a BCS Bowl Invitation this weekend. However, do they deserve it? As a Michigan fan, obviously I say yes. As a completely uninvolved party? I would say there are probably more deserving teams being locked out by the system. The only clear choice is a playoff, but money is apparently not there. The BCS is a money system, not a fair system, and when money is being stolen from these bowls, it is a case of dirty hands and there is only one real loser. These losers are the players who go out there and perform all season and then get locked out of big games so that the system can make money.

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7 Comments on “Cant Spell BCS Without BS?”

  1. brookegustafson Says:

    I completely agree that there is dire need of a new system in college football, especially given the inequality in selecting the BCS bowl games. It would be one thing for the computer system and voters to rank teams 1-25 (as they do now), and then have a set system where teams ranked 1 and 2 would play in the BCS championship, teams ranked 3 and 4 would play in the Fiesta Bowl, teams ranked 5 and 6 would play in the Orange Bowl, and so on. However, once teams 1 and 2 are locked into place for the championship game, it is totally biased on who will get to play in the other national bowl games. Because Michigan is one of the most storied and well-known college football programs in history, they have a good chance of being selected for a BCS bid.

    I find the BCS system to be an obvious case of inequality and partly one of dirty hands, too. It is unfair that the “best” teams at the end of the year do not always get to partake in the best bowl games. It is an opportunity to bring more public attention to the school, and perhaps draw in a bigger following in latter years, providing an opportunity for these schools to increase revenue to the football team and university as a whole. Bowl executives and BCS leaders often go against the correct, moral selection for a bowl game. Instead, they choose the team that will bring in the most money, making it a problem of dirty hands. I think it is wrong and unfair that these types of decisions are made, and I think a playoff system would be much more justifiable.

  2. rachdavidson Says:

    I recently read an article which discussed the BCS Bowl Games in discussion with Penn State. As you have said, picking teams for the 5 big games has a lot to do with marketing. Clearly, Penn State, especially its football program, has taken a lot of heat in the media in the last month. The point of the article I read was discussing whether it would be a good or a bad move to place Penn State in a major bowl game. The article took two approaches.

    1. The Yes Argument. The article stated that if Penn State were placed in a bowl game more people would tune in due to curiosity. A “no media is bad media” approach to the situation. Penn State also has been ranked as having the number 1 student section group of fans (I know I don’t understand it either…) meaning that their fans will travel far and wide to support their team, especially with the scandal. The higher attendance the higher revenue. The article also argues that a coach’s personal mistakes has nothing to do with the players and the actual sport they play, which, in truth, I think is a very valid point. If they deserve to play, they should play.

    2. The No Argument. The article then stated that if Penn State were place in one of the big bowl games, certain people would screen the game due to the actions of the team’s coach. I think this is also a very valid concern. While a coach’s actions may not effect the actual sport, many people have a hard time separating one from the other. Thus, all the advertising that will be used throughout these big games will be shown to a smaller audience, and revenue will thus be lower.

    I think it will be interesting to see in the next few days who is going to the big bowl games. All I can say is go blue!

  3. arielleshanker Says:

    Inequality is certainly rampant within the BCS system. One such example of the unfairness can been seen in regards to the bowl game of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. While they have been given a bid to play Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl this year, their ranking as third in the BCS and a record equal to Alabama’s cause many to argue that Alabama only got the championship game spot over Oklahoma State due to their conference, the SEC. The SEC has long been seen as college football’s perceived powerhouse, and a face-off between Alabama and LSU, the number-one ranked team in the BCS, would bode a battle of the best, certainly a game to remember. How is it fair, though, that Alabama has been given such an honor, when the computers had determined that in fact Oklahoma State had played more difficult opponents, making them technically more “worthy” of a spot in the championship game?

    I would almost compare the SEC’s domination of the BCS system to the 1% of the Occupy movement. A team from the SEC will definitely be college football’s champion for the 6th straight year, suggesting a huge imbalance in the rewards based on the effort. While it is unlikely that anyone would start an actual protest against the national championship game, a more effective movement would be for people to boycott watching the game. As the original author of the post described, the BCS hinges on the financial earnings that it brings in. If everyone decided not to watch the game, the BCS system would tank, which would hopefully lead to the implementation of a fairer playoff system. At the end of the day, I guess it just depends on what we believe makes one team better than all the others.

  4. ceabee Says:

    The entire BCS bowl determination always creates a stir because there area almost always teams deserving of a BCS bowl birth that are left out. I agree that the BCS system is a system stacked top to bottom with inequality. The selection of Michigan and Virginia Tech for the Sugar Bowl has created quite a discussion regarding the “unfairness” of the BCS bowl selection. Michigan State fans have obviously been complaining about how their team was left out of a BCS bowl game even though they beat Michigan this year and competed in the Big 10 Championship game (only to lose to Wisconsin). But MSU wasn’t the only team to lose their conference championship game. Virginia Tech, the other team selected for the Sugar Bowl, also lost in the ACC Championship game. Not only did Virginia Tech lose, they were obliterated by Clemson 38-10. Michigan State will argue that they lost in an extremely close game, demonstrating that they were clearly one of the best teams in the Big 10. So why Michigan and not Michigan State? Why Virginia Tech and not Michigan state? This is what brings up the argument of the inequality of the BCS bowl games. Most will justify the decision based on the fact that both Virginia Tech and Michigan are known for having fans that travel extremely well. Since it all comes down to money, BCS bowl games can’t necessarily afford to be “fair.”

  5. scottmha Says:

    There is no doubt the BCS system is flawed. There is also no doubt that the system has not been changed because of the monetary rewards that a received due to this system. But think about it, the BCS dominates sports talk year after year all throughout mid November to its peak (right now). This is known by the people who installed this system, and they aren’t complaining about it. This discussion and debate every year, heightens the BCS drama, pulls more attention to it, and in turn has more people watching their programs and games making them more money. Think about it every year, we are left talking about the system the system the system, all of our attention is focused to the BCS when there is 3 professional sports being played at the same time (Discounting the NBA lockout). It may not be the best way, but it generates the most interest and revenue by creating conflict and there is no doubting that.

    With that being said, I still do not believe the BCS system should be in place. But a playoff is not perfect either. How would it be formatted? If you make a playoff more exclusive, lets say a 4 team playoff, then you will have the same discussion every year of who was left out and an outrage for a new format. Isn’t that what we are doing now about the BCS? Fine, no big deal add more teams to the playoffs. Lets say we had a 16 team playoff, not many arguments about who should be in or out there, but there still are big problems. A 16 team playoff, means 4 rounds, so thats at least 4 extra weeks of football, now the term student-athlete is becoming more like athlete-student. These games will be when in December? So when will all these athletes study for finals? Certainly not all of them have a career in professional football and will need to make it somewhere else.

    I do believe the BCS needs change, and soon. I propose that you have +1 format, when needed. By this I mean there will be a play in game for the championship when there is a clear #1 team but the #2 and #3 teams are very closely matched. By doing this, we can keep the BCS, so the big players can make their money and still be happy and we can also give schools a chance who in the traditional format may not have at winning a national championship.

  6. rmwells3 Says:

    The system cannot be changed. There will never be a more efficient way of determining who goes to what bowl games. However, do not get me wrong, i agree that the system is flawed. The problem is simply that there is no one appropriate way of doing it.

    TCU didn’t deserve to be in that bowl game because week in and week out, they didn’t play the tougher teams that loom in stronger conferences. The SEC is stacked with teams that are highly talented, extremely athletic and very dominant when they go up against other ranked non-conference teams. But once they are all pitted against one another, there has to be some winner and some losers and thus, consideration of the difficulty of their year long schedule. These functions in the equation, these considerations then determine how the teams end up in the bowl games. Although the formula isn’t “equal,” it is the most efficient and fairest. It isn’t a case of dirty hands for this reason.

    Teams aren’t being pitted against one another in bowl games solely based on their schools popularity. They find their way into these bowl games following the long standing BCS system. Michigan is in the Sugar Bowl for being very competitive and having only lost 2 games in a strong conference not because their name is bigger than Michigan State’s.

    However, i would agree, Rousseau would not approve because it goes against his idea of the law of nature, but his law doesn’t apply to this situation. Not everyone stands on equal terms at the beginning of the season because of the conferences they compete in. If TCU wants respect, then they should go play in a real conference.

  7. chkeeler Says:

    I watched eagerly last Sunday night, as I hoped to see our Michigan Wolverines make their first BCS appearance in quite awhile. We surprised many people with our performance this year, and I felt that a 10-2 Big Ten team deserved a place in one of the elite bowls. At 8:45 PM, it was announced that the Wolverines would be playing the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Sugar Bowl!
    Then, I realized what had just happened. Virginia Tech had just got blown out in their championship game, yet they were selected to play in the Sugar Bowl? They jumped ahead three more deserving teams, in Boise State, South Carolina, and Kansas State. Why? The fanbase for Virginia Tech is the largest in the ACC. The Sugar Bowl committee knew that their fans would travel well and spend the almighty dollar, so they selected the less-talented Hokies over the less-reputable other teams. Some may argue that Michigan didn’t even deserve to be selected based on their season accomplishments. We do have the largest alumni-base in the world so that definitely helped our cause. But we also have one of the most exciting players in the nation with Denard Robinson, whom everyone wants to watch.
    I completely agree that the BCS is BS. It was initially created to make crowing a champion easier, but it has become a platform for corruption. The best teams often don’t make it to the big games, but rather the “big” names. This year, however, the BCS worked to Michigan’s advantage.

    Go Blue!

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