An Open Letter to BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock
Dear Mr. Hancock,
Congratulations on another successful year for you and your fellow leaders within the BCS. Alabama showed last night that they are the best team in college football this season that was given a chance to play for a national championship. Of course, that limits the pool of candidates to just two, but given your predilection for a system that functions in just that way, that shouldn’t really be of issue to you or your colleagues.
I am writing to you today as neither a supporter nor a detractor of any of the teams that were in consideration for inclusion in the BCS national championship game. In fact, for full disclosure, my rooting interests lie with Michigan, a team that this year benefitted tremendously from the system currently in place. Instead, I write as a fan of college football and of sports in general, who is smart enough and has seen enough sporting events at various different levels of competition to know that the current method by which a champion is determined at the highest level of collegiate football is nothing short of a travesty.
Let’s begin with a simple logic equation that has resulted from this past season. These are the types of questions that are asked on AP English examinations given to high school students across the country.
1. Alabama is the best team in the country
2. Alabama plays in the SEC
3. LSU is the best team in the SEC
Based upon the results of this past season, all of these statements are true. Should this be a question on this year’s upcoming May assessment, however, educators at the Princeton review will expect students to write a detailed explanation about the faulty logic and impossible outcome resulting from these three statements. And yet, Mr. Hancock, here we sit on January 12, 2012, having to operate with a system that, less than 24 hours ago, completely defied the basic tenants of all logical thinking. Perhaps that might explain why so many people seem to despise the process. One relatively easy solution would be to simply include a provision into the current BCS format that a team must win its conference championship in order to play for a national title, which would eliminate the issues raised with the illogical result of the three sentences above. I, however, would prefer to take that stipulation and apply it to a new system, either a 4-team or 8-team playoff to ultimately determine the best team in FBS football.
From where I currently sit (at my kitchen table, if you must know), there appear to be three key hurdles to overcome before change can be implemented. The first was outlined in an article on espn.com, where you articulated a sentiment that many supporters of the current format of college football have been verbalizing for decades â the regular season matters. “Whatever we do, we have to protect the regular season,” you told a meeting of the Football Writers Association of America. “I think the larger the playoff field, the more damage to the regular season.”
With all due respect, Mr. Hancock, that comment is about as easy to accept as the notion that Kim Kardashian’s marriage was legitimate. After all, we all just watched a season where the regular season meant everything to 118 schools and absolutely nothing to two schools. After all, had the result of the November 5 game between LSU and Alabama been reversed, we would still have wound up with the exact same matchup in the national championship game. So the regular season, this year more than ever, really meant nothing at all, because regardless of who won that game â and subsequently the SEC West and SEC championship â the two teams were going to play again anyway.
I’ve also heard the notion from multiple sports media personalities that a rematch in college football was not a big deal, because it happens in other sports. The St. Louis Cardinals, after all, did not win the NL Central this past year, but then beat the Milwaukee Brewers to win the NL pennant. Likewise, the Green Bay Packers did not win the NFC North last season, but defeated the Bears in the playoffs en route to their Super Bowl victory. Before you get the silly idea to begin incorporating this statement into your argument in support of the current system, let me remind you that those teams only were given a berth into their league’s respective postseason after a berth was allotted for each and every division winner. Thus, unless you’re ready to consider a postseason format in which the MAC, WAC, and Sun Belt winners are all extended invitations, it would be best to just let the uninformed “talking heads” wear this idea out on a public that’s already dismissed the entire argument.
And then there’s the third hurdle, which might be the most ludicrous of all â the educational impact on the student-athletes, should the playoffs be extended. Let’s ignore, for a minute, that most of these young men are treated significantly more like athletes than they are as students at their respective universities â that is beyond your control. Let’s also ignore, for another minute, that three other levels of collegiate football manage to somehow incorporate not a 4-team, not an 8-team, not a 12-team, but a 16-team playoff, all without disrupting the education of the players on the teams involved in the playoff. And finally, let’s ignore the hideous amount of money flowing into the coffers of the bowl executives in Miami, Glendale, New Orleans, and Pasadena as a result of the current system. They’ll be against any change that doesn’t give them the maximum dollar amount in return, so where they stand shouldn’t really be a surprise regardless of the proposed fix.
Instead, Mr. Hancock, let’s focus on creating a schedule for the FBS teams that will allow for maximum exposure in the form of a playoff while simultaneously satisfying the “educational requirements” you and other higher-ups feel so compelled to protect. Currently, the regular season ends the first weekend of December, which in 2012 will be December 1. Since the Heisman trophy presentation is scheduled for the following Saturday, December 8, we’ll let that week stand alone. Most colleges will also be holding their end-of-semester examinations sometime between December 8 and December 15, so not playing on December 8 will provide players the necessary time to study and complete said examinations. December 15 will also be granted as a weekend without games to avoid any schools that may wish to run their exam weeks beyond that date. Even with those two weeks off, sir, there is still plenty of time to incorporate up to an 8-team playoff, beginning with the quarterfinals on Saturday, December 22. From there, the choice can be made to use either Saturday, December 29 or Tuesday, January 1 as the date for the semifinals, with the national championship game scheduled for any date between Saturday, January 5 and Thursday, January 10 depending upon stadium availability, television contracts, and semifinal dates. You’ll notice, Mr. Hancock, that the national championship game will occur at roughly the same time as it did this season, and with the quarterfinals and semifinals both scheduled for the traditional Christmas and New Year’s holiday break, the impact on the education for all teams involved in a 4-team or 8-team playoff will be of absolutely no difference to the current impact on any team involved in a bowl game under the existing system.
Your position, Mr. Hancock, is not an envious one. You must balance college presidents, conference commissioners, NCAA and television network executives, and extremely powerful and influential bowl directors in order to create a system that determines the national champion at the highest collegiate level of the country’s most popular sport. I am confident that there are a vast number of influences and parameters to which we, as fans, are oblivious, but matter a tremendous amount to you as you weight all possible options. I have merely outlined solutions based upon the rationale presented by you and others as to the reason for keeping what is, without question, a flawed system. I understand that no solution will be perfect, and that anyone searching for a reason to detract from any solution will certainly find one. But, Mr. Hancock, I didn’t have to go looking for flaws with this system. You gave us as fans the logic problem listed above as a result of the national championship game, so the flaws found us. It’s time to do the right thing and fix the system.
Perhaps then you and your colleagues will be able to pass the AP English exam.