I've been writing about college football on a daily basis for about seven years, and if longtime readers can't remember me saying anything nice about the Bowl Championship Series in that span, it's probably because I never have. The BCS was shortsighted in conception, inadequate in execution and unfair in sharing the spoils. It failed to satisfy economists or politicians off the field; it failed to satisfy fans or coaches on it. It was a constant object of frustration and ridicule from within college football and without.
That was all despite the Series being, in reality, a phantom of an organization with no offices and no employees for most of its existence. As the end neared, the BCS' most recognizable defender, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, was reduced to admitting, "There is no BCS. There is a mark. There is a series of contracts. That's all it is." It was perhaps the most despised nonentity in history. Whatever comes next, the odds are very good that the BCS will be remembered as a blight on the sport.
It has earned the distinction. Now that the end is officially nigh, though, it also deserves some acknowledgment for its essential role in the evolution of the sport. It must be said: Clumsy and futile though it may have been, the BCS served its purpose.
I'm not referring to its stated purpose – to match the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the final regular season polls in a decisive championship game – or even its unstated purpose, to fill athletic department coffers with an ever-rising stream of television dollars. It achieved both, to an extent, but only to the extent that it became glaringly obvious to everyone how much more ground could be covered on both fronts. The real legacy of the BCS will be as the bridge from one era to the next. After decades of split championships in the polls and relatively modest revenues from the major TV networks, college football is on the verge of embracing a future defined by a long-awaited playoff structure in the postseason and an unabashed economic model that defies any conceivable definition of "amateur" or "nonprofit." In between? The crucial stage in the transition, the Homo habilis, was the BCS.
Eventually, we may view the last two decades as the moment that the sport's disparate nerve endings began to coalesce into something resembling a central brain. True, it was primitive even for its time – college football's other divisions have been doing the playoff thing for more than 30 years, forming their first four-team brackets around the same time the NCAA basketball tournament began to take off as a major event on the sporting calendar.
But the BCS was a culmination of years of progress in its own right: The short-lived Bowl Coalition emerged from the old, pell-mell bowl system in 1992 as the first collective effort to acknowledge any interest in crowning a "true" national champion, and the Bowl Alliance took the project one step further. The BCS, spawned in 1998, was the first effort that successfully merged all competing interests under the same umbrella, and subsequently to convince most of the world that it did indeed represent The National Championship in college football. If that's all it succeeded in doing, it was still a crucial success.
So, in its dying days, let's give the BCS this much: It was better than what came before it, and it was absolutely necessary for whatever is about to follow. And with that out of the way, let us be the first to say good riddance.