If you read Jerry Palm's scoop Monday, then you know we came close to the end of the Bowl Championship Series.
Palm discovered, by simply checking the math, that Wes Colley's computer rankings -- one of six computer indexes used to determine BCS standings -- were wrong in the final BCS standings. It was a minor glitch -- Colley missed the Appalachian State-Western Illinois score. Minor -- this time. It caused a switch in the standings between No. 11 Boise State and No. 10 LSU.
But what if the mistake had changed the order of the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams? In other words, changed which team was playing in the national championship game. The outcry would have burned the BCS to the ground. Trust me, I know these people. You thought the commissioners were upset with the Cam Newton NCAA decision last week? They have actual control over what occurred on Monday. Imagine BCS director Bill Hancock telling No. 2 Oregon, "Woops, sorry. Our bad. TCU is really supposed to play for the national championship."
Court battles would have been the beginning of the controversy. Picture Oregon having to get a court injunction to play for the national championship. In the end the BCS would have ended. It would have lost total credibility. I know, I know, it doesn't have much credibility with the public now. But at least most of us accept Oregon-Auburn as the "right" national championship game. After this kind of screw-up, I imagine the bowls would have advocated a switch back to the old system.
At least in the arranged bowl marriages of the past, schools had somewhat of a say in things. This is potential death by arithmetic. Boise's elevation did enhance, in some small way, the Mountain West's quest for automatic qualifier status in 2012 and 2013. Boise's recent success will be applied to the Mountain West during a four-year evaluation of the BCS worth of all conferences.
Suddenly we're all thinking the same thing: How many BCS errors haven't been caught? Are the right teams even playing?
The only reason Palm caught Colley's error is that Colley makes his formula available. None of the other five masters of BCS computer indexes release theirs, not even to the BCS. That's right, the BCS assumes their numbers are right. Colley was wrong because he relied on a database assembled by fellow BCS computer honcho Peter Wolfe. Wolfe told me that Colley had picked up his scores before they were updated with the App State-Western Illinois game.
Kind of adds new meaning to the BCS motto: Every Game Counts.
This is a database, Wolfe said, that he meticulously maintains and is cross-checked by Jeff Sagarin, probably the most well known of the BCS computer guys.
"This is my 10th year, every year there are 4,000 games. That's 40,000 games," said Wolfe from Los Angeles where he is an associate clinical professor at the UCLA medical school. "I do my best. I'm sorry this happened. In general this is unfortunate, we're all human. I do this because I'm interested in it. If my name is on something, I want it to be right."
Hancock was in touch with Wolfe Monday asking what had happened. There was a subsequent BCS release Monday night that quoted Hancock: "I was deeply disturbed when I learned about this today. This error should not have happened and is unacceptable." Hancock added that the issue will be "near the top of the agenda" during the spring BCS meetings.
Is the potential there to infect the whole system with bad math? Not in this case. Wolfe's scores are accessible to anyone on his website. Colley just happened to use the numbers before they had been updated. The core issue here remains that aside from Colley, the computer guys do not reveal their formulas.
"It is something we have developed," Wolfe said. "It does have some [proprietary] value."
Like me, you're probably wondering why the BCS can't find six guys who will make their formulas public.
"You're right," Wolfe said. "It is trust."
With a national championship now potentially at stake, the BCS, then, is asking us for what dwindling trust is left.
"We don't know if any of these guys are right ...," Palm said. "Could you imagine if we had to change who played in the BCS title game today?"
Already have. It would have been a disaster, leading to a real death to the BCS.