As pointed out by CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm yesterday, the final BCS rankings contained a serious error in one of the computer rankings, one that directly affected the standings. Dennis Dodd correctly noted that it was pretty much luck that A: this error didn't affect a BCS bowl pairing itself (or, heaven forbid, the BCS Championship Game itself), and that B: the error was even caught in the first place, since the other five computer rankings don't release their calculations to anybody.
Those are viewpoints shared by Boise State president Bob Kustra, who has been critical of the BCS system's existence for years, and who saw his team directly affected by this error. Here's a letter Kustra sent to various school presidents and college athletics administrators today expressing further dissatisfaction with the BCS, published by the Idaho Statesman :
I trust that you have heard about the news from CBS sports analyst Jerry Palm that the BCS rankings erroneously ranked the positions of four teams in the final BCS rankings of the season.
The BCS has corrected for it and Bill Hancock has apologized, but it still leaves open the question of transparency. There are five other computer models used to determine the rankings each week that are hidden from public view, unlike the approach used by Wes Colley who allows the light of day to shine on his work. Thankfully, in this case an astute third party caught the error and brought it to the attention of the BCS. I’m sure that you can imagine numerous “what if” scenarios where this type of mistake could have had significant repercussions.
How many times have we heard calls for transparency on our campuses and how many times have we shared our governance and communicated with our faculties and other constituencies in a transparent fashion? Yet, in intercollegiate athletics, with the NCAA standing silently on the sidelines, we allow the BCS to work its magic with no idea of how accurate its rankings are on a week to week basis.
It's egregious enough to see teams with mediocre seasons climb into the BCS bowl games because they happen to be in privileged conferences, while others with better records are written off as second-class citizens. When we cannot see how these decisions are made, it becomes an affront to the concepts of integrity and fair play that we claim to value.
When C. Wright Mills wrote of the "power elite", I doubt he was speaking of universities and intercollegiate athletics. If he were still around, there could be a great second edition, this time focused on where elitism really runs rampant and takes Division 1 football players from some conferences and restrains their ability to compete. I hope you noticed my choice of the word, "restrain". I trust we will all be hearing more about "restraint" unless presidents step up and do the right thing.
C. Wright Mills? Now there's a reference that should get people firing up Wikipedia. But Kustra is right: the near-complete lack of transparency on the part of the NCAA and BCS on this matter means that there is no assurance that non-AQ schools will ever be on the same level playing field as BCS-conference schools when it comes to playing for a national championship ... or for the $17 million that comes from one BCS bowl berth these days.
Whether Kustra will find allies in automatic qualifier conferences to help take up his cause is debatable; it's not exactly in those schools' best interests to give up any portion of the concentrated monetary power they currently enjoy, after all, and the institutionalized disadvantages Boise State and its fellow non-AQ schools face ensure that barring a sea change, those BCS-conference schools will never be forced to cede that power. "Sorry," they'll say, "but we're just more qualified for the postseason than you schools are. And we've got the computer rankings to prove it."