13 for '13: Death to the BCS
After 16 turbulent years, the evolutionary link between the traditional bowl system and the long-awaited playoff shuffles off the stage.
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WR Peerless Price was the first BCS hero in the Vols' title-clinching win in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. (US Presswire)
By this time last year, the writing was on the wall. By the start of the season, it was all but official. But the moment the Bowl Championship Series as we knew it was really laid to rest in November, its executive director, Bill Hancock -- the same Bill Hancock who had spent years cautioning fans against the dangers of a playoff and repeatedly insisting that "a playoff is not going to happen" --was appointed executive director of the four-team playoff set to replace the BCS in 2014.
"It is a thrill to be part of this group and to work with college football's leaders as the new playoff system is launched," Hancock said, tossing the last shovelfuls of dirt on the system that had often counted him as its only public advocate. "We all share a passion about this wonderful sport, and I'm excited to have the chance to help make such a popular sports event more popular for our fans."
With that, the official line among college football's power brokers finally fell in line with what the vast majority of fans had been saying for more than a decade -- with increasing intensity. 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 the sport and outside of it.
That was all despite the Series being, in reality, a phantom of an organization with no offices and no official employees for most of its existence. As the end neared, one of the BCS's staunchest defenders, 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." Before Hancock was hired in 2009 to serve as a public face and occasional punching bag, the most tangible totems of the BCS's existence were a handful of privately owned laptops housing the algorithms that spit out confounding computer rankings during the season.
It was perhaps the most despised nonentity in history. When the curtain falls on the final game of the BCS era next January, in the Rose Bowl, the odds are very good that the BCS will go down forever as a blight on the sport. It has earned the distinction.
Of 11 coaches who have hoisted the crystal ball, only Nick Saban (4) and Urban Meyer (2) have won it more than once. (US Presswire)
Now that the end is nigh, however, it's also appropriate to recognize the essential role the Series has played in the evolution of the sport. It must be said: Clumsy and futile though it may have been, the BCS fulfilled its larger purpose.
To be clear, 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 remained to be covered on both fronts. The real legacy of the BCS will be as the bridge from one era to the next, the missing link between a primitive vision of the sport codified at the beginning of the 20th century and a modern vision that reflects 21st century realities. 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 was the BCS.
Eventually, we may view the last two decades as the moment that the sport's disparate, self-interested nerve endings began to coalesce into something vaguely resembling a central brain. True, even within the larger umbrella of "college sports," the BCS was primitive even for its time. The NCAA's other football 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, beginning with the short-lived "Bowl Coalition" that 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. The coalition soon begat the Bowl Alliance, which took the project one step further. The BCS, spawned in 1998, was the first effort that successfully merged all competing postseason interests under a single entity --one mark, one series of contracts -- and subsequently the first to convince most of the world that it, and it alone, represented The National Championship in big-time college football. If that's all it succeeded in doing, it was still a crucial success.
So the BCS was better than what came before it, and it was absolutely necessary for everything that's about to follow. And with that out of the way, let us all take the time as it wheezes into history in 2013 to wish it an enthusiastic good riddance.
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