The BCS, as much as people may hate it, has done some great things for college football: it's increased the sport's popularity exponentially, it's given us some exciting bowl matchups we otherwise wouldn't have seen (as well as some clunkers, but that's to be expected), it's made a lot more money for a lot more people, and on the rare occastion it's settled the national championship question. But, as many will point out, there's a lot of negatives that come with it. Double-edged sword and all that - you know the argument.
In my regular season wrap-up a couple weeks ago, I said that the college football landscape is changing from a sport that's played regionally on Saturdays to a sport that's played nationally for four straight months. And that's fine - I'm glad college football is enjoying immense popularity with a wider audience than ever before. But the big downside to this shift is that the games themselves, the base of the sport, have taken a backseat to the twin unanswerable questions that weren't born with the BCS but grew into overbearing monsters because of it: Who is the "best" team, and how do we determine who is the "best" team?
Go look at all the articles about the Rose and Sugar Bowls right now on sports websites. They all at least mention the fact that neither the USC Trojans nor the Utah Utes will be national champions this year and that the system sucks because of it. Some of them even use this point as the whole reason for their writing, deciding (once again) to focus on the negative aspects of the situation instead of the positive.
I don't write this to try to get people to act all hunky-dory about the situation, and I'm not trying to defend the BCS. I'm guilty of wondering about who's best and how do we determine it as much as anybody. But you gotta admit, it takes some of the enjoyment out of watching the games and seeing what happens when you focus on that elephant in the room. Especially when that elephant is like smoke that you can see but can't ever grasp.
No, the BCS does not determine who is the "best" team in college football any given year. But at the same time, there isn't a system that could determine that 1) with 100% accuracy, and 2) without completely changing the nature of the sport. People argued about the first point and the legitimacy of a playoff a lot, so we're not going to do that here (especially since this post is about how doing so endlessly takes away from the game). But let's step back and take an widespread view of college football and what makes it what it is.
Two of the biggest components of the sport are polls and bowls - without them, college football wouldn't be the sport it is now. The polls are a way of ranking teams, albeit a flawed one, that creates conversation and arguments amongst fans - hell, creating discussion was the reason the polls were dreamed up in the first place. They're as much a part of the sport as wins and losses. Controversy is in the fibers and DNA of college football.
(But doesn't this negate my argument from above that thinking about who's "best" is a bad thing? It would seem that way, but my point is that a healthy dose of discussion and controversy is fine - it's when it becomes a cancerous growth that overshadows the rest of the sport, as it has recently, that it becomes a problem. The controversy used to be a side dish or dessert - the cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table that added a little kick. Now it's become the turkey, and eating that much of it only makes you tired and cranky. When people are pissed off and focused more on "not winning a national championship" rather than being thrilled about their 12-1 or 13-0 season, there is a problem.)
As far as the bowls go, they're one of the most unique events in all of sports and allow dozens of teams to end their season on a really, really high note. Even the teams that lose get a great week of experiences. They're so powerful that people talk about a bowl win sustaining a team for the eight month off-season and even helping them out the next season. Getting rid of the bowls or modifying them to implement a playoff would chop the legs out from one of the things that makes college football special and unique in the sporting world.
Is it a tragedy that so many fans honestly feel that their team was the "best" this season? Is it wrong to fully embrace a sport that's not perfect, especially when there's no way to make it perfect? Are we so in need of an undisputable national champion that we're willing to change the things that give the sport its essence? We're so focused on what could be that we're missing a lot of what is great right in front of us.