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Was the BCS Better Than a Playoff?


Here is BCS executive director Bill Hancock after the final standings were released, officially pairing Florida State and Auburn in the last BCS-approved national championship before the four-team playoff debuts next season: “We’ve gotten the matchup everybody wants to see. We felt we’d get the two best teams, and we did.”

I know some fans in Columbus who might disagree with that first statement. And as far as the “two best teams,” how could the BCS, which pairs Nos. 1 and 2, not get that right?

I’ll see Hancock’s ridiculous statement and raise him one: The BCS wasn’t that bad. And nobody cares who plays for the national championship.

Twice since the BCS’ inception in 1998 has an undefeated team from a power conference been left out of the national championship: Auburn in 2004 and Cincinnati in 2009. Both would have benefitted from a playoff. All those great Boise State teams? They would have needed a 10-team field in three of their four undefeated regular seasons.*

*Using the final pre-bowl AP Poll as a guide and considering every undefeated team heading into the bowls, it’s fair to say that only Auburn (No. 3 in 2004’s final pre-bowl AP Poll), Cincinnati (No. 4 in 2009), and TCU (No. 3 in both 2009 and 2010) would have been included in a four-team playoff and had the chance to play their way to a title. Boise (undefeated in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2009) would have been out of luck, as would the 2004 and 2008 undefeated Utah teams.

Year after year, many sportswriters hint at BCS doomsday scenarios where several teams run the table. In actuality, it’s very rare.

And that leads us to a deeper issue: What’s the purpose of the national championship and is it what drives the sport? While a playoff doesn’t necessarily prove which team is best, college football is currently the only major American sport that doesn’t use a playoff to determine its champion. While it may not be the best method, we can all agree it’s fair and better than voting for the top team.

And that’s why the college football playoff, even with only four teams, is better than the BCS. But let’s also acknowledge the downside of a playoff: the devaluing of the regular season. Brian Kelly took a lot of heat for saying the Notre Dame-Michigan game was simply a “regional rivalry,” but I don’t see how that was an insult. Regional rivalries are what make college football.

Michigan fans want to beat Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Oregon’s fans want to beat Oregon State. Oklahoma fans want to beat Texas and Oklahoma State. Bowl results are forgotten by spring practice. Wins over rivals last a lifetime. Sure, if your team makes the national championship, you care. But unless you’re an Alabama fan, that’s rare.

So yeah, the playoff is here. Woo hoo. I don’t need an easier path to a crystal ball. Just give me bragging rights over my rivals.