The sports world’s water-cooler debate of the year raged on Monday, making its way to the Big 12 Conference football coaches’ teleconference.
Criticism of college football’s Bowl Championship Series, which determines which teams will play for the national championship, has run rampant since its inception in 1998, but it reached its peak Sunday when top-ranked Southern California was snubbed in favor of Louisiana State and Oklahoma.
Opinions are split among coaches in the Big 12, which stands to gain from Oklahoma’s inclusion in the Sugar Bowl. Some Big 12 coaches stayed politically correct, backing the Sooners. Others spoke out more staunchly than ever in favor of a playoff system.
Still others, such as Kansas coach Mark Mangino, took a middle ground.
“I don’t have an answer,” Mangino said. “What’s the best way? I don’t know the best way. There’s some shortcomings in both systems. I don’t think there’s a perfect system.”
One thing is clear, though. The BCS is not that perfect system. Leaving USC, ranked first in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls, out of the national championship game is the system’s most egregious offense yet.
“I think what happens every year is we say all the same things and then we go back and nothing’s done,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I’ve said before that I think this system is better than when we had nothing, but I think we’ve got a ways to go.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said he wasn’t entirely surprised the Sooners made the Sugar Bowl despite their 35-7 upset loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game Saturday.
“It had been talked about for an entire week before that regardless of what happened in that game, we would be in the national championship game,” Stoops said. “One loss, regardless of where it comes in the year, doesn’t matter in the BCS structure.”
In the end, it was schedule strength that lifted Oklahoma to No. 1 in the BCS rankings and dropped USC to No. 3, but Stoops used another criterion to justify the BCS computers’ selection of Oklahoma and LSU for the title game, sending USC to play Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
“There are only two teams in the country with 12 wins,” Stoops said. “You can beat it up however you want. The bottom line is the top four of us there are going to play, so it will still be determined on the field.”
If anything can get something done about the BCS, it might be the chaos that could cap this bowl season. If USC beats No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, it will likely earn a share of the national title with the Sugar Bowl winner. That is precisely the kind of situation the BCS was supposed to prevent.
Despite the BCS’ apparent shortcomings this season, Oklahoma State coach Les Miles said he would prefer to stay with the bowl system.
“There’s some pieces of the puzzle you do not want to change,” Miles said. “In a year like this, you get to the back end and you say, ‘Darn it.’”
Many potential solutions have been thrown around, including instituting a playoff system like the ones used in NCAA Division I-AA and Division II football, which include 16 teams.
The standard argument against a playoff is that it would only serve to shift the controversy from who gets into a national championship game to who gets into the playoff, regardless of how many teams are included.
“Some years it’s three teams, some years it’s four teams, some years it’s five teams,” Miles said. “Who gets in the playoff?”
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said he thinks he can eliminate that problem. Leach proposes shortening the regular season to allow for an expanded playoff system. He also wants to incorporate the bowl system into the playoff, such that each game would be representative of one of the existing bowls.
“I’m not a huge proponent of the BCS,” Leach said. “I would like to see a playoff system, and I don’t mean some foolish little three-team playoff.”
“You could cut the regular-season down to 10 games and have a 64-team playoff, and the champion is still only playing 16 games.”
Brown didn’t go into as many specifics as Leach, but he made it clear that he would prefer a playoff system to the perennial controversy the BCS generates.
“It seems like every year that we end up looking back at the BCS, we’re closer to the playoff,” Brown said. “Unless it changes to a playoff, I think we’ll have this conversation every year.”