COLUMBIA — Christmas came several weeks early for Kansas and coach Mark Mangino.
The Jayhawks celebrated Sunday when they received a lucrative Bowl Championship Series invitation to the Orange Bowl. Mangino said the scene reminded him of past Christmas mornings when his children were young. They would wake up early, eager to open the surprises Santa Claus had left.
“The (players) were just high-fiving, grabbing their cell phones. It was fun to stand in the back of the room and watch that take place,” Mangino said.
But Missouri did not get its Christmas wish. In the final BCS standings released Sunday, the No. 6 Tigers were ranked ahead of the No. 8 Jayhawks. Instead, Kansas was selected as one of the BCS at-large teams. MU will face Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Mangino said he understood the Tigers’ feelings. “Let me put to you like this: I have some empathy for them. Last year we were 6-6, bowl eligible, and didn’t get a bowl berth,” he said.
For the Tigers, their bowl berth was like an ugly Christmas sweater you get from a grandmother with no fashion sense. You put it on immediately and thank her, but everyone knows how ridiculous it looks. That was how it played out during Monday’s Big 12 Conference coaches’ teleconference. MU coach Gary Pinkel was reticent about the bowl-selection process. But other coaches were candid, explaining why they thought the current system was unfair.
Pinkel was asked on Monday to explain to MU fans what happened. The Tigers defeated Illinois and Kansas, but both teams earned BCS berths. “I don’t think it’s really appropriate now for me to do that,” Pinkel said. “We’re excited about the Cotton Bowl. For me to start doing an evaluation of the process, I don’t think that’s fair to the Cotton Bowl.”
But he didn’t rule out future comment. “Maybe there will be later on a time and place to do it,” Pinkel said.
Other coaches didn’t wait to give their opinions. Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has adamantly supported a playoff for many seasons. He went into detail about his proposal Monday. The regular season would be shortened to 10 games with a week off for every team. After another bye week, the tournament would feature 32 or 64 teams, starting at schools’ home stadiums and then incorporating bowl games.
But Leach understands university presidents won’t call him for advice. “There’s no question that they will never do that. I can’t really blame them on that,” Leach said.
Texas coach Mack Brown expressed sympathy for several teams who were left out of the BCS, including the Tigers. “I don’t know how you can keep Arizona State out of the BCS. I don’t know how you can fall from No. 1 in the country out of the BCS,” he said.
This season, more than any other, illustrated the need for change, Brown said. He had trouble filling out his rankings for the USA Today coaches’ poll this weekend. “Because do you vote for the team that played the best last week? Do you vote for the team that played the best at the end of year? Or do you vote for the team that by system should be moved up?” Brown said.
Brown was not as drastic as Leach, however, proposing to limit a playoff to four or five teams. But he was as pessimistic as Leach about leaders pushing for change. Brown said he was aware of nothing “that would make me think that someone’s working in that direction.”
But Mangino disagreed with Leach and Brown, saying playoffs would interfere with his students’ academics during final exams. “This is the best system that we have. Maybe it could be tweaked in some way,” Mangino said, offering that every major conference should have a championship game.
“College football is unique because we have the bowl system,” Mangino said.
But for Leach, that tradition seems antiquated when virtually everyone else determines a champion with playoff games. “It works in high school. It works in Division III. It works in Division II. It works in I-AA. It works in the NFL,” Leach said.