Monday, December 07, 2009

Merry BCS-mas! Get The Griping Out Today

Merry BCS-mas! (Yes, that's pronounced "BCS-mess.")

The Monday after the BCS pairings are announced has become the annual holiday for BCS-bashers -- "Texas?!"... "TCU and/or Cincinnati was screwed!"... "Fiesta THIS!"... "Playoff! PLAYOFF! PLAYOFF!!!!"

It's a little like the folks who complain Christmas has been overcommercialized.

Everyone looks up from their shopping list -- nods their heads in complete agreement -- then casually goes back to their seasonally ambient shopping, planning and celebrating.

I'm not saying I don't agree -- I'd love to see a playoff. Yahoo's Dan Wetzel offers a thoughtful, comprehensive and elegantly simple plan.

And for all the actual impact his plan will have, he might as well be writing fiction.

Here is the reality: We all enjoy a nice little venting today about how bad the BCS is. Then, as usual, we all tune in for the bowls and uniformly acknowledge the BCS's national champ.

It's not just that we have a skewed perception from the loud and visible critics, eyeing those eye-popping 85 percent BCS-disapproval ratings, who decry the system. Fans just don't care enough to care enough.

This isn't exactly 2003 -- where USC was the best team in the country and shut out of the national-title game -- or 2004 -- where Auburn was the best team in the country and shut out of the national-title game. (And most fans STILL didn't care enough to demand change.)

After watching Saturday's beat-down (and, indeed, everyone watched), no one disagrees that Alabama is the best team in the country.

And, for better or (probably) worse, most fans are probably pleased about Texas being the opponent. Fans will tune in to that title game. And we will accept the winner as champ. Like we always do.

The "elitists" know that TCU is a superior team -- so if the AP hates the result so much, why don't they give TCU their half of the national title this year? (They had the same chance with Utah a year ago; for all the media's bluster, they embraced the BCS's conventionality.)
I want to take 30 seconds to explain why the TCU-Boise Fiesta pairing doesn't bother me.

No. 1: The bowl did what was in its own economic best interests, not the BCS's best interests -- Boise fans travel to Arizona better than Iowa fans.

No. 2: I love the potential positioning as "The Cinderella Bowl." And if folks don't tune in -- as they didn't tune in for TCU-Boise a year ago or Boise-Oklahoma in 2006 -- it does qualify as a referendum on fans' interests in the non-BCS party-crashers.

No. 3: I actually think it's great for the non-BCS teams to get their own platform, to become the first BCS bowl with TWO non-BCS teams playing in it, and that both are unbeaten.

No. 4: Critics who wanted to see each team play a big-conference team aren't thinking it through. Does anyone really want to see TCU destroy an average Iowa team? What exactly would that prove on TCU's behalf? Same with Boise against Georgia Tech. It's infantilizing of the elitists to suggest that TCU would prove anything by beating a "big conference" team -- they already did that. The only game that would have proven anything for TCU was playing Alabama. I certainly would have voted to see that.

(As for the prospects of TCU-Cincinnati, I think that Florida is better than Cincinnati -- Boise might be, too -- and, if anything, I would have preferred to see TCU play Florida. But the next-best thing is having TCU play Boise.)
This essential fan apathy drives the lead BCS opponents in the media absolutely insane. (And probably rightfully so.)

But it's a fine line they walk between the empathetic "I know you agree with me that this system is terrible" and the patronizing "Don't you idiots see what you continue to buy into?"

BCS opponents love BCS-mas, because their cause gets a ton of attention and it deludes them that most fans don't just agree with them -- but are actually ready to FIGHT for this.

We aren't. Oh, sure: Fans would love to see if TCU could beat Alabama, but not enough to force changes -- not when the BCS does a good enough job creating... good enough.

It must drive the most vocal and hard-line BCS critics insane to continue to passionately (and, often, intelligently) argue against a playoff, only to be undone by "good enough," the nemesis of "better."

I am not proud of the provincialism and comfortableness with "good enough" -- from voters and fans alike -- that keeps a team I think is as awesome as TCU out of the national-title game. But it is the reality. It is why the BCS was originally set up, and why it continues to maintain its power.

And even as the BCS opponents howl from here until Alabama-Texas, that game's winner will be crowned champ, recognized as champ and we will all turn our attention to next season.

Like any proponents of change, critics will ultimately need an even more acute crisis to rally enough fans around the cause to create change: Not just an unbeaten SEC champ and Big 12 champ (and Big East champ and MWC champ), but an unbeaten Pac-10 and Big Ten champ, too -- say, Texas-sized brand names like USC and Ohio State.

Even then, a 2003-like or 2004-like scenario would ultimately create a lot of noise, but then most folks would move on. It would be the exception, not the rule -- it would be as limited as BCS supporters pointing to 2005's universally loved Texas-USC title game as proving the system works.

All you can hope for is that when the current pact runs out in 2013, something new is created. But if I was a BCS honcho, I would continue to recognize that fan resentment isn't so acute that change will be forced on the system, from the bottom-up. (This was the crux of my argument why the BCS' p.r. efforts in the last month aren't just badly executed, but unnecessary.)

Fans absolutely recognize the inherently unsatisfying system that is in place. Like we recognize the commercialization of the holidays.

We care. But the reality is, we just don't care THAT much.

-- D.S.

PS: That issue was the focus of the lead item of my Sporting News column today. To see the entire thing -- including items on NFL Week 13's insanity involving the Saints, Steelers and Michael Vick, plus more on Tiger Woods, John Wall, Greg Oden, and Notre Dame -- click here.


holtzab said...

Dan, the problem is that TCU/BSU isn't the "Cinderella Bowl." Cinderella went to the ball with Prince Charming.

This is the opposite of Cinderella. In this case both teams went undefeated, but not only do they not get to go to the ball with Prince Charming, they don't even get to go with a member of his court. They have to go with each other.

It's not the Cinderella Bowl. We should call it the Mid Major Bowl and present the winner with a trophy that says "Congratulations on being the best team that had absolutely no chance of playing for a championship this year and whose bowl win came against a non-BCS school. See you at number 15 in the pre-season polls."

The Fist said...

I still don't understand the BCS griping. Maybe my confusion comes from being old enough to remember what came before it. Remember the era of bowl tie-ins? No artifical conference championships that could blow up teams that would otherwise contend? Everyone admitting that any "national championship" was almost certainly just an opinion (unless the bowls got lucky)?

At least the BCS lets the opinion-generated 1 and 2 play every year.

Michael W said...

A 16-team playoff game is entirely way too many games to expect amateurs playing for jack to risk their health and careers over just so some fans are theoretically a little happier over who the champion is.