The Latest College Football Drama

It’s not a great time to be involved in running the NCAA. Between shattering exposés of corruption landing in the Atlantic Monthly, seemingly never-ending recruitment scandals, and student-athletes demanding a cut of TV contract money, the organization has never seemed so fragile, or so misguided. Meanwhile, discontent has also been brewing over one of the NCAA’s signature events. The Bowl Championship Series, in theory, neatly matches up the best college football teams in the country against each other, with the best two playing in the BCS National Championship Game.

Unfortunately, the outlook of college football this year has the always-controversial BCS system under even closer scrutiny than ever. Why? Because of the way that the Bowl participants are determined – and because the number of good, undefeated teams this year is so high that, if they all continue on that course, any permutation in the title game will be regarded as suspect. Berths in bowl games are determined by national rankings, with the top two teams in the nation automatically placed in the national title game. Those rankings, in turn, are determined through a byzantine process that involves combining the results of a coach’s poll, an Associated Press poll, and a computer-generated projection, which combines results from a set of six algorithms and weighs such factors as strength of schedule in addition to a team’s record.

The problem in 2011, as pointed out by ESPN’s Rick Reilly, is that, at this point in the college football season, there are no fewer than ten Division 1 teams that are undefeated, and it’s highly likely that more than two of those ten will win out. Two of those teams, furthermore, are no. 1 LSU and no. 2 Alabama, which are both in the South Eastern Conference and which will therefore play each other before the end of the season, meaning that one of them will certainly lose a game by the end of the season. No matter, according to the BCS: if the game is close, the two could meet again the title game – with potentially undefeated teams at Boise State, Wisconsin, Clemson, and Stanford looking on.

Every year, it seems, this sort of drama comes up and people start clamoring for a new system involving a playoff – and every year, the clamor gets a little bit louder. Given everything troubling the NCAA right now, though, a better question might be whether the organization will survive long enough to make the change, rather than when they’ll get around to reforming the BCS.

[Pic via Flickr - Parker Michael Knight]

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