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Smizik: Don't blame BCS for mess

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

In a day or so, the screaming and carrying on about the inequities of the BCS will subside, and the national championship game between Nebraska and Miami will drift out of our consciousness until after Christmas.

The game will then receive the very same hoopla and media scrutiny it always does. People will sit back and enjoy a national title game that matches two of the great powers of the modern era. It could be a classic -- the brawny muscle of the Heartland against the flash and dash of Miami.

The anger and bitterness that surrounded Nebraska being selected ahead of Oregon or Colorado will mostly be forgotten. These emotions will not resurface until next year, when perceived slights by the method of ranking teams in the BCS will once again enrage the fans of the college game.

Making a case for Nebraska's presence in the game isn't easy, considering its 62-36 loss Nov. 23 to Colorado and the fact it didn't even win its division in the Big 12 Conference.

But it's hard to feel sorry for Colorado, which had two losses. If the Buffaloes had made up their game with Washington State, which had been scheduled for Sept. 15, and won it, they would have ended the season with a BCS ranking that would have put them in the championship game.

The case might be made that Oregon is more deserving. But the Ducks have no clear edge over Nebraska.

What all this proves once again is there's no substitute for determining a champion on the field. It's the best way and should be the only way.

This column has long espoused a 16-team playoff format, beginning the first weekend in December and patterned almost identically after the NCAA basketball tournament. But it's not going to happen anytime soon.

The BCS is with us at least until 2006. That's how long its contract is with ABC to televise the championship game and three others under the BCS umbrella.

The only thing that might change about determining a college champion is some minor tinkering with the BCS formula.

What everyone should know is the BCS never promised perfection, just a national championship game between the two teams it believed to be the best in the country.

Nor did it promise a fair and equitable matchup in the other bowls under its influence, only that one of the 12 top-ranked teams would play in those games. The belief that Tennessee should be in a BCS game instead of Florida has merit. But the BCS never promised the best possible matchups in the three subordinate games. It allows the bowls to make the determination on which team they want, and history tells us that bowl selection committees are notoriously unfair.

And here's something else everyone should know. The BCS is the best method of determining the participants in a national title game college football has ever had. For all its flaws, it has succeeded in breaking down the conference alignments with bowls, which for so long made a matchup of the best teams often impossible.

If the BCS had been in effect in 1994, Penn State's undefeated team would not have been bound by conference obligations and would have played Nebraska for the national championship -- not Oregon in a meaningless Rose Bowl game.

No, the culprit here is not the BCS formula or the computer nerds who feed into it. And the culprit is not the NCAA, for its hands-off policy on postseason football.

The power in college athletics today is not with the NCAA but with the major conferences, the people who formed and run the BCS. These are the people who are preventing a playoff in Division I football.

The BCS is an association of the six major conferences -- the Big East, the Big Ten, the Southeastern, the Atlantic Coast, the Big 12 and the Pacific-10. Notre Dame, the only powerful independent, also is involved. Roy Kramer, commissioner of the SEC, and Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten, are widely considered the most powerful men in college athletics -- more powerful than NCAA president Cedric Dempsey.

Asked what is holding the NCAA from running a postseason playoff in football just as it does in other sports, college football expert Beano Cook said: "It's the conference commissioners. They won't let the NCAA in. They don't want to spread out the money. They want to control the money. The don't want the NCAA to be involved because if the NCAA is involved the money will be spread around."

An effort by Dempsey to bring up the topic of a playoff for discussion at the 2000 NCAA convention never gained any momentum because the commissioners were opposed.

Scream and yell if it makes you feel better. But the BCS is not only the best system the college game has had, it's also going to be with us for five more seasons.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.

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