Thursday, December 31, 1998

Weakness of BCS exposed




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW ORLEANS — First of all, Ohio State has no grounds to gripe. The Buckeyes were masters of their fate until they squandered self-determination against Michigan State.

        Were it not for that inglorious shortfall, John Cooper and Co. could be playing for the national championship instead of a claim to righteous indignation. Had the third-ranked Buckeyes merely attended to their business, they would not need to fret the folly of college football's Bowl Championship Series.

        “It's our fault we didn't go undefeated,” OSU tight end John Lumpkin said during a Sugar Bowl interview Wednesday. “It's a situation we put ourselves in. We lost a game at home we shouldn't have lost.”

        And yet. . .

        “When you plug numbers into a computer,” Lumpkin said, “and somebody comes out on top and somebody comes out on the bottom, it's just not fair.”

        However earnest their efforts, however objective their criteria, those who would settle college football's championship through a one-game tournament inevitably cheat deserving schools of a chance. Tennessee may well be the best quasi-amateur team in America and could make a powerful case with a convincing victory over Florida State, but simply calling the Fiesta Bowl conclusive does not make it so.

Exposing the flaw
        Should favored Florida State beat Tennessee, as many as nine DivisionI teams could finish the season with one loss. Anointing one of them as first among equals would serve only to expose the inherent flaw of the system.

        Until there are playoffs, there can never be peace.

        The BCS exists not to bring satisfying closure to the season, but to lend credibility to a crumbling marriage of convenience with the bowls.

        College football owes an enormous debt to these antiquated events — $140 million in payoffs this season alone — and is naturally reluctant to part company with a system that has proven so profitable for nearly a century. Still, the remaining reservations to a structured playoff are either disingenuous or dumb.

        Obviously, a huge windfall awaits a playoff system, perhaps as much as $300 million annually if the Swiss-based ISL's eight-year, $2.4 billion proposal for a 16-team tournament is credible. The additional money would help finance a sport that is conducted as a loss leader on many campuses and could conceivably bring balance to bloated athletic budgets nationwide.

        Clearly, a champion crowned on the basis of actual performance under real pressure is more legitimate than one produced through mathematical means. Sport, at its essence, is about competition and not calculation.

Limited fallout
        Presumably, the adverse academic fallout from a playoff would be negligible. College basketball players involved in the NCAA Tournament customarily miss more classes in a week than any college football player would be compelled to skip in an entire season. Extending the seasons of a few select schools by three or four weeks would pose a minimal hardship for most players, whose offseason programs are often as rigorous as regular practices.

        “I think that (academic impact) is the worst reason that's brought up,” Cooper said. “Our football players would never miss a class because of football. They leave at 7 o'clock on Friday night for a road game. I don't think that argument holds water at all.”

        Cooper's lamentable graduation rate leaves him little moral authority to argue college football's compatibility with education. Yet to oppose a playoff purely on academic grounds, in the face of all the corners cut in college basketball, is hypocrisy.

        “I think we should do it like everybody else and have a playoff,” Lumpkin said. “Settle it on the field... The BCS is a big mystery to me. They put in all these computer numbers and said, "This is going to answer all the questions.' But we're right back in limbo like we were last year.”

        The Buckeyes have themselves to blame for their position. The system is someone else's fault.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

Buckeyes still lobbying for title
Complete bowl coverage from Associated Press
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