Thursday, January 03, 2002

SULLIVAN: BCS title picture remains out of focus

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With one game left in the college football season, only Miami can give us closure. Nebraska can give us only indigestion.

        Naturally, I'm rooting for Nebraska.

        If college football can't provide us the clarity of a playoff system, then it deserves all the chaos inherent in the Bowl Championship Series. It deserves a Nebraska team that allowed eight rushing touchdowns on a single November afternoon. It deserves the disharmony of a split title. It deserves Oregon's outrage and sportswriters' scorn.

        If the BCS is to be fixed, there must be a consensus that it is broken; that the mechanism for crowning college football's champion is fundamentally flawed. If the Cornhuskers get creamed tonight, it reinforces the belief they didn't belong in the big game. But if they should win, the larger issue gets legs.

        If Miami prevails, the arguments end. The Hurricanes are the nation's only undefeated Division I team. If they run the table, Oregon's claim to the throne will be as flimsy as George O'Leary's resume.

Split decision?
               Spotless beats superb. What Oregon did to Colorado Tuesday was mighty impressive, but it does not erase the Ducks' inglorious shortfall against Stanford.

        Fairness demands that any team that finishes a representative schedule unbeaten deserves to be ranked ahead of the blemished. If two cars are otherwise equal, who buys the one with the big dent in the door?

        Miami, therefore, offers everyone an easy way out. It's one thing to deserve a shot at the title — as Oregon certainly does — but quite another to claim a share of it with an inferior record. If Miami wins, Oregon is a worthy runner-up. Nothing more.

        Yet if the Cornhuskers have been paying attention during their remedial tackling drills, the waters might get marvelously muddy. The coaches who vote in the USA Today/ESPN poll are contractually bound to award their trophy to the winner of the BCS Championship, even though they ranked Oregon and Colorado ahead of Nebraska in their last balloting. The Associated Press panel, fiercely independent and notoriously cranky, could declare a different champion.

        No novelty there. The two polls have produced split titles 10 times in the last 50 years. The coaches used to take their final poll before the bowls and sometimes looked silly afterward. More recently, conflicting champions have arisen from honest disagreement.

Arbitrary results
               The BCS was devised to facilitate postseason matchups between the best teams and, at least in theory, to blunt the argument for a more extensive Division I-A playoff. One goal was the preservation of existing bowl games. Another was preserving the illusion that scholarship athletes are real students who can ill-afford to miss any more classes.

        Walter Byers, who ran the NCAA from 1951 through 1987, believes the playoff push also has been undermined by the reluctance of elite conferences to share revenue and by the prospect that the players involved in a playoff might expect to be paid.

        These barriers remain. If they are to be broken down, it would help if the BCS remained on its present, controversial course. Each time it gives us arbitrary results and calls them conclusive, we get a little closer to a legitimate playoff.

        To that end, Go Nebraska.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail:


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