I was watching an old episode of House the other night (which is what I'm usually doing when I'm not working or showering, but that's another column), when I was struck with one of those Aha! moments. In the episode, the underrated Samantha Mathis plays a wife who is slowly killing her husband by sprinkling his cornflakes with gold (you heard me). At the end of the show, when House finally exposes her machinations, she tearfully pleads, "But I love my husband!" The whole twist of the show, of course, is that she really does love the guy -- her reasons for trying to kill him have deep psychological roots.
This, my friends, is the BCS to a T (though maybe without the deep psychological roots). Bear with me a moment ...
Set up to promote and, most importantly, to preserve the bowl system (which the architects of the series supposedly love), the BCS is instead killing college football's annual rite of the holiday season. Oh, I don't mean that the bowl games are going away or will someday cease to exist, I just mean that they are being rendered more and more irrelevant.
To be clear, I am not an advocate of a playoff. Not by a long shot (please keep your hate-mail respectful -- my mother is reading, after all). College football is unique in all sorts of wonderful ways, and that's what I love about it. If it were up to me, we'd go back to the old bowl system tomorrow -- you know, the one that worked just fine for most of the 20th century. My reason for this, primarily, is the preservation of the regular season. A playoff couldn't help but render some regular season games meaningless to championship contenders. And at that point, college football, in my opinion, would basically become college basketball, a game which redeems its modestly interesting regular season with a sublime postseason. But basketball teams play two and three times a week. Football can't duplicate that, and it can't have a 65-team tournament at the end of the year to make sure everybody who was decent all year long gets a chance. I could go on in greater detail ... but this is my basic argument.
So if the BCS is all that's standing between me and playoff Armageddon, I guess I have to be all for it. But there are reasons to hate the BCS, too. Plenty of them. The primary one being that the series renders every bowl game but one totally meaningless. Before its creation, there might be two or three bowl games a year with national championship implications. But with the BCS, if your bowl isn't hosting the national title game, it's nothing more than a glorified exhibition. Only one game really matters.
Yes, some teams are very excited about simply qualifying for a BCS bowl. Look no further than Big East champ Cincinnati, or mid-major darling Utah for an example of that. But how do you suppose Texas is going to approach its trip to the Fiesta Bowl -- a game that, 20 years ago, could have had a say in deciding No. 1? Something tells me there won't be quite the same sense of urgency around the Longhorn program this month as there was during the regular season. I'm not saying Texas will lose to Ohio State come Jan. 5. But it wouldn't surprise me at all.
And the deleterious effects get even worse the farther you get from the BCS bowls. Look at Cal in 2004. The Bears went 10-1 that year and sported stars on both sides of the ball, but were shut out of the BCS and slotted into the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30 against Texas Tech (back when the Red Raiders were Big 12 also-rans). The result? In a desultory performance, the Cal defense, which hadn't surrendered more than 28 points in a game all year, gave up 45 points in a listless defeat. This from a team that had come within a touchdown of knocking off top-ranked USC. Why would any team that thinks it deserves a chance to play for a championship want to play in a lesser bowl? And why would any team that feels it deserves the BCS's stamp of quality be happy about spending the holidays in Fort Worth (for example)?
No game has suffered more from the BCS than the Cotton Bowl, which not too long ago was an important and prestigious destination, one where great players were on display, and occasionally, a national championship was decided. But now it's just another consolation prize. And that, my friends, is sad, indeed.
Unfortunately, there's nothing on the horizon -- no, Dr. House, if you'll let me torture this analogy a little further -- that's going to save us. So to all who clamor for a playoff, just know that I'm not too happy about the way things have turned out, either. From where I stand, the BCS is just as much of a mess.