Once again, BCS system No. 1 target

Computers' ruling on USC raises heat another notch

January 01, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

If an expensive sports car leaked oil half the time it was driven, would its owner keep it on the road? The Bowl Championship Series has done its share of spitting and sputtering since former Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer and his cohorts turned on the ignition six seasons ago, and it appears many wouldn't mind seeing it relegated to the junkyard.

But was the method used in the past to determine college football's national champion any better - or a lot worse?

Trying to find a solution to a less-than-perfect system that previously relied strictly on human votes, and therefore human bias, the BCS began employing outside computers such as the kind used for college basketball's equally infamous RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) to do much of its dirty work.

The BCS went a step further than the Bowl Alliance or the Bowl Coalition, which was first established in 1992 to give five major conferences (the Big East, ACC, SEC, Big Eight and Southwest) as well as Notre Dame tie-ins to four major bowls (Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Cotton).

Seven outside computers were brought in to balance the prejudices of the Associated Press poll of writers and broadcasters and the ESPN/USA Today poll of coaches. Variables such as strength of schedule and opponents' strength of schedule, number of losses and quality wins are now factored into the equation.

The result: For the third time in the past four years, there is an uproar about the matchup in the BCS championship game, this time the Sugar Bowl. And, for first time, the team ranked No. 1 in the human polls won't be going. Southern California will be playing No. 4 Michigan today in the Rose Bowl, instead.

"What we have are three very deserving teams and only two of them are in the [championship] game," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, whose league was responsible for coordinating the BCS this season, said the night the pairings were announced. "But I have empathy for USC. It's hard to sit here and do cartwheels."

Said USC cornerback Will Poole: "In a way, it doesn't make sense. They're going to have to do something about the BCS. Maybe they need to pull the plug."

From the relatively safe distance of his lakefront retirement home in Tennessee, Kramer said he and the other conference commissioners who came up with the BCS formula accomplished nearly everything they set out to do.

`Whole new flavor'

They wanted to create more interest in the regular season.

Would anybody have cared about end-of-season games between Hawaii and Boise State or Notre Dame and Syracuse if they did not have an impact on the national championship picture, helping LSU leapfrog over USC? Would fans in Baton Rouge find friends with satellite dishes to watch the Trojans play Oregon State?

"I think it has been enormously successful because it has added a whole new flavor of life, so to speak," Kramer said. "I don't know what the call-in shows would have done without it. People in California are interested in what happened in Oklahoma and people in Louisiana are interested in what happened in California. It's had a kind of nationalization effect."

They also wanted to preserve the traditional bowl structure.

"One of the things that had happened was that the bowls had gotten so competitive that we were making choices for the bowls in mid-October," Kramer said. "One of the things we wanted to do was to slow down that process by creating a system that would select the four major bowls and the other bowls would have to wait."

Lastly, they wanted to set up the possibility of a true national championship game.

"When we started this, we were going to use the two [human] polls, but the people at Associated Press and the football writers came to us and said they wanted to cover the news, not create the news," Kramer said. "They wanted to be a factor in it, but they didn't want to be the sole factor. We didn't want to go with one poll, the coaches' poll. We thought we'd have some philosophical problems."

Kramer and the commissioners of the other three leagues that made up the original Bowl Coalition - the SEC, Big East, ACC and Big 12 were later joined in full partnership by the Big Ten and Pac-10 in 1998 - understood that the new formula, like the old one, was potentially flawed.

"We all realized we could have a dispute or a controversy, perhaps co-champions," Kramer said. "From a personal standpoint, I don't think that's all bad. Two hundred guys get a ring instead of 100 guys, maybe that's what college athletics should be about. We've had co-champions before."

Having co-champions always produced some type of discussion well into the winter, but nothing like the avalanche of vitriol that has occurred in the past month.

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