Column: Learning to live with the 'new' BCS
The new BCS will be a lot easier to live with if all you remember is this: It's bound to be better than what we have.
Sure, plenty of college football fans will still be nursing a grudge because there's not a playoff by now, let alone until January 2015, when the four-team postseason makes its long-delayed debut. So if it's any consolation, once that version rolls out, you won't have to look long or hard for exactly who to blame.
By late Wednesday afternoon, the wraps will be off the worst-kept secret in college football for the past month or so. The guys in charge of the Bowl Championship Series will release the names of the 13 members who will sit on its selection committee and decide -- just like the NCAA college basketball committee it's modeled after -- which teams get into the postseason and where they're seeded.
The name that's been generating most of the heat thus far is former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who's currently a professor of political economy at Stanford's Graduate School of Business and never played a down in her life.
"All she knows about football is what somebody told her. Or what she read in a book or what she saw on television. To understand football," former Auburn coach Pat Dye huffed recently, speaking for the many of the game's old guard, "you've got to play with your hand in the dirt."
"I've got the greatest respect for her," echoed former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "But really, what does she know about football?"
But that wasn't his only complaint.
"I guess they feel like the basketball panel is the idea to copy, but I kind of liked it the way it was," added Bowden. And why not? He won national titles in 1993 and 1999 under the old system. "I just hope somebody took into account that it's a lot easier to get right when you get to pick 64 teams for a playoff, instead of just four."
Frankly, you'd be surprised by how many things the people at BCS headquarters took into account before venturing even this far. They quit being stubborn, acknowledging that most fans dismissed the computer rankings and data-driven selection process as just so much pseudo-science, and agreed to ditch both. Most important, they did their homework. A look back at the past 10 years showed only one or two seasons when there were more than four legitimate contenders for the national titles.
Even so, somebody is going to have to get up in front of a microphone on occasion and defend the committee's handiwork.
"It's sort of like politics," said former Oklahoma coach and three-time national champion Barry Switzer. "You'll get criticized no matter what you come up with."
And that might have been the one thing the BCS considered most of all. In addition to Rice, who knows her way around a conflict, the panel includes retired Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, who played at Air Force Academy before serving as its superintendent. It also includes popular former Mississippi and New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, a few Hall of Famers, one former sports writer and a combined 200-plus years of experience either playing, coaching, covering or working as an administrator in the college game.
What we won't know until next January is whether the sitting athletic directors from the five major conferences, who called most of the shots in past BCS incarnations, will wield undue influence over this one.
"That's another place I have problems," Bowden noted. "It's just human nature to favor your team or your conference. If I were voting and it came down between Georgia and UCLA, I won't lie, I'd vote for Georgia. I know the Georgia coach. He used to coach for me."
For the foreseeable future, people are going to have to trust the BCS to get it right. Considering the organization's sometimes-shifty maneuvers in the past, it's a big ask. Outsiders like Utah and Boise State had to threaten lawsuits to get a place at the table and so far have had to settle for leftovers. Opening up the college basketball tournament to teams outside the power conferences has made for great opening-tournament weekends, but as Bowden pointed out, mistakes are a lot less noticeable when nearly six dozen teams get to toe the starting line.
The most hopeful sign, though it's also been the most maddening, is the BCS' willingness to tweak the system. They've done it so many times in the past that most of us have lost count. Insiders, though, consider that a strength. That's why something Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during recent discussions resonated with so many of them; he reminded them the postseason was always going to be "about evolution, not revolution."
That pace will suit some better than others. It will be too fast for a few, but never quite slow enough for Bowden. Remember: His 1998 team finished their season three weeks ahead of everybody else, then sat back and watched a string of upsets topple every contender in their path. That put the Seminoles in a title match against Tennessee and elicited this classic quote:
"I have never accomplished so much," Bowden chuckled, "just sitting on the couch."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at www.twitter.com/JimLitke .
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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