The BCS tells us that every game counts; the facts tell us otherwise

Friday November 19th, 2010

BCS propagandists are quite proud of their little tagline. "Every Game Counts" suggests that their system turns the regular season into a playoff, imbuing more games with meaning than any nasty old playoff ever could.

Did anyone consider Thursday's game between Alabama and Georgia State meaningful? Didn't think so.

Georgia State-Alabama is a prime example of a game the BCS system creates because teams are too afraid to damage their national title chances by playing decent out-of-conference competition. With a 16-team playoff that allows in every FBS conference champion and five at-larges -- it's based on the NCAA basketball tournament, which people seem to enjoy a little bit -- those concerns disappear. A team can make the playoffs by winning the conference, freeing up teams to play better competition.

Another suggestion BCS apologists often make is that teams would tank games at season's end. NFL teams do it every year, they argue.

It wouldn't happen in college. An NFL team can lock up home field advantage with a game or two remaining on the schedule. In a seeded college tournament that gives homefield advantage through the first three rounds to the two teams with the best résumés, it's almost mathematically impossible for two teams to lock down homefield advantage in a 12-game season. And in college, no team would dare tank a game and lose a home playoff game.

"Every Game Counts" is a load of hogwash, and anyone who believes the BCS makes the regular season more meaningful should check the dictionary, because I heard Webster's left out the definition for gullible.

Want proof that a playoff actually makes the regular season more meaningful than the BCS? Here it is.

Beginning with Friday's Fresno State-Boise State game, there are 122 games remaining in the regular season. Of those, 40 will impact whether a team plays for a national title, wins a BCS automatic conference or remains in contention for an at-large spot in a BCS bowl game.

If the FBS used the 16-team playoff described above, 66 games would impact whether a team had a chance to compete for a national title and how well-positioned that team would be when the playoffs began.

Because I didn't want these figures to appear cooked, I used a very low threshold for the BCS when determining which games count. If there is even a possibility that the game might affect an at-large berth, it counts. Yet the BCS still finished far behind the playoff. (After Saturday, some of next week's games won't be meaningful in either system because some teams will be mathematically eliminated from their conference races. These numbers assume everyone is still in the hunt.)

This weekend's Big 12 slate is a prime example. Under the current system, three games count. Missouri can remain mathematically alive in the Big 12 North by beating Iowa State. Nebraska can clinch the Big 12 North by beating Texas A&M. Oklahoma can remain alive in the Big 12 South race by beating Baylor.

With a playoff, one more game counts. Under the current system, Oklahoma State doesn't need to beat Kansas to win the Big 12 South. The Cowboys are ranked far too low to make the national title game without an unrealistic amount of chaos. They could check out, tank against Kansas and beat Oklahoma next week at Bedlam to win the division. With a playoff, Oklahoma State would want to keep winning for two reasons. Should the Cowboys win the Big 12 and finish 12-1, they'd almost certainly be guaranteed at least one home playoff game. Should they lose to Nebraska in the Big 12 title game and finish 11-2, they'd still have an excellent shot at an at-large bid to the playoffs. It's unlikely an Oklahoma State team coming off a Big 12 title game loss would receive an at-large BCS bid.

The biggest disparity is in the non-AQ realm. Because their teams stand no chance of earning an at-large bid, Conference USA, the MAC and the Sun Belt don't play a single meaningful game in terms of the BCS. In a playoff system, the late-season theatrics would take on far more meaning. November and December non-AQ games would inherit the same entertainment value as conference tournaments in mid-major basketball leagues. A Wisconsin fan might not care about the Conference USA title game now, but he would if the Badgers were in line to face the winner in the first round of the playoffs.

Still, I understand that even more meaningful non-AQ games might appeal only to true junkies. So I removed the non-AQs -- including Boise State and TCU -- from the equation and added up which games count again. Under the BCS system, 35 games involving AQ conference teams will count. With a playoff, that number is 42.

Why? Because a lot of out-of-conference games could impact seeding. Before it faces Auburn in the SEC championship game, South Carolina plays Troy and Clemson. Under the current system, the Gamecocks could lose both those games, beat the Tigers and still make the Sugar Bowl. In a playoff, South Carolina could make the tournament by tanking the next two games and beating Auburn, but such an act would result in an upgrade of the Gamecocks' first-round opponent. It would be the acme of foolishness to relax these next two weeks.

Ditto for Florida State. Let's say the Seminoles clinch the ACC Atlantic this weekend with a combination of a win against Maryland and an NC State loss to North Carolina. Only a system as putrid as the BCS could render the Florida-Florida State game meaningless when one of the teams remains alive for a conference title, but that's exactly what would happen. The Seminoles could lay an egg against the Gators and still win the ACC. Obviously, Florida State could still make the playoffs in the same fashion, but the Seminoles likely would be punished with the lowest seed possible.

So as you settle in for a weekend of stinkers, consider how much more interesting these next few weeks would be for everyone involved if more of these games counted. Then e-mail your favorite university's president and ask why he or she continues to stand in the way of a playoff.

Thanks to the BCS system, only about a third of the games remaining still count. Unfortunately, that doesn't look good on a flyer.