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A radical proposal for improving the BCS process; more mail


To my surprise, this year's "morning after" inbox on the Monday following the announcements of the bowl pairings did not overflow with the usual anti-BCS venom. But people are obviously frustrated with many of the matchups, and I am too. So much so, in fact, that I'm here to propose a radical overhaul to the BCS selection process.

The prevailing thought seems to be that the BCS conferences would never give up the automatic-qualifying status for conference champions. However, do the bowls hold any sway in BCS negotiations? At this point, the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl are probably tired of hosting subpar teams from the Big East and ACC.-- James, Ann Arbor

You'd be surprised by how little sway the bowls have when it comes to BCS decisions. Their execs are in the room for meetings. They make suggestions. They're in constant contact with their respective conference partners. But for the most part the conferences dictate almost all BCS policy, and the bowls themselves hold little leverage. What are they going to do, drop out and pass up the opportunity to host the national championship game?

But something needs to be done to give the BCS games more flexibility with their matchups. This year, the Sugar Bowl was the only one of the four with any freedom in its selections. The Rose Bowl was obligated to take TCU. The Orange Bowl was obligated to take either Stanford (since it finished in the top four) or Big East champ Connecticut. The Fiesta Bowl had to take whichever one was left. Meanwhile the Gator Bowl, which offers one-fourth the payout of a BCS game, had its choice of at least two SEC teams (Mississippi State and Tennessee) and three Big Ten teams (Michigan, Iowa and Northwestern), chose the Bulldogs and Wolverines and will likely sell out for the second straight year. Think the Oklahoma-UConn Fiesta Bowl will sell out? Think that bowl would voluntarily choose that matchup?

My proposal: Eliminate automatic bids altogether. Are they really necessary at this point? The Big Ten and SEC are going to get their two berths most years regardless. The Pac-10 will always have the Rose Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl would continue its Big 12 affiliation (or if not, the Orange Bowl would gladly step in) and perhaps even start an informal alliance with the Mountain West and BYU. The only leagues in danger some years would be the ACC and Big East, but remember that in four of the five seasons prior to this one the Big East's champ was ranked in the top 10. Those teams all would have been selected regardless of AQ status.

I'd also suggest lifting the limit on teams per conference. And structuring the revenue distribution so no one goes broke, just as Notre Dame and the five non-AQ leagues are assured a share every year now regardless of whether they qualify a team. The same would hold true if the Big East didn't send a team one year -- it wouldn't get a full share, but it wouldn't be left for broke, either.

Under this system, and assuming roughly the same selection order, we could have had the following more logical, enticing pairings this year:

Rose: 11-1 Wisconsin vs. 11-1 Stanford

Fiesta: 11-2 Oklahoma vs. 12-0 TCU

Sugar: 11-1 Ohio State vs. 10-2 Arkansas

Orange: 11-2 Virginia Tech vs. 10-2 LSU

About the only negative is that Michigan State still gets shafted. The Orange would probably go for the closer team with the more ravenous fan base. But that's also kind of the point: The bowls would go back to being able to create the matchups they prefer rather than being pigeonholed by BCS constraints.

Stewart, I'm pretty new to college football but I've been really enjoying what I've seen. A lot of long-time fans I know keep griping about the BCS and how the bowls are divvied out. If the BCS had never been, and the bowls functioned like they did in 1994, how would today's postseason look? Do you think, this year at least, it would be any better than what we have now?-- E Blaine, Prineville, Ore.

I love playing this game! Mind you, it's hard to replicate exactly because the Southwest Conference still existed in '94 and the Cotton Bowl was still on par with the other four big games.

But I have to say, with this year's teams, it would not have been very satisfying. For one, the matchups aren't that much better than they are now. And with Auburn currently No. 1 in the AP poll and bound to the Sugar Bowl and Oregon at No. 1 in the coaches' poll and bound to the Rose Bowl, we'd be looking at a possible split national championship.

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Using AP rankings:

Rose: No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 4 Wisconsin

Orange: No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Virginia Tech

Sugar: No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 6 Ohio State

Cotton: No. 3 TCU vs. No. 8 Arkansas

Fiesta: No. 5 Stanford vs. No. 17 Nebraska

How did 8-4 Temple get left out of the bowls? I thought there was a rule that said 6-6 teams could only be selected if there weren't any eligible 7-5 or better teams left. Since I'm too lazy to look it up and you're getting paid anyway, could you explain?-- Alex, Pickerington, Ohio

There was such a rule as of last year, but the Big 12 quietly pushed through a piece of NCAA legislation last offseason that basically says all at-large teams shall be treated equally -- the idea being, 6-6 Kansas State is going to buy more tickets to a bowl game than 7-5 Louisiana-Lafayette, so why force the issue. I don't disagree, but it's a little harder to stomach when the excluded party is an 8-4 team that beat BCS participant Connecticut by two touchdowns.

It came down to the fact that the MAC had four teams that finished 8-4 or better but only three guaranteed spots. With no such restrictions in place, the New Orleans Bowl wound up the only game this year with a true at-large spot and chose 8-4 Ohio over 8-4 Temple, primarily because the Bobcats beat the Owls during the season.

If this had been last year, someone would have had to select Temple before 6-6 Clemson or Georgia Tech could get a bid. The ACC had nine eligible teams for eight spots. The ACC has a contingency deal to fill the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl's vacant Pac-10 spot, which it did with 7-5 BC, but last year the 6-6 rule would have taken precedent. Realistically, the ACC teams and Temple would have all gotten bids, while 6-6 Middle Tennessee -- a surplus Sun Belt team that got in because of that league's contingency deal with the Little Caesars Bowl -- would have been left out.

Have the automatic qualifying conferences ordered the bowls to never again schedule Boise State against a school from one of the AQ conferences in a bowl? Last year, it was against the other BCS-buster, TCU. This year it's Utah. Doesn't Boise deserve the chance to play AQ schools in the bowls?-- Dennis McCullough, Kansas City

This year's result was entirely Boise's choice -- and given its limited options, by far the best. Once the Broncos fell out of BCS contention, they were relegated to one of the WAC's bowls. Originally it looked like they'd be heading to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to face 7-5 Boston College. But both Boise and Nevada lobbied hard for the San Francisco bowl to take the Wolf Pack instead, and the WAC and ESPN brokered a deal that allowed the Broncos to fill the Pac-10's spot opposite 10-2 Utah in Vegas.

I know a lot of people are still fixated on AQ vs. non-AQ, but as far as I'm concerned, Boise proved far more by beating No. 4 TCU in a bowl game last year than it would have by playing Georgia Tech or Iowa. Facing a top 20, 10-2 Utah team that's heading to the Pac-10 is clearly more enticing than playing a 7-5 ACC team.

The Discover Orange Bowl? Maybe I'm a staunch defender of the sport's oldest traditions, but it will always be the FedEx Orange Bowl to me.-- Jonathan Nolen, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Here, here brother. And I'm already nostalgic for the Rose Bowl presented by Citi era.

In the 13-year history of the BCS, has anyone ever had an easier path to the big game than Oregon? They have one victory against a Top 25 team (Stanford), they've defeated four bowl teams (five if USC is included) and their opponents' combined win/loss record is 54-69 (not including FCS Portland State). By the same token, has any team ever had a tougher path than Auburn? With South Carolina counting twice in each category, their résumé includes wins over six ranked teams, they defeated nine bowl teams and their opponents' record is 76-50 (not including FCS Chattanooga).-- Thomas Coyne, Detroit

It's an excellent question, and one I can easily research thanks to the extensive archives kept by's Jerry Palm -- the same man who uncovered the BCS' errant computer rankings this week. You're our hero, Jerry. Note that his strength-of-schedule records do not include FCS foes. For the other two criteria, I'm only counting ranked teams/bowl teams that title participants beat, not just played; I'm using final BCS standings to qualify teams as "ranked;" and I'm counting all bowl-eligible teams under "bowl" to account for the fact that there used to be fewer bowls.

Did Oregon have the easiest path to the BCS title game? It does look that way. The Ducks' opponents' .439 winning percentage is by far the lowest of the 26 title game participants. Only three other teams played just one ranked team and/or five bowl-eligible teams, most recently 2007 Ohio State. Having said that, I think you'd have to go with 1999 Virginia Tech, which had similar numbers to Oregon's but played in Palm's eighth-ranked conference that year (the Big East), whereas this year's Pac-10 rates second.

Meanwhile, Auburn's path wasn't the toughest, but it came awfully close. I'd put it no lower than third and arguably second. Its chief competitors were the 1998 and 2000 Florida State teams. Bobby Bowden's nonconference schedules back then would make current teams cry. That '98 team faced 11-2 Texas A&M, 9-2 Florida, 8-3 Miami and 8-4 USC. That team did lose a game (to 7-4 NC State), but it also played only five home games compared with eight for Auburn.

For the record, the team that played the tougher schedule has gone 5-7 in title games so far.

Bob Stoops has built a great program in Sooner land; however, I must ask the following question: Given his current 2-5 record (with five losses in a row) in BCS bowls, should OU lose to UConn in the Fiesta Bowl, how much longer will he be welcome in Norman?-- Steve, Mansfield, Texas

As long as he keeps winning Big 12 titles more seasons than he doesn't (current rate: seven title seasons, five non-title seasons), he can be JoePa if he wants.

I have been reading your columns for years now and hold your opinion in the highest regards. So I ask you this on behalf of all the Minnesota fans out there that were hoping for a big name hire. What do you know about Jerry Kill, the new Minnesota head coach? Is he going to prove everyone wrong and win big consistently? All I want for Christmas is a trip to the Rose Bowl for the Gophers and to do it at least four more times in a 10-year span. Is that too much to ask?-- Patrick, Maplewood, Minn.

Oh, you Gopher fans. At least now I understand the root of your overinflated expectations: none other than dysfunctional Minnesota AD Joel Maturi. Read this Q&A with the guy. It's stunning. He got everybody's blood pumping by proclaiming he was going to make another "Tubby Smith-type hire," so it's easy to understand why fans might feel let down with the hiring of Jerry Kill. Now Maturi is trying to backtrack, saying by "Tubby Smith-type hire" he meant, "somebody with the integrity of a Tubby Smith," not, you know, someone with a national title ring. He apparently made a go at Barry Alvarez (???) before admitting, "I knew we weren't going to get a BCS head coach."

The good news: Kill is more than a great name, he's a great coach. When someone's won big everywhere he's been, that's usually a good sign. He won big (38-14) at Division II Saginaw Valley State, he won big (producing a No. 1 ranked team) at I-AA Southern Illinois (five straight playoff appearances) and he won big, at least for a year, at Northern Illinois (10-3 this season). He's sort of a Brian Kelly/Chris Petersen type, having recruited at the small-school level where you have to find hidden gems that fit your system and coach them up. That's particularly important at a school like Minnesota that isn't going to win a lot of recruiting battles with Ohio State. Maturi managed to get out of his own way and make a solid hire.

Hey there Stewart

Just thought u should knop wtjta West Viriginia is no the Big eats champ./--John Fraser, Guilford, Conn.

My gosh, that must have been one heck of a party you guys threw Saturday night.

So, let's see if I have this one correct. Nebraska is going to the same bowl game that it went to last year, to play a team that it's already beaten this year by 34 points. If I'm a Nebraska fan, I might not even watch the game on TV after halftime, much less make the trip to San Diego. What are the Holiday Bowl people thinking?-- Alex Wagner, Cottage Grove, Wis.

They didn't really have a choice. Nebraska, I'm told, begged off a possible Alamo Bowl rematch with last year's Holiday Bowl opponent, Arizona, so that bowl took Oklahoma State instead. It probably thought it had the Insight Bowl in the bag, but that game chose Missouri, partially because it passed over the Tigers last year and drew heat for it, partially to appease the Big 12 (which probably wouldn't be keen on two Big Ten schools playing in a Big 12 bowl). So that left the Holiday Bowl with either 10-2 Nebraska or a 7-5 team. And Washington was its only remaining Pac-10 choice.

But hey, it's good news for the Huskies. More often that not, non-BCS bowls come down to who wants to be there more, and in that department, it's about as lopsided in one direction as the teams' September meeting was in the other.

One of the things wrong with having a plethora of bowls: Stewart Mandel can write that Washington "is heading to San Diego," and readers don't necessarily know he means for the Holiday Bowl.-- John H., Mount Prospect, Ill.

Yep. That pretty much sums it up.