Commentary: Rise of the Machines

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By Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer
Posted Dec 1, 2008
Copyright © 2018

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Mack Brown and Vince Young hoist the trophy following the 2005 Big 12 Championship (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

BCS computers are fickle lovers; they’ll adore you during the courtship and then jilt you on wedding day. It’s time we left the asinine system for choosing college football champions standing at the altar. Here’s how...


First of all, Sunday’s bitter disappointment for Texas fans had less to do with flaws in the BCS formula as it did the Big 12’s method of using the flawed BCS for breaking ties. It cannot be emphasized enough that the Big 12 is the only conference (with a title game) that uses just BCS ratings as a tiebreaker. It not only eliminates head-to-head competition as the means to break a three-way tie, it also allows people outside of the Big 12 to determine who plays in the Big 12 Championship.

Specifically, computer geeks in Seattle, Wash. and Jefferson City, Tenn. had more to do with determining Texas’ post-season fate than its 45-35 triumph against Oklahoma.

Texas wins the tie-breaker (and has the inside track to the BCS National Championship game) with the system employed by every conference other than the Big 12. Instead, the 2008 Big 12 Championship pits the team Texas beat by 10 against the team Texas beat by 35 (Missouri).

Let that sink in.

And then write down this address:

Commissioner Dan Beebe, 400 E. John Carpenter Freeway, Irving Texas, 75062.

Write a letter to the Big 12 Conference commissioner and respectfully request that the Big 12 follow the Southeastern Conference’s method for breaking three-way ties. (Send a copy to every Big 12 Athletic Director; after all, they signed-off on the agreement several years ago).

The SEC initially eliminates the lowest-ranked BCS team; it then allows the head-to-head result between the two remaining teams to determine who plays in its championship game. This method mitigates (to some extent) the speculation among voters about which team is playing better toward the end of the year. Most important, it allows for (get this!) head-to-head competition to determine which team represents its own division.

This is one flaw in the system that can – and must – be remedied before the start of the 2009 season. The Big 12’s brass can address this when they convene later this spring to review the 2008 campaign.

Some have argued that ‘margin of victory’ should function as a tiebreaker; I disagree. I simply do not like the added incentive for running up scores and, besides, it plays into the hands of Texas’ biggest foes.

This season, Bob Stoops and Mike Leach both called for timeouts (Oklahoma against Texas Tech, Texas Tech against Texas A&M) to boost hefty leads late in the game (in Stoops' case, he was trying to pad a lead of 50-plus points against Tech). Meanwhile, Mack Brown would take a knee in a game of flag football before embarrassing an opponent (case-in-point: starting QB Colt McCoy took all of five snaps in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M; he took a seat less than three minutes into the final frame).

Obviously, the vast majority of BCS voters do not see the teams upon which they cast such critical votes; panelist only see scores and the occasional highlight reel. A 10-point, head-to-head win against Oklahoma (in this case) should not by mitigated by inflated scores against the A&Ms and Iowa States of the college football world.

We could argue all day for the merits of, say, an eight-team playoff using the BCS formula. Barring an act of Obama (the president-elect is on record favoring a playoff), we are not headed in that direction any time soon. But, oh!, how I relish the thought eliminating the league championship games (or at least making them consistent and mandatory for all BCS conferences) and, instead, entering a three-week playoff that (with the current ratings) opens with Alabama-Penn State, Florida-USC, OU-Texas Tech and Texas-Utah.

Any type of playoff remains in the hands of university presidents (Brown said most college coaches favor it, as do a sizable percentage of athletic directors). For now, we’re left wondering what it will take to get appreciable momentum in that direction. Will it require an I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore declaration among a fan base that is reaching tipping point in its disdain for the current system?

Maybe not even that. One higher-up within the UT Men’s Athletic Direction privately said last year that momentum toward a playoff would begin immediately if a couple of influential university presidents would say what they really think and use their leverage to further the possibility.

Presidents argue that a playoff extends the college football season detrimentally toward an NFL-schedule in terms of length. (Nonsense! These are the same presidents who approved extending the regular season to 12 games just two years ago; teams participating in conference championship games will play at least 14 games ever since. Go back to 11-regular season games, eliminate the conference championship game and the result is the length of schedule remains virtually the same).

Presidents argue that a playoff would detrimental to the academic life of student athletes. (Nonsense! The smaller football divisions have had playoffs for decades. Besides, no university president or athletic director can credibly talk about a playoff compromising academic integrity while allowing teams to compete on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays).

It’s not about the length of the season. It’s not about academics. Instead, it’s about college football’s dysfunctional marriage to an antiquated bowl system (and, by extension, the bowl’s corporate sponsors and television contracts). As far as I’m concerned, the BCS is just as concerned with preserving the bowl structure as it is making an educated guess with regard to which two teams should meet in its title game.

“It is what it is,” Brown said Sunday night.

But as long as ‘it’ remains as ‘is’, there is one thing Texas must do within the current system. The Longhorns must upgrade their non-conference slate. Big time.

The Sooners didn’t get BCS love simply from Saturday’s win at Oklahoma State; OU also got a boost with wins against TCU (BCS No. 11) and Big East champ Cincinnati (BCS No. 13). By comparison, Texas’ biggest non-conference win was against Rice (which received some votes in both the AP and coaches poll this week).

The Big 12 is hard enough without adding a murder’s row of non-conference competition, Brown believes. But Oklahoma plays in the same division and does not shy away from consistently facing stellar competition.

Case-in-point: the Sooners have scheduled (within the next eight seasons): Ohio State, Florida State, Miami, Tennessee, Utah, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Texas’ most high-profile games during that span are UCLA and Mississippi. It sets up annual scenarios where Texas has to be perfect in order to reach its conference championship game.

From a Burnt Orange perspective, that is the state of the BCS union. From a national perspective, it’s time to start talking about an amicable divorce.


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