LSU, almost kept out of the BCS title game for having two losses, won that game last night, trouncing Ohio State 38-24. LSU’s season makes a fine case for replacing the moronic “Bowl Championship Series” with a playoff. Arguing with a sort of self-conscious perversity – the only way to do it – against a playoff system to decide the NCAA division I champion in football, the indispensable Josh Levin at Slate wrote, back in November:
“Since every team has proven itself undeserving of this year’s title, there’s only one truly fitting way to end the season, by calling off the BCS title game.”
But this sentiment is comprehensible only within the singular, indeed bizarre, criteria that have evolved in the world of high-stakes college football. In other sports, even other football organizations, a team doesn’t “prove itself” deserving of a title through a weekly series of ad hoc beauty pageants. This “system” evolved over eras very different from the current one. In the pre-parity era, you could expect a handful of elite programs to flirt with an undefeated season. The last man standing – at 12-0, or 11-0-1, or 11-1 – got the vote. (Stop and consider that for a moment. The national champion in college football was determined by…a vote, which the current arrangement is a queer vestige of.) There was little chance that a Kansas or an Oregon would make a bid for national glory over Texas and USC. You could count on some kind of consensus, or at least an orderly difference of two opinions, at the end of the year.
The current bowl system takes this highly unequal power-distribution for granted, even though it is now gone. This year’s champ, LSU, almost didn’t make it into the national title game because it had two losses. That’s right. A winning percentage of .833, coming out of the toughest conference in the nation. The shame. Only in Div. I college football is a winning percentage below .900 thought to disqualify you from title consideration. But high schools are producing so many good college prospects these days, so many fanatically groomed and conditioned athletes, that the top programs can’t horde them all. And serious coaching talent is spread all over the place. This means that the best team in the country may well have two losses come December. Or maybe, a decade from now, three. The only way to know for sure which team really is the best, in the future-is-now world where college football has the disorderliness of actual competition, is to have four or eight or twelve teams play it out, on the field.