This weekend I saw the first release of the penultimate Bowl Championship Series rankings.
To many college football fans, the imminent death of the BCS is something worth celebrating, but I for one am disappointed to see the end of one of the few real differentiators between the college and pro games.
The BCS gets a bad rap.
Yes, it is a flawed system that takes into account rankings of questionable value by the press and coaches and combines it with some nebulous computer algorithm that pops out a number that ultimately decides the fate of the 10 best college programs.
But many of the reasons people dislike the system are the very reasons I think it is so unique and useful.
The biggest gripe I hear about the BCS is that it doesn’t really tell us who the best team in the country is. This most often comes up when deciding among a number of one-loss major conference teams to play in the championship game or whether or not to include an undefeated team from a lesser conference.
To these people, the only way to crown the true champion is for four or more teams to square off in a playoff.
What those people don’t get is that the BCS isn’t necessarily intended to select the best teams; it selects for the teams who had the best seasons.
It is very possible for any number of one or more losing teams to be, talent- and potential-wise, better than an undefeated team, or at least be able to best them in a one-off game.
But an undefeated major conference team almost invariably will have had a better overall season than a more talented one loss team, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with rewarding that.
It is true that beating more high-ranking teams in a playoff would make the accomplishment more impressive, but it is also true that playing more games raises the likelihood of the better team losing on a fluke.
All of this relates back to the underlying “Super-Bowl-or-bust” mentality that taints football especially, but American sports in general.
In this day and age in particular, with middling Giants teams thwarting a juggernaut Patriots’ quest for perfection, an eight-to-eight Steelers team squeaking into the sixth playoff spot only to win the whole thing.
The Packers team did the same thing, thanks to a last-second DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown in a wholly separate game, nobody should confuse the Super Bowl Champion with the best team in the league.
Winning a playoff championship is obviously awesome and should be the ultimate goal for any American sports team, but it isn’t the true arbiter of who the best team was.
The team that proves itself every week in the regular season, in a much larger sample size than an abbreviated postseason, should be recognized as the league’s best.
Let’s say an NFL team is way better than its competition and has an 80 percent chance to beat each team it would play in the playoffs. Assuming they have a first round bye, they would only win the Super Bowl a little over half the time.
So while an inferior team should feel no remorse for winning a Super Bowl, we should not treat that victory as the culmination of their inevitable superiority.
Instead, it should be seen as the lucky, but amazing, accomplishment that it is.
This prioritization of the Super Bowl over the regular season cheapens the importance of the regular season.
As long as your team makes it to the dance, who cares how they got there?
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the opportunity to win it all once the real games begin.
That’s the most important aspect.
In the BCS system, every game is critical. Since it is the season-long body of work that matters and not some threshold level guaranteeing entry into the playoffs, a team cannot afford to slip up even once.
But if they do, they still have the opportunity to end the season on a high note by winning a bowl game.
Instead of the NFL’s “we didn’t win it all so the season was a failure” attitude, college players and fans almost every year have a chance to win their last game.
The four-team playoff that will start two seasons from now, with the retention of all the other bowl games, is not too bad of a tradeoff. But it is the inevitable growth from four to eight to however many that will really destroy the college system as it now exists.
At that point, big time schools will start to define success only by making the tournament and then winning it, leaving all but the last team standing disappointed in their season.
And as long as you make the tournament, who cares if you lose a few along the way?
What the BCS now gives us is a mechanism to choose the teams that have proven all season why they are better than the rest and the rest of the bowls serve as a great consolation for those who fall short.
To me, that definition of “best” is better than what playoffs provide.
William Haisley is a third year law student and is the Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email him at email@example.com