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View from the 'ville
Thursday, January 25, 2007

By Al Myatt

In age of I-Pods, BCS is out of tune

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Back in 1890, the Valley Hunt Club, in Pasadena, CA, held the first Tournament of Roses. The group included members from the East and Midwest who wanted to showcase the area's mild winter weather.

The festival expanded in its early years to include marching bands and motorized floats and outgrew the hunt club's management. A Tournament of Roses association formed to direct the various activities, which included ostrich races, rodeo demonstrations and, once upon a time, a race between a camel and an elephant.

According to the Tournament of Roses website, the elephant won.

In 1902, the Tournament of Roses decided to enhance its various attractions with a football game. It would be the first postseason college football game ever. Stanford agreed to play Michigan.

The Wolverines rolled to a 49-0 lead in the third quarter in a game played at Tournament Park, when Stanford had apparently had enough — and quit. Tournament of Roses history tells us that because of that mismatch, festival leaders decided to give up on football games in favor of Roman-style chariot races.

Had the chariot races continued, perhaps Division I-A college football wouldn't be the only NCAA sport that doesn't determine a true champion on the playing field.

In 1916, football returned as a Tournament of Roses activity and Washington State beat Brown, 14-0. Brown hung in for the duration of the game.

Football became increasingly popular as a festival event and in 1920, Tournament of Roses president William L. Leishman pushed for the construction of a new stadium to handle the growing crowds. A 57,000-seat horseshoe was constructed at a cost of $272,198.26.

It was similar in design to the Yale Bowl. Local reporter Dusty Hall dubbed the structure "the Rose Bowl."

In the mid-1930's, the Orange, Sugar and Cotton "bowls" were all up and running with the postseason game concept.

In the meantime, civilization has progressed with the widespread proliferation of television and computers, space exploration and organ transplants while big time college football's postseason format has remained mired in its antiquated past.

Every chamber of commerce with access to a football facility in its jurisdiction has probably tinkered with the notion of a bowl game. The Dixie Bowl, the Copper Bowl, the Blockbuster Bowl and many more have come and gone.

A core of bowls have achieved tradition and stability, and those could be incorporated into a much-needed and much fairer playoff system in Division I-A.

The polls and the computer rankings just aren't getting it done in the Bowl Championship Series. This year, its index presented Ohio State as the top-rated team. The polls narrowly avoided a rematch of the Buckeyes and another Big Ten paper tiger, Michigan, in the premier matchup.

Once-beaten Florida approached a level of domination of that inaugural 1902 Rose Bowl in humbling the Buckeyes, 41-14. The BCS proclaimed the Gators national champions. Michigan, the third-rated team in the BCS index, got waylaid 32-18 by Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl and dropped to ninth in the final coaches poll.

The point is that the BCS index doesn't provide an accurate indication of the best teams and the bowl results of the present system are primary evidence.

Boise State, of course, finished unbeaten, earned its invitation to a BCS bowl from outside the power conference structure and magically overcame Oklahoma in overtime. The Broncos were road-blocked from national championship consideration because they started too low in the polls at the outset of the season.

That's the nature of the current dysfunctional system.

In years past, there have been other unbeaten teams denied a shot at No. 1. There have been shared national championships since the BCS regime began. Further tweaking of the formula of polls and computer input won't get it done.

A playoff system is needed. It would be bigger than the current bowl system can ever be and revenues would increase as well. ESPN created a workable model that included conference champions and a couple of at-large teams into a playoff system that retained many existing bowls.

East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland is among a multitude favoring change.

"A playoff could make every bowl game assume real significance, generate much needed revenue for programs that can not generate revenue for themselves, and be inclusive rather than exclusive in that everyone would have a chance to prove whether or not they are good enough on the field," Holland said.

The ECU AD said a playoff would not only be good for the Pirates but for everyone else as well.

"There is no one that it would be bad for," he said. "It would be good for every single school in the country since the best team in any given year may have lost some games early in the year with no chance to prove themselves by what they did in their last eight or nine games."

In the current Division I-A football format, there will never be an improbable late season run to a national title such as the one made by N.C. State in the NCAA basketball tournament in 1983. There will be no Cinderella contenders such as George Mason last season.

But playoffs don't just work in hoops, according to Holland.

"It is a tried and true formula that works in every sport, not just the visible NCAA men's basketball tournament," Holland said. "It even works for Division I-AA, Division II and Division III football. Anyone who says it would not work for Division I-A football is truly kidding themselves or has some personal agenda."

ECU coach Skip Holtz has experienced playoff football — and liked it — when he coached at Connecticut.

"I can tell you that the playoff system that I had the opportunity to play in I-AA was an awesome experience," Holtz said. "It was done on the field. Really, I'm a big fan of the playoff system."

Holtz's reservations are that the number of teams involved in postseason play might be reduced with a playoff system.

Playoffs don't necessarily preclude bowl games outside the tournament bracket. The NIT has survived for years despite the expansion of the NCAA basketball tournament.

The lesser bowls could continue and that would likely provide an opportunity for ECU in some seasons. But suppose the Pirates could move into the national championship playoff by winning Conference USA. That would really be exciting, fun, fair — and profitable.

Until then the elephant is still winning — the white elephant that is the bowl system.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:29:04 AM


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