Football Without Prejudice??

By Gil LeBreton
Updated: July 17, 2009

Bowl Championship Series FORT WORTH, Tx. — The statement from the Mountain West Conference last week was short and tellingly to the point.

It was signing the Bowl Championship Series agreement because, all Senate subcommittee hearings aside, if somebody holds a bag of money and a gun to your head, most people would tend to take the cash.

“While the Mountain West has expressed serious concerns with the various fundamental flaws in the current BCS system, our various good faith initiatives to generate reform have thus far not been accepted,” read the statement from Michael Young, president of the University of Utah and chairman of the conference’s board of directors.

“The Mountain West believes it has no choice at this time but to sign the agreements. If a conference wishes to compete at the highest levels of college football, and the only postseason system in place for that is the BCS, no one conference can afford to drop out and penalize its football programs and student-athletes.”

The agreement, again giving automatic BCS bowl berths to the champions of the Big 12, Southeastern, Big Ten, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences, runs through the 2013 season.

And therein lies my problem with the BCS.

I won’t waste my breath or your time ranting about whether the current system determines a true national champion. Anybody who writes that column is barking at the moon.

The BCS’ problems lie deep within — within the wordy paragraphs on the agreement that the MWC just signed, and within the biased minds of the people whose college football perspectives are swayed by it.

Much was made over Sen. Orrin Hatch’s recent saber rattling on unofficial behalf of his undefeated, home-state Utah Utes. He made an easy target. Our own newspaper chided him on the editorial page for wasting taxpayers’ valuable time.

The truth is, politicians have a hand in organized sport in every corner of the globe. Just last November, the prime minister of Spain followed suit, creating a cabinet position for Minister of Sport.

Without the impetus of the U.S. Congress, baseball’s players union might still be resisting adoption of a new anti-doping policy. Without congress, Roger Clemens might still be pitching for the Yankees.

Besides, the real scary words at that antitrust committee hearing came not from Sen. Hatch, but from University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, the new chairman of the BCS presidents’ oversight committee.

Perlman harked back to the tired, old argument about the schools from non-automatic qualifying (NAQ) conferences being better served by the BCS system. Under the pre-BCS system, the twisted logic goes, teams from NAQ conferences never made it to the big bowls or national championship games. At least, Perlman said, now they have a chance.

What Perlman conveniently leaves out is that the University of Miami, for one, was a frequent national title contender in the days before there were auto-qualifying (AQ) BCS leagues. The designation changes everything.

Allow me another quick example. The University of Connecticut spent most of its football history in the Yankee and Atlantic 10 conferences, playing the likes of Yale, Hofstra and James Madison. In 2004, it became a football-playing member of the Big East, and its “upgraded” schedule included Murray State, Duke, Temple and Buffalo.

Yet, if UConn were to win its palpably weak football conference, it would automatically receive a BCS bowl bid.

The designation changes everything. Not just on paper, but in TV contracts, polls and, most damagingly, in the perspectives of college football fans everywhere.

The argument rages annually about where to place the Utahs, TCUs, BYUs and Boise States in the national polls and pecking order. But when Cincinnati — whose 2008 victims included Akron, Marshall and Eastern Kentucky — gets a free ride to the Orange Bowl, this is OK?

If I sound like I’m picking on Big East football, I am. Big East teams were 9-9 against teams from the other AQ conferences last season. The MWC was 10-5.

Under the current BCS rules, the Big East will retain its AQ status through the 2013 season. If it meets certain criteria, the Mountain West could be upgraded to AQ status by 2012.

But there’s a lot of fine print to overcome to meet those criteria, and they all involve rankings in various shapes or forms. Rankings, whether they’re done by coaches or computers, involve some sort of human input — input that’s shaped, in large part, by perspective.

No one is arguing that Mountain West football is better than the Big 12’s. But an MWC team needs to be judged on its own merits, not on its BCS designation.

What if, just wondering, TCU had managed to upset Oklahoma last season? Would the undefeated Horned Frogs have rolled into Utah last November with the nation’s No. 1 ranking on the line?

The designation changes everything. It shapes the BCS. It shapes the prejudices that frame and influence all of college football.

If that takes a congressional hearing to fix, I’m all for it.