By Christian S. Kohl
With the shocking loss of Alabama to Auburn, questions again arise regarding the optimization of the BCS system. One of the primary issues up for debate: should a team with one loss be eligible for the title game?
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The bowl system, like any other form of postseason, is meant to reward elite teams, and if at all possible determine who is the greatest team that year. The primary problem with college football is that the sample size is always going to be too small, no matter what system is proposed, to accurately and definitively state which teams are the greatest in a given year. Which means a situation like the recent Iron Bowl all but destroy one season and uplift the other, without necessarily proving which team is the better one.
All of which is to say, this is precisely why all sports that don’t demand this amount of physical pounding play longer postseason series. The NBA and MLB titles are determined by best of seven series to at least attempt to offer us an extended sample of two teams fighting it out. Anything can happen in one game.
The BCS is calculated with a complicated formula whose principle design seems to be so inscrutable that all involved hope nobody questions it or analyzes it formally. At the heart of it is still subjectivity, however. Two-thirds of the formula rely on polling data of people who are all doing their best to assess team strength in an extremely limited sample size lacking all sorts of relevant information. A main knock on this system of course is that smaller schools are arguably given less consideration and leniency. Conversely, it can be tough to assess a smaller school with an undefeated record who is facing inferior competition to the powerhouse programs.
The answer to this question depends on what you think the title game is about. It seems to often be about rewarding the team that has had the best year, as opposed to necessarily making an assessment of who is actually the best two teams in college football. Something similar could be said about the Heisman trophy, that it rewards the player who has had the best statistical year as opposed to deciding who is the best player in college football.
My feeling on this matter is very simple. The championship game should pit the two teams that consensus agrees are the very best in college football against one another, and whoever wins is the national champion. To that end, I absolutely believe a team with one loss could be selected. All these coaches in the USA Today poll, and those involved with the Harris Interactive College Football Poll are supposed to know more than we do. They should be able to provide analysis and insight that the average person cannot. If they are unable to, then the entire system is even more broken than most think.
If all those experts can look at Alabama, or a highly ranked team with one loss who has played a punishing schedule, and come to the consensus that they are still one of the nation’s top two teams compared to lesser squads playing easier schedules, then so be it. Football at both the college and professional level consistently makes the error of when in doubt, over-complicate things and add provisions rather than simplifying old ones. This question is a simple one to me, and the answer is to actually use your experts to the best of their ability and create the best matchup possible. Then play some football.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.