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Disappointing SEC battle for BCS title supports media’s plea for revamped championship system

At halftime of Monday’s BCS “national championship” game, a fan was given the opportunity to kick a 40-yard field goal. If he split the uprights, he would win an RV, a boat, a Blackhawk helicopter and a Middle Eastern sultanate. Or something like that. He had 60 seconds. He needed 60 years.

All four of his attempts came up short, no surprise since a 40-yard field goal is hardly a layup. Then again, if you have a chance at becoming a sultan, the criteria for success should be rigorous. Maybe the Alabama placekickers should have given it a try, since they spent most of the night attempting field goals against a sleepy LSU team. When the Crimson Tide actually scored a touchdown – with 4:36 remaining in the game – fans must have been stunned. But, hey, Alabama is the best team in the country, or at least that’s what the voters and cast of The Big Bang Theory say.

Another college football season has ended, and while the final result is somewhat satisfactory (it’s easy to make an argument for Alabama as the nation’s best team), there is a familiar lack of fulfillment. That comes courtesy of the BCS, which combines the worst elements of boxing, back-room politics and computer geekdom to foist a “championship” matchup on legions of fans throughout the country. Much ink has been spilled and words have been shouted in protest of the cockamamie system, which has divided media types into two camps: the heroic playoff supporters and the BCS apologists. (Can you tell which side I’m on?)

Monday brought word that the long, national nightmare may be over. No, the Kardashians aren’t being banned from the airwaves. BCS chieftain Mike Slive has promised a “meaningful discussion” about the future of the contrived method of choosing a champion. Slive, who is the tremendously successful commissioner of the Southeastern Conference – which has won the last six BCS titles – admitted what many media members have been saying for years. According to Slive, there are “too many cracks in the current system, and too many controversies, to stand pat.”

You think? Every year, an ever-larger portion of the media reveals the myriad inconsistencies, conflicts of interest and occasional grand larcenies that characterize the BCS process. Teams that have beaten rivals and boast the same (or better) records are ranked below their victims. Coaches cast votes in their weekly poll that protect conference allegiances and demonstrate grudges. And mathematicians somehow try to convince us that they know which teams are best, thanks to arcane formulas best used to figure out when the next meteor is going to hit the earth.

By the time we reach the fall, Slive and his fellow conference bosses will have met four times to discuss changes to the flawed approach. They assure us just about everything is up for discussion, except a full-fledged playoff (you can’t expect these guys to be that smart) and anything that would limit the importance of the regular season. BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said there could be “50 things on the table,” and that doesn’t even count the deli tray. Since the current BCS TV contract, for which ESPN pays $150 million/year, expires after this season, it’s important to come to a conclusion quickly, the better to expand the window of negotiations for the next deal – and maximize profits.

Among the possible changes is a four-team “plus-one” model that identifies the “best” four schools in the country and plays them off in a three-game mini-tournament that would culminate in a “national title game.” That’s not quite a playoff, but it at least welcomes two more teams into the discussion. The BCS could also eliminate guaranteed bids for conference champions and place no limit on the number of league members that could play in the top-tier bowl games. A lot could happen. Or not so much. At least they’re talking.

Frankly, they have to. TV ratings for this year’s BCS bowl games were historically bad. According to the Associated Press, the Rose Bowl had its lowest ratings ever. The Orange Bowl saw viewership drop 37% from last year, and the Sugar Bowl numbers were lower than Twilight Zone re-runs on the local Fox affiliate. The Fiesta Bowl, which featured the two teams that would have participated in a plus-one this year, was the third-least viewed of the past decade. In other words, nobody cared. That’s not exactly the best way to end a season.

Consider this a large victory for those members of the media who have howled at the moon in protest of how the world’s greatest sport chooses a champion. Total victory has not been achieved yet, since a full-fledged playoff system isn’t on the immediate horizon. (It’s funny how conference commissioners and school presidents continue to lie about not wanting athletes to play “extra games,” while they never complained about that as an extra regular-season tilt and nearly-universal conference championship contests were added to the docket.) But the establishment of a plus-one is a step toward a sensible conclusion of the season.

So, put your hands together for people like Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan, who wrote the seminal “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.” And cheer for every columnist, commentator and analyst who laid out the ridiculous system’s many inadequacies. The BCS isn’t dying, but it is getting one heckuva makeover. Maybe some day, while we’re all still kicking, we’ll be able to celebrate a playoff system and enjoy crowning an undisputed college football champion.

Until that day comes, we’ll keep on shouting, knowing that we can make a difference.

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