How Boise State Is Not Killing The BCS

Last night, as Virginia Tech was turning Boise State’s 17-0 lead into a game that would come down to the final minute, ESPN put up a graphic of the current AP top ten. “If the Hokies come back,” Brent Musberger said, “then TCU becomes the new darling of the anti-BCS crowd.”

This is the conventional wisdom—that college football fans who hate the BCS and want to see a playoff (in other words, pretty much every college football fan) should root for underdogs like Boise State and TCU in order to undermine the BCS’ legitimacy.

But this is wrong. People who want to see the end of the BCS should have been rooting against the Broncos last night. After their win, there is a more-than-decent chance that the Broncos will go undefeated—of their remaining opponents, only Oregon State is ranked in the Top 25, and they are already in danger of falling out. And if Boise State goes undefeated, then there is a more-than-decent chance that the team makes the National Championship.

And this would be a nightmare for the anti-BCS contingent. If Boise State makes the title game under the current rules, then it will undercut the primary argument against the BCS, that it prevents teams like Boise State from getting a fair shot at the championship. BCS apologists would be able to point to the Broncos as the counterexample any time someone accused the BCS of being biased towards the main six conferences: “Well, if Boise State can make it, then anyone can make it.”

This, of course, doesn’t make the BCS any less unfair, but it does make the BCS easier to accept. The biggest obstacle toward changing an ineffective system is when that system accidentally yields a fair result. We can see the same problem when the Twins and A’s make the MLB playoffs (or, for that matter, when the winner of popular vote also wins the electoral college): it undercuts the arguments of those who insist payroll disparities upset competitive balance, even though small-market successes are the exception and not the rule.

The best circumstance for getting rid of the BCS would not involve Boise State making the championship: The best argument for trashing the BCS would have been for Boise State to have one loss (a nail-biter with another top ten team), but still finish out of the National Championship because two other one-loss teams happened to start the season higher in the polls (in this case, Alabama and Ohio State). In that case, it would be all but impossible to deny that the Broncos had been victimized by an unjust system.

So even though Boise State is a great Cinderella story, and we all want to see another bowl game with two critical trick plays, the best outcome in the long run is actually the worst outcome in the short run: If we want to get rid a system that hurts David, then we’d better hope Goliath wins.

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14 responses to this post.

  1. It’s time for Musberger to hang it up. He’s had a good career but after listening to him call the Hokies-Boise St game last night, he is all washed up. It was very obvious that he was pulling for Boise St. All he could talk about for the entire 1st qtr was how great Boise St was, how the “Coaches” needed to pay attention to the game since they had voted the Bronc’s #5 in their Coaches poll, how they deserved more respect among college football’s elite and on and on. As the game became the great game that it was, he was totally lost trying to pay compliments to the Hokies. Then, at the end of the game, he refers to Boise St as a “Cinderella” team? Come on, Brent! Make up your mind…! are the Broncs supposed to be a Top 3 team or a Cinderella team? Better yet, hang it up….you’ve lost your edge.
    GT

    Reply

    • Posted by Tim on September 7, 2010 at 6:30 PM

      Although I’m a Musburger fan, I agree that it was a subpar performance from Brent. The “Cinderella is alive!” call for Boise’s go-ahead touchdown was suited to a 2-15 first-round NCAA Tournament game — let alone a football game where “Cinderella” was the favorite. And don’t get me started on Musburger and Herbstreit talking about Heather Cox’s volleyball career and Boise residence in the fourth quarter of that game…

      Reply

  2. Posted by Tim on September 7, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    I agree with the overarching point that Boise State’s appearing in the national championship helps validate the BCS and eliminate the main criticism of the system. That said, the worst-case scenario isn’t for Boise to have one loss in its biggest game; it’s still for Boise to go undefeated but be behind Alabama and Ohio State (and then have one of those teams win convincingly while the Broncos beat someone like Florida handily in a BCS game). So the best- and worst-case scenarios are both still in play, and given the ease of the Buckeyes’ schedule and the down year most expect out of the SEC, it’s very possible an undefeated Boise State team is denied a title shot yet again.

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    • Posted by John S on September 7, 2010 at 7:29 PM

      There is some truth to that, since it would echo the 2004 finish (when Auburn finished undefeated and Oklahoma got routed in the championship), which probably did the most damage to the BCS’ reputation of any one season. People never like it when undefeated teams don’t get a shot to play for the championship. On the other hand, though, if there were two other undefeated teams, from BCS conferences, then it would be hard to say that Boise State was more deserving than either of them, since the Broncos play a relatively easy slate from here on out. In other words, it would be hard to say that a National Championship between an undefeated Alabama and an undefeated Ohio State was the wrong matchup, even if one team wins handily. On the other hand, if a Boise State team whose only loss was to #10 Va. Teach were passed over to an Ohio State team that lost to, say, a Penn State team that was in and out of the Top 25, then that would be more controversial.

      Reply

      • Posted by Tim on September 8, 2010 at 1:33 AM

        Or the 2001 (Nebraska over Oregon and Colorado) or the 2003 (LSU-OU over USC) or the 2008 (Utah undefeated w/ a win over Bama) finishes.* There a pair of reasons I think an undefeated Boise is worse than a one-loss Boise for the BCS:

        1. If they go undefeated with a win over VT and STILL don’t make the title game, what more can they do? Short of changing conferences (which they’re already doing soon, but only to the MWC because their academics aren’t strong enough for the PAC-10), nothing. And the message, then, is clear: Only 65 teams have a shot at the championship.

        2. If the Broncos are sitting there with a lone loss to VT, you can legitimately say, “Well, they haven’t proven they can beat top competition.” Their best win would be against Oregon State, who’ll probably end up ranked around 20th.** With the win over Tech (essentially in a road environment), Boise State can lay claim to one of the best wins in the country. In fact, it will likely be better than any win Alabama gets this season (Florida and Auburn are home) and, at worst, on par with any Ohio State nabs (at Iowa).

        *In my book, ’03 did the most damage to the BCS since it left us with what the BCS was supposed to eliminate: split champions.

        **Can we give props to Mike Riley scheduling TCU and Boise State in the same year? On the road, no less?

        P.S. Most people forget ’04 (I did), and I posit that this is largely because it was Auburn that was left out. Had it been a more traditional SEC power (Florida, Alabama, Tennessee) or one that started that year highly ranked (Georgia, LSU), or one coached by Steve Spurrier (South Carolina), or one that would have been an insane Cinderella story (Kentucky, Mississippi, Miss. State, Arkansas, or best, Vandy), we’d all remember it. Nope, it could only happen this way to Auburn.

        Reply

  3. Posted by Doug on September 8, 2010 at 12:28 AM

    Sorry guys, but you’re both wrong. The worst case scenario would be for every currently undefeated team in the nation to win the rest of their games (excluding, of course, the necessary losers when such teams play one another). Then how would the BCS possibly determine a champion? How do you pick contenders for the championship game when literally dozens of teams are ostensibly invincible? I know what you’re thinking: wouldn’t it be worse if all the college teams died, perhaps as the result of some new virulent bubonic strain? Well, the question was what would be worst for the BCS. Sure, 100% mortality rates would be bad for the players and fans, but for the BCS, woohoo! Vacation time. By reductio ad absurdum, I think I’ve demonstrated why the BCS is in actuality a flawless system. You can’t pick the “perfect” champion, so you might as well have some fun with it, right? Instead of one of the bowl games, they should just show Animal House. That movie is hilarious.

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  4. [...] S wasn’t the only one writing about Boise State, with SI’s George Schroeder chronicling the Broncos’ amazing run to college football [...]

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  5. Posted by brouhahasports on September 16, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    The BCS won’t die so long as the money flows. Yep, the best argument against it is if multiple teams go undefeated. ‘Bama, Ohio State and Boise, and somebody gets left out. E.g., the “Auburn” scenario from 2004 (?). But because the BCS was designed to make it rain dollar bills at the offices of a select schools, and it does just that very well, I am not sure there is enough pressure to change things. A playoff means sharing more money with non BCS league I think. And nobody in Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama or Florida, etc., wants that.

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  6. Boise State is the only real team that has a chance of bringing down the BCS system. They have won virtually ever game over the last 4 years, yet have never gotten a chance to prove themselves in the title game.

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  7. [...] The first BCS standings came out this week, and Don Borst thinks that BCS critics ought to be rooting for Boise State and TCU. Last month John S made the exact opposite argument. [...]

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  8. [...] of this is due to the blatant unfairness of the BCS, in that small schools from non-BCS conferences, like Boise State and TCU, are inevitably punished [...]

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  9. [...] Man, John…could you be more John? Way to seize upon the first regular-season game in five years to make the BCS look like a good idea and promote the hell out of your “let’s-take-it-to-absurdist-realms-and-then-see-how-you-like-it” point that the BCS is good because it’s different.* Once again, people dislike the BCS not because it’s different, but because it’s unfair. You’ve admitted this yourself. [...]

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  10. Wow, superb blog format! How long have you been running a blog for? you made blogging look easy. The entire glance of your site is great, as smartly as the content!

    Reply

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