A New Era In Awarding A National Championship Begins
By Dan Harralson
The college football season is just weeks away and the sport is undergoing a makeover that will usher it into the post-BCS era.
In 1998, the BCS was able to steer the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences to an agreement that pitted the top two teams against each other based upon the BCS formula. The year before, Michigan won the 1997 Big Ten and was No. 1 in the AP poll, but went to the Rose Bowl instead of what was supposed to be the national championship game in Miami.
The Orange Bowl was supposed to host Nos. 1 vs. 2, but Michigan's Rose Bowl agreement negated a national championship showdown with Nebraska, resulting in Peyton Manning and Tennessee backing into 'the national championship game.' Instead, the Huskers and Wolverines split the 1997 national championship. That ruffled enough feathers to cause Roy Kramer to somewhat fix the problem.
The BCS formula is now history and, over time, it will become ancient history just like the 1997 season now seems so far away.
The BCS wasn't perfect. It was tweaked many times, and the SEC proved to be the conference that built its league the best around the rules of at least being in the top two after Conference Championship Saturday.
"It still remains to be seen," Andrea Adelson of ESPN told me. "Especially with the SEC staying at eight conference games, believing that is all that they need for strength of schedule, as well as the ACC. But the bottom line is that the SEC has been the dominant conference and until that changes, it remains to be seen if a playoff will help or hurt the SEC."
Ideally, one would think teams and conferences will catch up to the SEC in the new playoff format, just like how the world caught up to the United States in basketball and how United States soccer is now playing catch-up at an international level. Change always happens after dominance.
College football is in complete overhaul. It's one of the greatest sports, but it is also the only sport where a team is awarded a national championship rather than winning a national championship. Teams went through a time when two polls — the AP and Coaches polls — awarded a team, or teams, national championships. Then the BCS era came along from 1998 to 2013 and a computer system made the final call.
"I really enjoyed the BCS," former Tennessee quaterback and current USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin told me. "I was part of that era, but I am excited about the new era in the playoff system. When you come up through high school and have playoffs and on to the next level, playoffs are fun and allow you to compete in winning championships."
There's no doubt there is excitement around the begining of a new era in college football. It's identical to how social media and the Internet have changed the sport. There is a buzz all the way around it — from reporters to former players to past and current head coaches.
One former head coach with SEC ties, Jackie Sherrill, is excited too. "Going back with Roy Kramer when he started the SEC Championship Game, Roy had a vision," Sherrill told me. "A lot of coaches thought it would hurt them to win a national championship.
"I made the comment of, if you're good enough to win the SEC, you're good enough to win a national championship. So that's how it turned out and now, for the winner of the SEC, I would doubt they would not be one of the four teams every year. So, there's no question that this what a lot of people wanted and is the best way to get to a playoff."
The BCS hardly escaped question marks all the way around it, and neither will the current four-team College Football Playoff that will determine finalist teams among a 13-person human panel that will access teams with no base criteria.
Is it fair? Who knows, but when was anything ever fair in determining a national champion in FBS football?
Another to voice their opinion on the topic to me was Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
"I started saying this when I was coordinator at Oklahoma and then at (Texas) Tech," Leach said, "we should go 64 teams. In order to have 64 teams, is to cut the regular season down to ten games, if you don't make the 64 then you can schedule other teams that don't make it – so there would be natural breaks in the playoff."
Leach and I went into further detail in how college football would be best off participating in group play, like that in the World Cup.
However, the bottom line is that college football's new era is a short few weeks away. Like it or not, it's here and will be the system in which future national championships will be awarded for quite some time.