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The BCS: Asleep at the switch

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

If you paid any attention to college football last weekend then you're aware that Iowa won at Penn State and Oregon humiliated Cal, 42-3.

These weren't obscure events.

The voters who participate in the Harris Interactive and USA Today Coaches polls apparently did not pay any attention. Hey, why would they? These are only the people whom the empty suits of the Bowl Championship Series have empowered to determine how the sport's champion is crowned.

So it made perfect sense that in the polls that make up two-thirds of the BCS formula Penn State is still ahead of Iowa and Cal is still ahead of Oregon. These are among a half-dozen rankings based more on reputation and preseason hype than results. There will be more as the year goes on.

This is the BCS. It's not a one-time mistake. It's the all-the-time plan. Ridiculous votes happen when you conduct ridiculous elections.

The suits want something that provides convenient cover for them (hey, don't blame us, it's the voters!) while being so flawed it draws attention away from what's really going on – the operation of a system designed to protect their power and allow their cronies who run bowl games to fleece the sport for tens of millions a year.

Forget what they say. Forget the supposed excuses. That's all there is here. Protect their power and the bowl games' money.

If the people who ran the BCS wanted to implement a good way to determine the best teams at the end of the year – even if they stuck with the archaic bowl system – they would have done so years ago.

Instead they continue to prop up a formula where two-thirds is determined by a popularity vote from people who, in many cases, are either incapable or unmotivated to take the job seriously.

There's decades of evidence and testimony from the 59 head coaches that they 1) don't have the time to research their ballots and 2) often hand over the duties to administrative staffers, who also have no time.

There's half a decade of evidence that the commitment of the 114 Harris Poll voters fluctuates wildly. Most of these guys are retired administrators, coaches or players. Some are media.

They've proven good for two things, voting based on marketing and reputation, and subscribing to a groupthink mentality that assures their ballot doesn't stand out and they get criticized for thinking for themselves.

Some voters take their responsibility seriously and in their defense, the two polls purposefully offer no criteria for them to consider. Should they slot teams based on overall record, strength of schedule, who they beat, who they lost to, how they won, how they lost, where the games took place, conference strength or so on?

Last year a number of Harris Poll voters admitted to Yahoo! Sports that they have never bothered to watch Utah play before deciding the postseason fate of 12-0 Utes. This isn't to say Utah should've been ranked No. 1 or No. 25, only that any reputable system would, at the very least, require the voters to at least watch an unbeaten team before dismissing them.

It's moronic enough to use a beauty contest system to determine athletic competition. It's even worse when the voters don't have to watch all the contestants. No one disqualifies Miss Mississippi because she isn't from California.

They do in the BCS.

What happened to the voters who admitted they didn't think it was necessary to watch Utah play? Naturally, most of them are back again this year.

The folks who run Harris Interactive were concerned enough about this abomination they recommended that a protective mechanism be established to root out "instability, error or bias associated with unusual ranking patterns."

Naturally the BCS suits rejected it. They love instability, error and bias.

Of course the suits also employ the final one-third of the system as a safety check – the computers. Six mathematical formulas crank out rankings to supposedly make up for human prejudice.

The problem with the computer formulas is twofold. One, the lack of comparative data makes this exercise impossible, which is why actual mathematicians operate a movement that denounces the BCS and any of their peers who participate.

Second, as baseball numbers whiz Bill James points out, the three times the computers have disagreed with the final human vote, the BCS suits immediately re-rigged the formulas in an effort to prevent it from happening again.

The computers aren't there to counter the polls. They exist to offer credibility through pre-calculated agreement.

"Computers, like automobiles and airplanes, do only what people tell them to do," James wrote for Slate.

Absent blowing this atrocity up and going with a 16-team playoff, if the BCS wanted a better system to choose the teams for their antiquated bowl games, they would go with a NCAA men's basketball tournament-style committee.

That's a group of about 10 people who spend the season scouting teams, meeting to discuss various scenarios and then eventually getting together to go through a vast checklist of predetermined criteria to select the field.

While not devoid of controversy, it's orderly and transparent.

That would require courage and accountability though, actual faces to answer for the decision to select team X over team Y. The current system allows the blame to be spread out, even to faceless machines.

While a couple dozen conference commissioners and bowl executives sure do love to count the money, they don't want to claim ownership of the BCS. In fact, Mountain West Conference attorneys claim that there's no proof the BCS exists as a legal entity. Six conference commissioners take turns serving as "BCS coordinator" for a two-year term. Then they eagerly pass it off, like it's a disease.

In the meantime, a nonsense system rolls on. Don't be shocked by the controversy, the foolishness or the corruption.

That isn't a flaw in the system. It is the system.