FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – By Friday four schools will have a compelling argument as the best team in the nation this season – Utah, Southern California, Texas and the winner of the BCS championship game.
Only one will be the national champion, though, either Florida or Oklahoma.
Talk of a split national title, appeals to Associated Press voters, cries over protests, and anarchy have swept the country. The controversy of the Bowl Championship Series has been so great it's snuffed out nearly all the buzz about the actual title game.
Regular readers know there is nothing I'd rather see collapse under its own corrupt weight than the BCS. It's illogical, ridiculous, outdated, broken, ineffective and possibly both illegal and immoral. The system is such bad business it costs college athletics hundreds of millions of dollar a year in lost revenue.
Yet it is the system. These rules – foolish as they are – are the rules.
At the beginning of the season all the schools and conferences agreed that the championship matchup of college football would be determined by the BCS. The winner of that game would be the champion.
That's how sports work. Before the start of the season, everyone gets together and determines how to crown a winner.
Some leagues, such as the NBA or NHL, have a series of playoff series. Some, such as the NFL, have a single-elimination tournament. Some, such as NCAA hoops, have bigger fields. Some, such as major league baseball, have smaller ones.
In the NFL this season a number of divisional champions earned playoff bids, despite sporting worse records than some teams that failed to make the postseason. New England might have been frustrated sitting out despite an 11-5 record, but it couldn't mount a write-in campaign to declare itself the rightful champion.
The rules are the rules are the rules.
The rules of college football deemed Oklahoma and Florida the two best teams. They'll meet for the title, one will hold up a big crystal trophy and nothing else matters.
The Associated Press poll can say something else and embarrass the powers that be (knock yourself out) but it's an empty title. Prior to 1997, the AP title was all anyone had. Ever since the BCS was agreed upon, it became pointless.
The BCS isn't fair, but dismissing it at this point to crown a champion out of spite wouldn't be fair to Florida or Oklahoma, who didn't do anything wrong.
Texas has no one to blame but itself. Its own conference commissioner, Dan Beebe, is one of four chief roadblocks to a better system. Ditto for USC and its Pac-10 commissioner, Tom Hansen.
Just last spring the SEC brought forth a plan for a progressive plus-one model to crown a champion. Commissioner Mike Slive and his staff worked two years on devising it and it was the first internal, comprehensive plan anyone has even attempted to put in front of the suits that make the decisions.
Four of them – Beebe and Hansen, along with the Big Ten's Jim Delany and the Big East's Mike Tranghese – didn't just reject the plan, they voted against even allowing discussion or study of it. They feared it would be too successful.
Tranghese and Hansen even retired soon after the vote, which means they didn't allow their successors the chance to consider the future of college sports they will now lead. It was a particularly egregious act.
If Texas wants to complain, then badger not just Beebe, but the UT administration that employs him. Same for USC. Both school's leadership determined the BCS was the way to go; it's too late to change your mind for this season.
Utah has less blame. As a member of the Mountain West it has little to no power. The Utes are so disrespected that some of the voters in the BCS' own determining polls admitted never seeing the Utes play a game this season before dismissing them.
Utah is understandably frustrated, but it needs to use that emotion to work to the overthrow of the BCS.
The system will crumble when people stop seeking petty solutions, embarrassing votes and allow the blame to be placed on faceless "computers" or "presidents." College athletics needs to hold its own leaders accountable for showing such a lack of leadership. Every one of them is disposable.
The BCS has to go for a million reasons, but in the most practical terms because it is terribly outdated. It was designed to solve the problems of the 1980s and early '90s, when two unbeaten teams from different conferences weren't allowed to play each other due to antiquated bowl contracts. The BCS put two obvious contenders on the same field.
The game has become so nationalized though that undefeated seasons are now rare. In the last three years only Utah (2008) and Boise State (2006) made it through their bowl game with a perfect record.
Running the table is extremely difficult since talent has spread out as so many schools have upped their commitment to the sport. It was a tailback from Richmond, Texas, (Jacquizz Rodgers) playing all the way out at Oregon State, who ended USC's perfect season. It was a tailback from Sicklerville, N.J., (Shonn Greene) playing all the way out at Iowa that did in Penn State.
Players go everywhere now. Even historic programs have trouble stockpiling talent. Michigan just lost a top quarterback recruit to Tulsa.
This is the new normal. The BCS is the old abnormal.
Clinging to it is ridiculous, yet that's what everyone did at the start of the season. The rules were laid out, the path was made clear and everyone understood it. Just because you might not like the result doesn't mean you can change it on the fly.
Hate it or not, whatever team lifts that crystal football Thursday is the one and only champion of college football.