NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Perhaps it’s fitting that the final BCS National Championship Game is being played way out west at the Rose Bowl.
The sun is setting on the BCS era, never to rise again.
The long-awaited College Football Playoff with its four-team format — and semifinal games next New Year’s Day in the Sugar and Rose bowls — finally makes its debut next season.
Before that, of course, there is the minor matter of one last BCS championship to be decided Monday between Auburn and Florida State (7:30 p.m., ESPN). Then the BCS will belong to history.
It was the brainchild of former Southeastern Conference Commissioner Roy Kramer, who concocted a formula that was a combination of human polls and computer rankings to bring the two highest-ranked teams together. They first met in one of four bowl games (Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta), then in an additional championship game that began after the 2006 season.
The controversy surrounding the BCS was instantaneous. A steady drumbeat of criticism and demand for college football to join its high school and professional counterparts and decide its national champion with a playoff perhaps reached its peak when LSU and Alabama played in the 2012 championship game in an all-SEC final.
It was during the 2012 offseason that the College Football Playoff format was finally created, with six bowls (the Sugar, Rose, Cotton, Orange, Fiesta and Chick-fil-A) rotating semifinal games and a national championship final awarded on a bid basis like the Super Bowl or Final Four.
The first CFP championship game will be next January at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Cotton Bowl, followed by championship games at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., in 2016 and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., in 2017.
While the BCS had few supporters outside the school and conference CEOs running the system, the question remains: Was the BCS really that bad?
In one important respect, the answer would have to be no. Before the BCS system, the No. 1 and 2 teams in The Associated Press poll met only 11 times in bowl games.
The fact that the BCS system has brought together the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country each year (albeit according to its own criteria) can’t be overlooked. As a result, the BCS era produced just one split national championship: when LSU beat Oklahoma in the 2004 Sugar Bowl (that year’s BCS championship game) to finish No. 1 in the USA Today coaches’ poll while Southern California beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to claim first place in the AP poll.
Before the BCS era, there were nine split national championships dating to the start of the UPI (now USA Today) coaches’ poll in 1950. The AP poll began in 1936.
No team perhaps had a bigger gripe than Auburn in 2004, when the Tigers finished unbeaten but were locked out of a championship game battle in the Orange Bowl between USC and Oklahoma. Auburn declared itself the “people’s champion,” but it was an honorific that few outside Toomer’s Corner shared.
Could it be because the BCS had that much credibility?
One thing is virtually certain: The four-team CFP system won’t end college football’s annual controversy. It’ll just kick it down the road a little bit.
“On the (NCAA) basketball committee, we pick 68 teams and there is always someone saying the 69th or 70th team should have gotten in,” said LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, in his third year on the NCAA tournament selection committee. “Here you’re talking about the fifth or sixth team. So I think it will always be controversial. But that’s not a bad thing for college football.”
Perhaps neither was the BCS.