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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, January 12, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

BCS can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

The Bowl Championship Series/college playoff debate has become the Iraq War of the sports world: Everybody has an opinion; no one can offer a straightforward solution.

Of course, if the college football postseason picture were easy to quantify, it would rob observers of the complicated formulas and twisted prognostications that end in theories about who should be crowned national champion.

Because nothing is simple in this scenario, we can even craft a clever, nine-step equation elevating East Carolina to the top of the heap.

For your consideration:

  • East Carolina beat North Carolina State.

  • N.C. State beat Boston College.

  • Boston College beat Virginia Tech.

  • Virginia Tech beat Wake Forest.

  • Wake Forest beat Mississippi.

  • Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt.

  • Vanderbilt beat Georgia.

  • Georgia beat Auburn.

  • Auburn beat Florida.

OK, so everyone probably can agree on one thing — my utter lack of qualification as a football theorist. But the truth is, even if the Pirates are several degrees of separation shy of the title this season, they have plenty in common with a team that has a fair claim to it.

The Boise State Broncos, the only undefeated team in the nation, have ridden a steep ascent to the national stage in the 10 years since they moved up from Division I-AA. Just five years ago, they finished a strong 8-4 but weren’t even invited to a bowl.

It wasn’t until BSU strung together five consecutive Western Athletic Conference championships that it became a regular on the bowl scene.

All that is to say that ECU could be Boise State, the protagonists in a Cinderella tale where the glass slipper was never found.

For years the big question about the BCS system, according to Pirates head coach Skip Holtz, is how a non-BCS school would fare if it played a perfect season. In the Broncos, ranked No. 6 after stunning Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the nation has its answer.

So it would seem that any non-BCS coach would be discouraged and hollering for a playoff at this point. But that’s not Holtz’s perspective at all. Perhaps because he has literally grown up in the shadow of the bowl system, he sees the question in all of its complexity, and he sees how many schools and players would be harmed by the dissolution of the current bowl structure.

“If we had a playoff for six or eight teams, then you take away the bowl games from 50,” he said. “All of a sudden you talk about 50 teams and 500 young men who don’t get to experience a bowl game. I think there are a lot of positives and a lot of rewards in the current system.”

The Papa bowl might not have attracted huge television ratings or national media attention, but Holtz is now recruiting in the glow of what that bowl bid meant to the Pirate program. His team, he said, is a testament to the fact that current system, while far from perfect, is beneficial to programs in a lot of corners of college football.

“The double-edged sword that everybody is sitting on is, everybody would like a fair playoff system, but if you ask 100 people how you would put it together, you would get a hundred different answers,” he said. “I don’t think a playoff is the answer unless you can come up with a way to incorporate the current bowl system.”

Holtz acknowledges that the biggest snare in reforming the system comes from the financial interests of the BCS conferences and schools, which are bent on protecting the profits that come from television revenues and other bowl rewards. If the BCS bowls were just one step in a playoff process and fans had two or three games on their calendar, the bowls would take a hit.

But the bottom line, for Holtz, is this: College football is not sick. The excitement of the postseason, epitomized in the victories of Boise State and Florida, prove that people care more than ever and that the real tragedy would be if fans stopped caring enough to carry on the debate.

“I think the sport is extremely solid right now,” he said. “College football is very exciting.

“When you keep coming back after you look at all the variables, the system we have is best for college football.”

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02/23/2007 01:14:31 AM

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