When a strong contender that effectively earned 50 percent of the vote is rewarded with zero percent of the opportunity, the system has failed.
Since the last National Championship Game for Auburn was 1957 (and I was born in 1965) it is fair to say that this is a once in a life-time opportunity. Without Cam Newton (or Nick Saban as our coach) it is hard to imagine this ever happening again.
An SEC team has won the last four BCS championships, the single piece of factual information its fans have to hold over the rest of the country in their insistence on the on-field dominance of the South. Oregon's ever-changing array of flashy uniforms and spread option offense are the living antithesis of the salt-of-the-earth image the SEC cultivates for itself. Rest assured, their confidence in a fifth straight win – the first over a bunch of West Coast pretty boys – will be staggeringly high. The Ducks can either shut them up and usher in more respect for an expanded, rebranded Pac-10, or leave the rest of America to another year of gloating from the other side of the Mason-Dixon.
Beginning with Oklahoma's out-of-nowhere BCS championship run in 2000, three teams in the last decade – the 2000 Sooners, Ohio State in 2002 and LSU in 2003 – have rebounded from unranked, five-loss seasons to win the BCS championship, all with expectations of far more modest improvement. Two others, Washington in 2000 and Auburn in 2004, came off five-loss seasons to finish within very plausible striking distance of a BCS title shot, and Alabama surged from 7-6 in 2007 to within half a quarter of a BCS championship bid following a 12-0 regular season in 2008.
With the thrill of the unexpected, though, comes the unavoidable tradeoff of a certain kind of justice for obviously superior teams -- such as, say, Kansas, which defeated rival Kansas State three times en route to the Big 12's regular season and tournament championships, only to watch the Wildcats move closer to the national championship because their inexplicable lapse against an inferior opponent came at a more convenient time in the season -- whose otherwise brilliant campaigns can go up in a blink. (The classic football example is the 2007 Patriots, arguably the greatest team in NFL history, whose perfect season was extinguished by a six-loss team that not only lost to New England in the regular season but finished three full games behind the champion of its own division.) For all the BCS' faults, producing an "unworthy" champion has never been one of them, as opposed to the occasional Villanova, N.C. State and Arizona in the basketball tournament; the Series' sins have always been at the opposite end, of leaving obviously worthy contenders out of the mix rather than letting stragglers in. . . .
There is a middle ground between those competing poles that recognizes that a playoff should be open enough to allow all worthy contenders, restrictive enough to exclude the riffraff, and designed with the goal of producing a champion that has inherently produced the best season by virtue of winning the playoff. Both Brian Cook's tightly restricted six-team proposal (which swears off automatic bids for anyone) and Dan Wetzel's expansive 16-team scheme (which admits all conference champions, even from the Sun Belt) come pretty close. Of course I have my own preferences somewhere between those two plans, preferably appropriating an Australian Rules format.
But this post isn't about conjuring up specific plans, or we'd be here all day -- the first priority is to spread of the gospel of any playoff; the details can come later. It's only to recognize that March Madness, for all its enthralling surprises, is always an important reminder that whatever makes it through when the time comes -- and I still say it's going to come -- should consciously heed both extremes.
Some of you are thinking, "This is great. Someone is finally going to fix the BCS." But consider some of the federal government's greatest hits of the last ten years: The War in Iraq. The response to Hurricane Katrina. Oh, yeah, and helping the banks almost destroy the American economy.
This is avoiding the obvious point that Sen. Hatch -- who asked DOJ to look into this -- has otherwise been busy with writing paens to limited government. Apparently, regulating college football must be in the enumerated powers somewhere.
That [BCS championship] game, of course -- along with the championship loss to LSU a year later and the 35-3 humiliation at USC in early 2008 -- has loomed over the program like a plague, and will continue to some extent until the Buckeyes finally take out a truly elite non-conference power (sorry, Oregon) in a BCS game. Nebraska faced the same bogus hurdle in the eighties and nineties -- Midwesterners "can't compete with Southern speed" -- until the 'Huskers dominated Miami, Florida and Tennessee to cap three undefeated, national championship seasons in a four-year span from 1994-97. Mack Brown was a "couldn't win the big one" figure at Texas, dogged by a lopsided losing streak against Oklahoma, until he added a difference-making athlete, Vince Young, and turned him loose to devastating effect in 2005.