Imagine you have invented a new soft drink that blows the taste buds off its consumers and knocks the socks off its biggest competitors. Let's call it Horny Toad Cola.
You don't have the resources for a nationwide advertising campaign against the so-called "Big Two" - Coke and Pepsi - but you believe Horny Toad can blow the leading brands out of the carbonated water. So you hold a taste test that pits your drink head-to-head against the Big Two to let the consumers exercise their freedom of beverage choice.
Whoa! Before you can fill the first Dixie Cup, the Federal Beverage Agency steps in and tells you Horny Toad Cola is not allowed to compete with the Big Two cola-opoly.
Wait a minute. This is America, where the little guy can take on the big guy and let consumers serve as judge and jury. Competition is the cornerstone of capitalism.
But not if the free-enterprise system was run like the Bowl Championship Series, the current cartel that determines the national championship in major college football.
In the case of the cola wars, the BCS would decide that only Coke and Pepsi, being the most nationally recognized brands, can battle it out in the Tastebud Bowl.
Horny Toad will have to settle for a matchup with Dr. Pepper or SunDrop in a lesser taste test, but only Coke and Pepsi can vie for the title of the nation's No. 1 soft drink.
The Supreme Court, Congress and Joe Citizen would never stand for such a ruling, but Coke and Pepsi have control over the system and no one has the power to fix it.
Horny Toad Cola (or in this year's college-football case the TCU Horned Frogs) can only watch while Coke and Pepsi (BCS powers Auburn and Oregon) battle for No. 1 on Monday night in Glendale, Ariz.
Welcome to the world of big-time college football, America's bright-shining lie. While our nation's universities are intended to be the bulwarks of democracy, the BCS is a classic example of a dictatorship designed to help the rich get richer and keep the poor at arm's length. College presidents and football programs have been bought out.
"The problem we have is you have 120 universities (competing) and probably 25 would say they have a legitimate chance each year," ex-Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville told reporters. "And you have (university) presidents that for some reason look at it more as for the money than having a national championship on the field."
That's just one of many reasons the BCS must die.
Blatantly Corrupt System
It may seem odd that in the modern age of college athletics, where every other sport at every level determines its national title with a playoff or tournament, that the most popular sport is so corrupt that it allows money, power and politics to crown a champion. But not if you consider that the BCS was designed by the primary beneficiaries of the system.
Brace yourself, Gamecock fans, but the BCS was created by one of your own - University of South Carolina grad and Southeastern Conference spokesman Charles Bloom - who was given a special assignment by then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer. His job was to come up with a ranking system to pair the top two teams in the nation in a title game.
The good old days of college football were never good about deciding a national champion. A myriad of polls and bowls meant split national champions and raging debates. And instead of developing a playoff system, college football's post-season became dominated by corporate-sponsored bowl games, which pay out millions to the participating schools.
Bloom spent a few years researching records from past seasons to come up with a mathematic formula that would produce the top two teams based on different criteria.
Sounds like a good idea given the chaotic combination of bowls and polls that crowned a champion in the past, except that the system was being created by the SEC in consultation with the other major conferences - the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac10.
The BCS was approved and is still operated by the leagues themselves - instead of the NCAA. Sort of like letting Cookie Monster guard the cookie jar. Or in this case, a bowl system that's out of control.
Corporations pump millions into bowl games to have their names associated with college football, the No. 2 most-viewed U.S. sport behind it's professional version, the NFL. That's why there's a good chance your alma mater is one of 70 teams to play in the (Your-Product-Here) Bowl this holiday season.
That's a lot coin for the BCS committee to risk for a new system, albeit a fairer and potentially more lucrative one. The BCS bosses hide behind their members' status of institutions of higher learning when questioned about their motives.
"The simple solution is easy to state," Big 12 commissioner and BCS executive Don Bebee told reporters last year. "We're not in charge of a professional league where we have the entertainment value to consider. That should be fully considered... A one-game single elimination type playoff works well for the NFL, it works well for our basketball championship, but it doesn't mean you end up with the best team winning it all."
Oh, so the BCS has it right and everybody else is wrong? Hard to argue with that kind of thinking, but logic and fairness are not the primary considerations since the BCS is not sanctioned by the NCAA. It is a collusion of the major conferences splitting up the spoils.
Predictably, the system is designed to benefit those who control it. The established bowl system, which distributes millions of dollars to schools each year, and college presidents, who like the idea of receiving millions of dollars each year, are a tough combination to crack. Throw in a system that is rigged to favor the elite and you've got an unbreakable cartel.
Polls, bowls and payrolls
You have to be a math major to know precisely how the BCS formula operates, but a basic understanding of economics will tell you all you need to know about how the system works. The BCS uses percentiles and quotient indexes to convince everyone that all this math can't be wrong when in reality it's rigged to yield predictable results.
The BCS uses two so-called "human polls" to compile its rankings - the coaches' poll, which is about as self-serving as allowing musicians to vote for the Billboard charts, and the Harris Poll, which allows former football players and coaches and other figureheads from around the nation to have a hand in determining the top teams in the country.
The Associated Press Poll pulled out of the equation years ago, leaving the BCS formula without a truly independent source of data. The BCS accused the AP writers of not wanting to be part of the solution; the writers countered that they no longer wanted to be part of the problem. Regardless, the two human polls are like people - fallible.
The other part of the equation is computer polls, which are run by a series of number-crunchers from across the country who view football as an algorithm rather than a game. They take scores and stats, plug them into a computer and trust science to answer a question that can only truly be resolved by two teams and a football field.
Here's where the science gets hairy: the BCS takes all this data and spits it out in the form of a ranking. The only two teams that have a chance to play for the national title are the ones that come out on top of the convoluted poll. All the others are treated to trips to bowl games that have been rendered meaningless by the BCS title game.
It could be a workable system if it weren't corrupt to the core. Since it is run by the Big Six conferences, the system always produces two schools from those leagues while undefeated schools, such as TCU this year, Boise State in 2009 and Utah in 2008 (and so on and so on) sit on the sidelines and settle for second (or really, no better than third).
So why is this blatantly unfair system allowed to continue to operate? In a word - power. The TCUs, Boise States and Utahs of the college football world play in mid-major conferences without the influence to create change, while the BCS leagues continue to get fatter with a guarantee to play in big-money bowl games each year.
Of the four BCS bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange), six of the eight spaces are reserved for the champions of the Big Six. The other three spots are decided by the BCS rankings, which often go to teams from the same Big Six and allows those leagues to double-dip from the multimillion-dollar payouts from the BCS bowls and television revenue.
Here's the only math you really need to know: The Big Six conferences claimed 82.3 percent of the $155.2 million paid out by BCS bowls games last year, while the five mid-majors - the Mountain West Conference, Western Athletic Conference, Mid-American Conference, Conference USA, and Sun Belt Conference - split up the leftovers.
It takes two to tangle
The BCS could be a perfect system in a perfect world, but reality ruins it for everyone except those running the show and reaping the benefits. If every season ended with only two unbeaten teams they could play for the championship with great fanfare and little fuss from fans, but that scenario rarely happens in the real college football world.
What happens when no teams finish undefeated, such as in 2009? The BCS took the two it labeled as the "most deserving" one-loss teams - the SEC's Florida beat the Big Ten's Ohio State.
How about when there's only one unbeaten team, like in 1999? The BCS picked the ACC's Florida State to face undefeated and eventual champion Tennessee of the SEC.
How about three or more undefeated teams, like in 2010? The SEC's Alabama beat the Big 12's Texas in the championship game while also-unbeaten TCU and Boise State met in the Fiesta Bowl. Schools such as Cincinnati, Hawaii and Marshall have been locked out of the BCS title game while the SEC's LSU won it all in 2004 despite having two losses.
Do you see a recurring theme here? No matter the scenario, the major conferences always get to play for the national title while the mid-majors must settle for the scraps.
Some of it is justified, as the powerhouse programs traditionally reside in the power conferences. But bigger isn't always better, as the mid-majors have proven in their few chances at the big boys. Utah beat Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, Boise State beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and TCU knocked off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
The mid-majors are proving, albeit it at a pace slowed by the powers that be, that computers cannot predict what will happen when humans step onto a football gridiron.
The mid-majors have filed lawsuits and lobbied Congress to inject some fairness, but the BCS continues to maintain its stranglehold over the sport in a shroud of secrecy. Only the BCS is privy to its magical mathematical formula that yields predictable results. Boise State president Bob Kustra recently sent a scathing e-mail to that effect.
"How many times have we heard calls for transparency on our campuses?" Kustra wrote fellow presidents in an e-mail obtained by the AP. "... Yet, in intercollegiate athletics, with the NCAA standing silently on the sidelines, we allow the BCS to work its magic with no idea of how accurate its rankings are on a week to week basis."
Cleaning up the BC-mess
Again, in a perfect world, the system would be easy to fix. President Barack Obama mentioned creating a playoff in his election campaign, but fixing the economy and overhauling health care have gotten the starting nod from his administration. Still, political pressure must be applied to affect any change in the deeply ingrained BCS power-broking machine.
Until then, BCS opponents are trying to speak the language of those running the show - money. Various groups, including one headed by dot-com billionaire Mark Cuban, who owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, are making business proposals to form a college football playoff that would yield more money than even the current bowl system.
Experts estimate a college football playoff could generate as much as $750 million in annual revenue, six times more than $155 million created by the current system. By contrast, the expanded 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament is projected to generate $425 million, but that money is split equally between 326 schools.
Cuban doesn't know about the Xs and Os of college football, but he knows about the symbol that counts the most - $. In a Dec. 16 interview with the AP, Cuban called the BCS "an inefficient business model where there's obviously a better way of doing it. The only thing that's kept them from doing it is a lack of capital, which I can deal with."
BCS executive director Bill Hancock countered with a surprisingly honest and all-too telling response: "Given how much support our current system has among university presidents, athletics directors, coaches and athletes, I don't think any amount of financial inducement will make people abandon" the BCS, Hancock stated in an e-mail.
Numerous efforts have been made and multiple proposals have been pitched to replace the BCS with a playoff, and the BCS seems to feed on the mixed messages of its opponents. Because there's widespread opposition, there's also a wide range of ideas for creating a new system. All their voices add to the confusion the BCS thrives on.
The BCS backers contend that the controversy injects more excitement into the sport. They simply sit back and say this the best system without considering alternatives.
"The single most frustrating notion is, 'We understand it's not perfect, but it's the best we can do,' " Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in the new book "Death to the BCS" about the cartel's failure to consider the possible adoption of a playoff system. "That's just irritating. There are a lot of smart people, creative people."
The future of the BCS
A proposal set forth in "Death to the BCS" calls for a 16-team playoff using the current BCS ranking system that would begin in mid-December and end in early January, about the same time as the current system. This year's national title is Monday, so the playoff games would be played during Christmas break for most student-athletes, except for possibly the final two.
The tourney would be seeded much like March Madness, and if you took this year's BCS rankings as a model, it would have No. 1 Auburn playing No. 16 Alabama in the first round (Iron Bowl II), No. 2 Oregon facing No. 15 Nevada and so on. More importantly, also undefeated No. 3 TCU would have a date with No. 14 Oklahoma State and a fair chance to play its way into the national title game.
The teams not in the top 16 would still be allowed to go to bowl games like under the current system while the playoff would produce additional excitement and revenue.
Still, the BCS clings on to its archaic format under the premise that a playoff would harm the bowl system. They prefer a larger slice of a smaller pie to more pie for all.
"The college presidents deserve to be hammered for this," Washington Post columnist John Feinstein wrote last month. "What they fail to understand is that the revenue would increase so much (with a playoff system) that even if they had to dole more of the money out to (the mid-major conferences) everyone would still be wealthier."
More importantly, a playoff would yield a true national champion by deciding it on the field, not the back-room voting and computer tabulations making the call.
But don't expect public opinion to alter their stance. National polls reveal that only 10 percent of college football fans prefer the BCS to a playoff system, according to the book "Death to the BCS," which cautions the BCS about ignoring the wishes of the paying public: "The product always bows to the masses, not the other way around."
Unfortunately, there's no end in sight to the BCS. It's contract runs through the 2014 and its unlikely legislation will be passed before it is renewed through 2018.
The mid-majors have filed a lawsuit against the BCS based on Sherman Anti-Trust laws, but the BCS has the power and money to keep it tied up in court for years to come. Not until the BCS gets hit in the pocket book will the tyranny stop, and the Horny Toads and Horned Frogs of the world can compete with the BCS's Pepsi and Coke on a level playing field.