Bowl Championship Series
Division I-A American football is the only NCAA-sponsored sport without an organized tournament to determine its champion. Therefore, for any given year, there is often no undisputed champion in Division I-A collegiate football. Ironically, NCAA football is the most popular NCAA sport and the one in which public interest in the "championship" is highest. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is the latest mechanism in series of controversial attempts to provide a "championship" game for NCAA Division I-A football.
The BCS is a computer ranking format and bowl setup that has decided the unofficial but de facto NCAA Division I-A national football championship since 1998. Among the criticisms of the BCS (and the bowl system in general), include the fact that the final ranking of Division I-A NCAA football teams is decided by arbitrary and subjective standards, much like beauty pageants. Observers point-out that the “champion” of the largest and most popular collegiate sport should not be decided by fiat. The BCS was especially criticized and deemed controversial in both the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 seasons. In 2003, five teams (three from BCS conferences) finished the regular season with one loss, with no unbeaten team, while in the following season, the same number of teams finished the regular season unbeaten. In both seasons, three of the five teams had legitimate cases for playing in the BCS title game. Most recently, additional controversy has come from the decison by the Associated Press to prohibit the BCS from using their rankings in the BCS formula, and by ESPN to remove itself from the USA Today coaches poll.
- 1 Formulae
- 2 Bowl games
- 3 BCS controversies
- 4 BCS schedule
- 5 External links
- 6 Notes
The BCS formula calculated the top 25 teams in a poll format. After combining a number of factors, a final point total was created and the teams who received the 25 lowest scores were ranked in descending order. The factors were:
- Poll Average: Both the AP and ESPN-USA Today coaches polls were averaged to make a number which is the poll average.
- Computer Average: An average of the rankings of a team in 7 different computer polls (Anderson-Hester, Billingsley, Colley, Massey, Sagarin, and Wolfe) were gathered, with the poll in which the team was lowest ranked being dropped. This created the computer average.
- Schedule rank: This was the team's strength of schedule divided by 25. A teams strength of schedule was calculated by win/loss record of opponents (66.6%) and cumulative win/loss record of team's opponents opponents (33.3%).
- Losses: One point was added for every loss the team has suffered during the season.
- Quality Win Component: If a team beat a team which was in the top 10 in the BCS standings, a range of 1 to .1 points was subtracted from their total. Beating the #1 ranked team resulted in a loss of 1 point (remember, losing points was a good thing), a #5 team resulted in a loss of .5 points and the #10th ranked team would have resulted in a loss of .1 points. If a team had beaten a team twice during the season, that team was only rewarded quality win points once--or, possibly, not at all. Quality win points were calculated by the final BCS standings (so if you beat the #1 team in the second week of the season, you may not be entitled to .8 points at the end of the season).
The exact formula of how the final point total for any team was calculated was not public information, but it was known that it is derived from these factors. Some were able to guess the formula and thus predict the results before the official standings were released.
After the 2003-04 controversy (see BCS Controversies) in which the top team in the human polls, the University of Southern California (USC) was denied a place in the title game, the formula was revamped. Schedule strength, losses, and quality wins were no longer to be considered as distinct components in the formula, though of course the human voters remain free to consider whatever factors they wish. Also, the exact formula was made public information, and shown to consist of an arithmetic average of the following three numbers:
- AP Poll: A team's AP Poll number is the percentage of the possible points it could receive in the poll. As an example, in the final regular-season poll of 2003, USC received a total of 1,580 out of a possible 1,625 points from the voters, giving them an AP Poll percentage of 97.2.
- Coaches' Poll: This is calculated in the same manner as the AP Poll number. For USC, their final regular-season number in this poll would have been 96.3 (1,516 out of 1,575 possible points).
- Computer Average: The BCS now uses six computer rating systems, dropping the highest and lowest ranking for each team. Then, it will give a team 25 points for a Number 1 ranking in an individual system, 24 points for Number 2, and so on down to 1 point for Number 25. Each team's set of numbers is then added, conveniently making the number compatible with the percentages from the two polls. For USC, dropping their highest and lowest computer rankings would have left them with four third-place finishes, worth 23 points each for a total of 92.
The BCS averages the three numbers obtained above, and then divides the result by 100, converting it to a decimal fraction.
This formula makes it highly unlikely that the top team in both human polls will be denied a place in the title game, as happened in 2003-04.
The BCS formula for 2005-06 will be the same as the previous year.  The Harris Interactive College Football Poll replaces the AP poll. The first BCS Standings of the 2005-06 season were released on October 17th, 2005 and showed the USC Trojans and the Texas Longhorns, both unbeaten, ranked one and two. On October 21st the second BCS standings had Texas at number 1, and USC at number 2. This switch came about as result of Texas beating a previously unbeaten Texas Tech by 35 points, while USC beat a weaker opponent. Texas led USC in the BCS standings by a margin of only 0.0007, which was the smallest ever margin between the number 1 and 2 ranked teams. It is anticipated that, if both teams win their remaining games, that USC will finish number 1 in the standards and Texas will finish number 2, based upon USC having two ranked teams remaining on their schedule.  In the third week's results, Virginia Tech tied USC for second place in the computer rankings, with Texas still leading in the computer rankings. However, the overall rankings returned to USC #1, Texas #2, and Virginia Tech #3, followed by undefeated Alabama and UCLA at #4 and #5, respectively. The fourth week's standings moved Alabama up to #3 following VT's loss to the University of Miami, which moved up to #4. Penn State is #5, following UCLA's blowout loss at lowly Arizona.
For a complete list of bowl games for the 2005-2006 season, see NCAA football bowl games, 2005-06.
In the current BCS format, four bowl games are considered "BCS Bowl Games". They are the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, and the Orange Bowl. The championship is rotated among the different bowls; for example, the Sugar Bowl will have the national championship "weight" once every four years.
The national championship bowl game is forced to select the top 2 BCS-ranked teams. The winners of the 6 major conferences (Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 10) are guaranteed automatic BCS bowl appearances. One independent, Notre Dame, is also a BCS member, and receives an automatic bid (displacing one of the at-large berths) only under special circumstances.
There are 2 "at-large" berths which can be granted either to teams in those conferences who did not win their championship or to teams belonging to other conferences. The procedure for selecting at-large berths is, in this order:
- A team finishing first or second in the final BCS rankings as an at-large receives an automatic bid
- A team finishing in the top six of the final BCS rankings from an independent school or from a non-BCS conference receives an automatic bid; if a team qualifies in this manner, then Notre Dame would also qualify by winning at least 9 games or finishing in the top 10 in the BCS standings
- A team finishing either third or fourth in the final BCS rankings and finishes higher than any other at-large team receives an automatic bid
If at any step, the 2 berths are filled, the process stops. If there are not 2 teams by this point, any other team from the top 12 of the final BCS rankings with at least 9 wins is eligible.
Despite the possibility of an "at-large" berth being granted to a mid-major team, this did not happen until the 2004-05 season, when Utah received a BCS bowl bid (the Fiesta Bowl, in which the Utes convincingly defeated Pittsburgh 35-7).
Starting with the 2006-07 season (the year in which the BCS starts a new television contract), a fifth BCS bowl will be added. Initial plans were for the additional BCS bowl game to be held at the site of that year's championship game, such that the additional, non-championship bowl be named after the original bowl (i.e. the Sugar Bowl when the championship is in New Orleans), and have the extra game just be called "The National Championship Game". Later, the BCS considered having cities bid to be the permanent site of the new BCS game, and to place the new game in the title rotation. In the end, the BCS opted for its original plan.
The extra BCS game will at least theoretically give mid-majors better access to a BCS bowl game, possibly ahead of a higher ranked school from a major conference, as happened in the 2004-2005 season with Utah.
The BCS has come under fire, partly due to its existence; the formula has to determine which 2 nationwide teams are fit to play for the national championship. Rarely is there a year where the 2 top teams in the nation are clear-cut choices. (The most recent year in which there were only two undefeated Division 1-A teams at the end of the regular season was 2002, when Ohio State University and the University of Miami both finished the regular season undefeated, but even then many argue that these two teams played much easier schedules than several other top Division 1-A teams).
The worst year was arguably the 2003-2004 season, when three schools from BCS conferences finished the season with one loss (in fact, no I-A Division team finished the season undefeated, something that hadn't happened since 1996, the year before the advent of the BCS). The three schools in question were:
Two non-BCS schools also finished with one loss, but neither was in contention for a BCS bowl berth, much less the championship.
USC was #1 in both the AP and ESPN-USA Today Coaches poll, but had a 2.67 computer poll ranking and had the 37th ranking schedule. LSU had a #2 poll average, a 1.83 computer average, and a 29th rank of schedule. Oklahoma had a #3 poll average, a 1.17 computer average, and the 11th ranking schedule along with a quality win of .5. The final numeric averages for the teams were as follows:
- Oklahoma: 5.11
- LSU: 5.99
- USC: 6.15
Therefore, Oklahoma and LSU played each other in that year's title game, the Sugar Bowl, with LSU winning. The BCS was highly criticized since USC had been ranked #1 by humans but had somehow fallen to #3 in a computer average like the BCS. Since USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, the writers who voted in the AP poll had the opportunity to vote USC as their national champion, which they did. However, the coaches were contractually bound to vote for the Sugar Bowl winner (LSU). Three coaches violated the agreement and voted USC #1, but all other coaches voted for LSU, giving the Tigers the other half of the national title.
The BCS has also been criticized for locking out mid-major programs. Before 2004, no mid-major program had gone to a BCS bowl, and some have accused the BCS and associating conferences of having a monopoly of sorts on the top bowls. There were even congressional hearings on the issue. It would likely take a qualified mid-major program being locked out of the BCS when they were obviously deserving for this issue to be looked at more closely. With Utah making the BCS after the 2004 season, and with the addition of a fifth BCS game starting with the 2006-07 season, this may be less of an issue in the future.
Some, including ESPN's Lee Corso have suggested that the BCS reincorporate margin of victory into the rankings, a factor which would have changed the 2003-2004 final rankings (had USC and Oklahoma in the championship). However, the BCS completely revamped its formula as noted previously, completely eliminating strength of schedule, losses, and quality wins, and not considering victory margin. This was done in order to discourage running up the score, where a team scores far more points than are necessary to win.
Had the 2004-05 formula been used in the 2003-04 season, the final game would have pitted USC and LSU. While USC would have been indisputably top-ranked under the new formula, there may have been some controversy regarding the Trojans' opponent. LSU and Oklahoma would have been separated by .014. The new formula creates a situation in which a single individual's vote in either poll may possibly decide who advances to the BCS title game.
The new BCS formula, however, did not end the controversy. Unlike the previous season, in which no Division I-A team entered the bowl games unbeaten, the 2004 regular season saw five teams go unbeaten, which had not happened since 1979.
Three of the five were from BCS conferences:
USC and Oklahoma were both involved in the previous season's BCS controversy as two of the three BCS teams that finished the 2003 regular season with one loss.
The other two were from non-BCS conferences. Although neither was generally considered to be in contention for the championship, both were possibilities for BCS bowl bids during the season (Utah more so):
USC and Oklahoma were ranked 1-2 in both human polls in the preseason. On the other hand, Auburn began the season ranked outside of the top 15. Since poll voters are sometimes reluctant to drop highly-ranked teams that continue to win games, this gave Auburn a considerable deficit to overcome.
Going into the last regular-season games on December 4, USC had remained top-ranked in both human polls for the entire regular season by a comfortable margin, which gave the Trojans the BCS lead. Auburn had been able to close almost all of its original gap on Oklahoma by mid-November (and even tied them at #2 for one week in the AP poll), but Oklahoma took a more substantial lead going into that day's games.
On that day, USC survived a close road game against rival UCLA, 29-24. This result kept USC in the top spot, and assured the Trojans of the top placing and a spot in the Orange Bowl, the season's BCS title game. In the SEC championship game, Auburn defeated Tennessee 38-28, in a closer game than expected. Meanwhile, in the Big 12 title game, Oklahoma routed Colorado 42-3. Auburn, which was already trailing Oklahoma in all three components, didn't even come close to passing OU, and thus the Orange Bowl matched USC and Oklahoma, the two teams that respectively finished No. 1 and No. 2 in all three major polls (AP, ESPN/USA Today, and BCS). USC won that game 55-19 over the Sooners.
The final outcome of all the polls could have become even more controversial if Utah, Boise State, and especially Auburn had all won their bowl games by a large point margin. Boise State lost in the Liberty Bowl, and Auburn gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to turn a comfortable 16-0 lead into a 16-13 win. The only team outside the top two to score a convincing bowl win was Utah, which routed Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl--however, Pittsburgh was not anywhere near as good a team as USC's victim, Oklahoma, so Utah had no real shot at a national title.
As for the non-BCS schools, Utah was generally believed to have a considerably stronger case for making a BCS game than Boise State. Utah's schedule was noticeably stronger than Boise State's, including four BCS-league teams, and no team came within two touchdowns of the Utes during their 11-0 regular season, while Boise State was pushed to overtime on the road against a simply horrific San Jose State team, won by a field goal against a weak Tulsa team, and won by a point at home against a so-so Brigham Young squad.
The best chance for Boise State to break into the BCS depended on a loss by fifth-ranked Texas against archrival Texas A&M on November 26 at home in Austin; however, Texas won the game, which kept Texas ahead of Boise State. The Broncos' chances of breaking into the BCS disappeared with the release of the November 29 BCS rankings, in which Georgia, whose season was then complete, leapfrogged past Boise State into seventh. Boise State finished ninth in the season-ending standings and played in the Liberty Bowl, losing to Louisville.
Even before the bowl games took place, Utah's BCS entry created yet another controversy. Because of the rule requiring that a non-BCS team in the top six receive a bid to a BCS game, this left only one at-large bid for another school. Going into December 4, Cal was fourth in the BCS standings, barely ahead of Texas. Cal was 9-1 with a game at Southern Miss, postponed due to Hurricane Ivan, remaining. Texas was 10-1 with its season finished. Cal defeated Southern Miss 26-16 in a much closer game than expected; this result caused Texas to finish fourth and Cal to finish fifth in the season-ending BCS standings. Texas coach Mack Brown raised some eyebrows by openly campaigning for voters in the two human polls, especially his fellow coaches, to place his team ahead of Cal. This led to increased calls for the votes of the individual coaches who vote in the coaches poll to be relased for public scrutiny. There was also an incident in which two AP voters from Texas were reprimanded by their newspapers for putting Auburn ahead of Texas.
Utah finished sixth in the season-ending BCS standings, and became the first non-BCS team to play in a BCS bowl game since the adoption of the BCS, playing in the Fiesta Bowl against Pittsburgh. This caused further controversy due to the fact that Pittsburgh's 8-3 record put them in one of the top bowl games. It should be noted that Pittsburgh was in the game because it won a four-team tiebreaker for the Big East title.
On that note, the automatic BCS bid annually given to the Big East has been the subject of controversy ever since the conference lost its two strongest football programs before the 2004 season, thanks to Miami and Virginia Tech leaving for the ACC; a slightly less strong but still highly competitive program, Boston College, joined the ACC for the 2005 season. Of the three football programs that joined the Big East in 2005, only Louisville was considered at the time to be competitive on a national level.
AP disallows use of its poll in BCS rankings
On December 21, 2004, the Associated Press issued a cease and desist letter to the BCS telling them to stop using the AP poll in the BCS rankings. In their statement, the AP says, "The Associated Press has not at any time given permission to the Bowl Championship Series to use its proprietary ranking of college football teams. This unauthorized use of the AP poll has harmed AP's reputation and interfered with AP's agreements with AP poll voters." The cease and desist letter to the BCS concludes by saying "AP hereby demands that BCS immediately cease and desist from all current and future use of the AP Poll in producing the BCS rankings and that BCS confirm to AP that it has done so by December 31, 2004."
Final Coaches Poll for 2005-06 to be made public
After the controversies of the 2004-2005 season, the American Football Coaches Association announced on May 26, 2005 that they would make public the individual votes of the voters in their coaches poll, which helps to determine college football's national champion. Only the final poll (to be released on December 6, 2005) will disclose the individual votes.  This limited disclosure caused ESPN to disassociate itself from the USA Today coaches poll. 
These BCS bowl games were played following the 2004 regular season:
- Saturday, Jan. 1, 2005 - Rose Bowl (Texas 38, Michigan 37)
- Saturday, Jan. 1, 2005 - Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Utah 35, Pittsburgh 7)
- Monday, Jan. 3, 2005 - Nokia Sugar Bowl (Auburn 16, Virginia Tech 13)
- Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2005 - FedEx Orange Bowl (National Championship) (USC 55, Oklahoma 19)
These BCS bowl games will be played following the 2005 regular season:
- Monday, Jan. 2, 2006 - Nokia Sugar Bowl
- Monday, Jan. 2, 2006 - Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
- Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006 - FedEx Orange Bowl
- Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2006 - Rose Bowl (National Championship)
- Home page of the Bowl Championship Series
- Comprehensive FAQ about the BCS
- The "Notre Dame" clause in the BCS contract
- BCS plans to incorporate fifth BCS bowl