With all the hoopla surrounding USC’s exclusion from the Sugar Bowl (meaning the No. 1 team in both “human” polls will not get a chance to play for the Bowl Championship Series National Championship), it would seem an appropriate team to lament the plight of all the Ivy League football champions who were never given a chance to play for a national championship.
Despite the national uproar, USC still gets a shot to accomplish what every Pac-10 team aspires to, and that is winning the Rose Bowl. Prior to the inception of the BCS six years ago, the Pac 10-Big 10 match-up in the Rose Bowl was one of the great traditions in college sport. With that pairing no longer guaranteed, this year’s battle of traditional powerhouses USC and Michigan returns the spotlight to the game’s most storied event.
And, in case that was not enough, USC is still playing for a share of the national title. If it defeats Michigan — which is hardly a foregone conclusion — Southern Cal will likely retain its spot atop the Associated Press poll and be part of the first split championship since Nebraska and Michigan in 1997. BCS guidelines dictate that the winner of the denoted “championship” game (in this case LSU-Oklahoma) must be placed in the top spot of the coaches’ poll, so it looks as if we’re heading toward the most controversial finish since the Paris Hilton tape got out.
I’m not going to throw my hat into the ring and be one of the endless detractors of the BCS. The point is that everything in college football is driven by money, and a playoff system along the lines of the one currently in place in Div. I-AA is unlikely to occur in the near future if the bowl games and their sponsors feel they will be slighted financially.
This year’s ostensible three-way tie for two spots in the title game exposed the flaws of the BCS in its current constitution (especially the fact that, for the second time in three years, a team that could not win the Big-12 championship will be playing for the national crown), but that does not mean drastic change is imminent. Don’t cry for USC. If it can get past Michigan, it might not get the shiny trophy that LSU or Oklahoma will receive, but it will still have fulfilled the ultimate goal of every team in program history.
On a side note, I’ve got to give some love to Pete Carroll. A wretched failure on the East Coast in the face of the major media scrutiny in New York and New England — derided, rightfully so, as “California Pete” by Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy for his laid-back attitude and refrains of “pumped,” “geeked,” “jacked” and “psyched” in reference to his team’s attitude before nearly every contest — Carroll has restored USC to national prominence in just three years out in his natural climate of California. He never had a chance with the Jets or the Patriots — a great defensive mind, he was simply too far out of his element — but he’s done well for himself on the college level.
The Ivy League champion gets snubbed annually while Southern Cal (tear) only gets to play in the Rose Bowl. It’s clear that Ivy presidents are currently in the process of trying to de-emphasize athletics and that allowing the football champion to compete in potentially four more games does not exactly fit in with that desire.
But if every other Ivy champion is allowed to participate in post-season tournaments, why not football? For two consecutive seasons, the University of Pennsylvania has finished 10-0 and been ranked in the top 10 in Div. I-AA, but Ivy bylines preclude them from participating in the season-ending 16-team tournament.
While some might argue that adding a post-season would detract from the climactic feel of the Harvard-Yale game as the ultimate conclusion to each season, I think that dangling an Ivy title and a potential automatic bid into the post-season would hardly cheapen The Game. Even a subsequent loss in the first round of the playoffs would scarcely detract from the feeling of having not only defeated your bitter rival but also advancing to the post-season at its expense.
Allowing Ivy teams to compete in the playoffs could also help raise the level of play in the conference if recruits are piqued by the possibility of competing for a national title. Right now, the goal of winning the Ivy League for the sake of being league champions is what every team in the league has aspired to over the past century. The fact that there is no further reward hasn’t deterred any team in the past from doing what’s necessary to accomplish that goal. Similarly, until six years ago, all USC could have asked for was a Rose Bowl berth and a shot at a share of a national title.
But just as the endgame has changed for Division I-A teams, and USC now feels slighted despite achieving all that it ever could have hoped for, a change in playoff eligibility for Ivy League teams would appreciably enhance the sweetness of winning a conference championship.