BCS 101: An Introduction

BCS 101:
An Introduction to Big Time College Football
by Bob Epling
The Campus Game
May 7, 2010

This is the first of a two-part series on big-time college football. This article provides an introduction to and explanation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Part Two examines potential conference expansion scenarios … something college football fans should expect to happen over the summer.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a set of five post-season college football games.

The primary purpose of the BCS is to match the nation’s two top-rated teams against each other in a championship game. A second (self-proclaimed) goal is to provide compelling pairings in the other four BCS bowl games.

The five games that comprise the BCS are:

* BCS Championship Game
(site rotates among four cities below)
* Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona
* Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida
* Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California
* Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana

The selection process for placing ten teams into those five bowls can cause controversy, though the BCS is not always at fault (conference tie-ins to specific bowls and the tie-breaking methods conferences use to determine champions are bigger problems). The champions from six big-time college football leagues, dubbed the “BCS” conferences, automatically qualify for the five bowls.

The BCS Conferences are:

* Atlantic Coast (ACC)
* Big 12
* Big East
* Big Ten
* Pacific 10 (PAC-10)
* Southeastern (SEC)

Several of those conferences have affiliations with the BCS bowls (meaning the conference champion goes to the affiliated bowl unless that champion earns a berth in the BCS championship game). The conference bowl affiliations are:

* ACC – Orange
* Big 12 – Fiesta
* Big East – No Tie-in
* Big Ten – Rose
* PAC-10 – Rose
* SEC – Sugar

After those six teams are determined, the other four slots go to “at large selections” … either a second team from the BCS conferences or teams from outside those leagues (no conference can send more than two teams to the BCS bowls). The pool of teams to fill the at-large spots include:

* Notre Dame and other Independents
* Non-Champions from the six BCS conferences
* Teams from the five other major college football conferences: Conference-USA (CUSA), Mid-America (MAC), Mountain West, Sun Belt, Western Athletic (WAC)

Teams from outside the BCS conferences can guarantee entry to the BCS bowls by meeting certain criteria. The BCS released a memo last month explaining the new guidelines … greater access to BCS bowl bids means greater access to the huge financial payouts that accompany such bids.

The top two teams in the final BCS standings each season meet in the BCS Championship Game.

Those BCS rankings are calculated by averaging a team’s standings in three categories: the Harris Poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll, and a composite computer ranking based on six computer rating systems.

The Harris Poll is comprised of 114 panelists drawn at random each season from a list of 300 names provided by the 11 major football conferences and independents. The panel includes former coaches, players, administrators, and current and former media members. To view the 2009 panel (and their votes) click here.

The USA Today Coaches Poll is a weekly vote from 59 members of the USA Today Board of Coaches (who are members of the American Football Coaches Association). You can see the list and their final 2010 votes by clicking here.

The six computer polls vary in methodology and a full explanation is outside the scope of this article, but a list of the polls and links to their sites are available by clicking here.

The BCS is a favorite punching bag among many college football fans and media, and occasionally from coaches, administrators, and politicians (although typically only when their favorite teams have been left out of a preferred bowl).

On the flip side, the BCS provides a financial windfall to all eleven of the major college football conferences. It also supports a bowl system that has benefitted college football since the first Rose Bowl in 1901.

As a traditionalist and a college football historian, I strongly prefer the BCS to a playoff.

Coming Soon in Part Two: Conference Expansion … Welcome to the Big Sixteen?

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