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Boise Is In, But BCS Still Flawed

The college football world received good news last night. Deserving and undefeated teams from Boise State and TCU received bowl invitations from the Bowl Championship Series. This will be the first post-season in BCS history that two teams from the five non-automatic qualifying conferences will receive BCS bowl berths in the same year. TCU automatically qualified for the invitation under BCS rules, while Boise State received an "at-large" invitation - a first for a "non-AQ" conference team.

These bowl invitations are a positive development, to be sure. But the BCS' new PR mercenaries, led by former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, are certain to over-inflate their importance. Even before yesterday's selection, they've compared the BCS to apple pie, motherhood, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Wonder what they'll come up with now.

BCS officials will undoubtedly claim that the Broncos' bid, in particular, is proof positive that the door of opportunity is wide open to "non-AQ" schools under the BCS system. We need only look at the circumstances surrounding Boise State's invitation, though, to realize this is not true.

For the BCS to even consider extending this at-large berth, Boise State had to run up two consecutive undefeated regular seasons and manhandle this year's Pac-10 champion, the Oregon Ducks, along the way.

Yet Boise State still would not have received an invitation if any of the "Big Six" conference teams had a remotely credible claim to a big-time bowl. Because BCS rules bar any single conference from garnering more than one at-large bid and because SEC and Big Ten teams had already locked in the first two at-large spots, Boise State's competition for the final at-large BCS berth came from the ACC, Big 12, Big East, and Pac-10. Teams from those conferences - Oklahoma State, USC, Pittsburgh, Clemson, and others - were in the driver's seat but somehow couldn't close out the season successfully.

This left an enormous rankings gap of .2769 points between Boise State and the next eligible team, three-loss Virginia Tech. Selecting the three-loss Hokies over undefeated Boise State would have ignited the greatest uproar in BCS history and destroyed any remaining shreds of legitimacy. The BCS didn't select Boise State because they've turned over a new leaf. They begrudgingly extended the at-large invite because they had a gun to their head.

And after all that, the BCS issued a tainted invitation by making Boise State and fellow "non-AQ" team TCU face off against each other in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4. One sportswriter is calling this "Separate But Equal Bowl" because it denies both teams an opportunity to prove their mettle against "Big Six" conference teams and allows the BCS to continue to rationalize its caste system by claiming a disparity in quality of play.

In addition, the BCS did nothing to address the system's greatest defects by selecting Boise State for an at-large spot. For example, the ACC will receive approximately $18.3 million from the BCS this post-season. For accomplishing the same feat - placing one team in a BCS bowl - the Mountain West Conference must divide $9.6 million among its fellow five "non-AQ" conferences. Forcing these teams to live off of table scraps is not good for college football's long-term health. Unfortunately, Boise State's historic at-large berth doesn't mean the BCS has changed its anti-competitive revenue distribution system.

Boise State's momentary inclusion also does not mean the BCS is suddenly a great way to choose a champion. Undefeated Cincinnati beat three teams ranked in the final AP Top 25 poll, while Texas defeated only two. Why exactly, then, is Texas "in" and Cincinnati "out" when the teams played in conferences of similar strength? Boise State and TCU have gripes similar to Cincinnati. Something is fundamentally wrong with a system that pointlessly rations championship opportunities and leaves three undefeated teams at home to watch the title game. The lesser BCS bowls are a poor consolation prize, even if they are a step up from the norm for these teams.

A single at-large bid for a "non-AQ" team cannot erase 11 years of scandal and controversy or cover up the system's inherent flaws. The status quo's warts remain. We need real reform in college football. Let's stop running this game needlessly on two cylinders and start a playoff.

Matthew Sanderson is a co-founder of Playoff PAC (www.PlayoffPAC.com) and an attorney at Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered in Washington, D.C. He served as Campaign Finance Counsel to John McCain 2008, Senator John McCain's presidential campaign committee.

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