Maybe college football is right. Maybe the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is the way to determine a champion.
It very well may be the most accurate system in determining the best team in the sport.
The BCS makes the regular season relevant. It takes arguably the two best teams and pits them against each other for a shot at a championship.
The regular season was made completely irrelevant in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. UConn, Butler, VCU and Kentucky were far from the four best teams in college basketball. It no longer matters what you do in the regular season. One slip up, one lucky shot by the other team or one questionable five-second violation in the tournament can ruin everything that a team works for.
It’s not just in college where a playoff system makes the regular season less important.
Take a look at Major League Baseball. The Giants barely snuck into the playoffs. They got hot at the right time and the Padres collapsed at the right time. Whether or not they were the best team is questionable. But it doesn’t matter. They won it.
The Packers won the Super Bowl, but they barely made the playoffs. They didn’t have the best season, but they are the champions.
Here’s one more that you may not know about. The Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer (MLS) were the seventh best of eight to qualify for the 2010 MLS Cup Playoffs. A nice run in the playoffs made them champions.
In the rest of the world, playoffs are unheard of as a way of determining a champion. In almost every non-American soccer (or football) league, the team with the most points after the regular season is the best team. No playoff necessary.
In the U.S., a sports season lasts anywhere from five to seven months, but what matters is only the last month that is added on. A baseball team could go 162-0 but not win a World Series.
In playoff systems, the best teams aren’t rewarded enough. The Spurs are likely going to finish the marathon of an NBA season with the best record in the league. All they get is a first-round matchup with Memphis, which split the season series with the Spurs.
If as many teams are going to be allowed in the playoffs as the NBA, NHL or most college sports, then the top seeds should be given a first-round bye or a 10-point lead to start each game. MLS awards the top team according to the regular season award of the Supporters Shield, which qualifies the team for international play in addition to recognizing the team for its efforts.
It should be about more than how hot a team gets in the postseason. That’s what gets underdogs competing for titles that they shouldn’t even be involved in.
In college football, the teams that are the best play for the top prize. The BCS could add a play-in game just in case two or more teams finish undefeated.
It is not perfect. But it gets it right, most of the time.
Dan Hurwitz is a student at the University of Texas at Austin.