College football kicked off Thursday night, and it was the beginning of the end for the BCS.
This is the last year for the BCS, replaced next season by a four-team playoff. After 16 years, the controversial system will go the way of leather helmets and two-way players, and for that, we can be thankful.
Thankful that the BCS will soon be dead.
But thankful, too, that we had the BCS in the first place.
Yes, we have come to hate it. Yes, its end is long overdue. But without a system like the BCS, we would have never gotten to a playoff.
The BCS was a conduit to a playoff.
“The BCS has been remarkably successful,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said the other day. “Yeah, it has been controversial, but as we get ready to bid it goodbye, we know there's a lot that it did right.”
Granted, he is the frontman for the BCS, paid to say nice things about the institution that sports fans hate like none other. But that doesn't mean he's wrong.
The BCS wasn't completely evil, and its most redeeming quality is that it provided a bridge to a playoff.
Before the BCS and its first-cousin, short-lived predecessors, the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance, pollsters determined college football's national champion. The media and the coaches had the final say in what team stood atop the sport at season's end. And since there was no guarantee that the top teams would play each other, it was a system fraught with peril and controversy.
Sure, there were plenty of seasons where the best team was obvious. But there were a bunch of seasons that weren't so clear cut, and in the 56 seasons before the Bowl Coalition, the Bowl Alliance and the BCS, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the media poll met in bowl games only eight times.
“I think about how unhappy fans would be if that was still continuing today,” Hancock said.
No doubt about that.
“But the BCS fixed that problem,” he said.
But why did we need the BCS at all? Why didn't we just go straight to a playoff?
Because big changes are rare in college football.
This is a sport steeped in tradition and ritual. Even slight tweaks cause ripples. There was a near revolt in the Sooner Nation earlier this month, for example, when fans found out the marching band was changing the pregame fanfare.
Imagine what would happen if Bob Stoops decided to change the Sooners' uniform.
Even though college football had every reason to go from the polls to a playoff — playoffs have been wildly successful and popular in many sports and leagues for decades — it wasn't going to happen. The polls were a long-standing tradition, and many wanted to keep the pollsters a part of the sport in some form or fashion. Then, there were the bowls, another venerable tradition. What would happen to those games with a playoff?
Now we know, of course, that the bowls can coexist with a playoff. A whopping 38 bowls are on the docket for next season, the first with a playoff.
We also know there's a place for real, live human beings in a playoff system. A yet-to-be-named selection committee will be picking the four teams that make the playoff.
The BCS gave us a chance to see what worked and what didn't work. It whet our appetite for end-of-season games between the best teams, for a national champion that's determined on the field. But it also turned our stomachs when seemingly deserving teams were left out of the mix.
As a result, college football slowly but surely moved toward a system that would amplify the good and diminish the bad.
A playoff isn't a perfect system. Deserving teams will be left out. It happens in the pros. It happens with the NCAA basketball tournament. And it will happen in college football.
But we're closer to perfect with a playoff than we have been with the BCS just like we were closer to perfect with the BCS than we were with pollsters determining a champion.
So, as we hear the opening strains of the BCS's swan song, we should celebrate the system for the change it helped usher in.
“I believe history will view the BCS favorably for all the good that it's done for this game that we love,” Hancock said.
Thank you, BCS.
Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.