Say what you will about the BCS system (and the situation this year at the top of the rankings calls for plenty of bitter and confused fans), but what it does do is give half the college football teams that are worth a lick the chance to end their season with a victory. For awhile now, there have been cries for a playoff system like the one in the FCS, where the top 20 teams compete in a playoff to determine the champion. But in the bowl system, 35 teams have their own championship and get to walk away from the season on a high note. Of course there is prestige in being named the best team in the country, but would it really be better for a team to lose in the first round of a playoff against a vastly superior team just to say it had the chance to be the best? If you ask me, no, it’s not better. Even if a team is playing in the less-than-prestigious Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (hungry yet?), or the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (out of breath yet?), it’s facing an opponent that most likely presents a fair matchup, giving itself and its fans the opportunity to head into the brutal winter months (well, not where any of the bowls are played, but up here in Wisconsin, at least) happily and hopeful for next season.
This same level of excitement and anticipation came to the Big Ten this year with the addition of a twelfth team, two divisions, and a title game. The divisions allow teams like Indiana to say they are “sixth in the Leaders division”, instead of “last in the Big Ten”. Alright, so that’s little solace for the 1-11 Hoosiers, but what the divisions really do is add another level of accomplishment for teams to attain. This system essentially gives two teams an extra bowl game, giving them and the fans something to prepare for and get excited about.
It also keeps the Big Ten conference in the national spotlight for an extra week. In the past, most Big Ten teams would’ve wrapped up their seasons in November or, occasionally, with a game against below-average non-conference opponents in early December. Now the two best teams in the conference get a chance to play in front of a national crowd, which can help recruiting and fundraising. It also lets the teams– one of which will represent the conference in the Rose Bowl– better prepare for the bowl games they will play in a month later, and might let the conference fare better against the best teams from other top conferences. The Big Ten hasn’t exactly performed well in BCS bowls, looking over-matched by Pac-10 (now, Pac-12) and SEC teams in recent years, and the early end to the teams’ seasons could be partially to blame.
They don’t have that excuse anymore now that Big Ten equals 12 and there’s a conference title game to give two teams and their fanbases something to look forward to before bowl season. This will happen Saturday when No. 15 Wisconsin takes on No. 13 Michigan State in Indianapolis, in primetime, on national television. I, for one, can’t wait.
This excitement and the advantages it brings for the conference were allowed by the addition of Nebraska to the conference. So, Nebraska, even though you produced the thug known as Ndamukong Suh, thanks for joining the Big Ten and giving us all the excitement of bowl season a month early.