Winning League Title Should Matter

As if replacing Kaua‘i native Vaugn Meatoga isn’t enough, UH must compete against BCS schools in recruiting. UH Athletics photo

It wasn’t exactly a championship game for the ages. Alabama’s dominance over previously unbeaten Louisiana State University was a disappointing way to end what had been a pretty exciting 2011 college football season. The Crimson Tide made the Tigers’ offense look so bad in a 21-0 romp, casual viewers had to have been questioning how LSU had won 12 games to begin with.

Inevitably, the debate will now move to whether or not the Bowl Championship Series is too flawed to survive. It seems every year ends with fans saying the “C” in BCS should be removed to reveal the system’s true identity.

It all depends on what you hope to achieve. If the goal is to have a system in place to guarantee the two best teams play one another to determine a champion, then the current structure is probably as good as we can expect. If the goal is to have as many schools as possible feel they have a chance to win a national championship, then the BCS is definitely not the system to keep.

Let’s look at the situation the University of Hawaii finds itself in, compared to the big boys. The deck is completely stacked against the Warriors. While the school probably thought that moving to the Mountain West Conference would be beneficial to the program both nationally and financially, the departures of Boise State, TCU, Utah and BYU have turned the MWC into basically the WAC 2.0. A team from a conference with so little national respect can’t even put the notion of a national title on its radar. It can go undefeated and still not get the chance to end the season No. 1 (see Colt Brennan for details).

So how does a school like UH ever recruit top talent at least top talent that is interested in winning it all? How do UH coaches sit in a prospect’s living room and say, “Look, the best we can hope for is to go undefeated and have a BCS bowl reluctantly put us in their non-championship game”?

My feeling always has been that a playoff system while highly entertaining is not necessarily more “fair.” In the current system, usually no more than one team each season has any sort of gripe that it was passed over for the title game. If we had a playoff that put the top eight BCS teams into a tournament, then teams nine through 16 would (and should) be yelling that they’re barely any different from No. 8. The more teams you involve, the more have a legitimate complaint about being left out. The 16th-ranked team is much closer to the top eight than the fifth-ranked team is to the top two.

But what if we instead decided that conference championships should matter? What a novel concept. It’s one that’s only employed by the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA basketball and just about every team sport on the planet. If you win your division/conference, you make the playoffs. All 11 Division I conference champions could be placed into a tournament, with five wild-card teams then added, based on ranking. (Yes, SEC fans, you could potentially have six teams in the 16-team field. Is that enough?)

Would we guarantee the best teams play for the championship every year? No. But at least great seasons by the little guys would be rewarded, and that dream as unlikely as it may be of hoisting a national championship trophy for schools such as Houston or Northern Illinois or Arkansas State or Hawaii could remain a dream with possibility rather than pure fantasy.