Frontlines of the Nondigital – The Debate Over College Football and the BCS

Preface: So what’s the biggest game design challenge in the world? It’s deciding who is champion in NCAA Division 1 College Football. We all know of this sport, but does everyone realize in the 60+ year modern history that there HAS NEVER BEEN A CHAMPION CROWNED?

So to make a long, complicated story/problem short: college football relies on opinion and mathematical formulas to dictate who plays who in the BCS (Bowl Championship Series… not to mistaken for a playoff). I repeat: there is NO playoff. After the bowls, the NCAA does NOT recognize a champion. The Associated Press does (sports writers) and they cumulatively vote for who they think is the best team and that team earns a faux championship. The mathematical equations that are used to determine the bowl matchups are transparent but completely convoluted so no one really pays attention. In fact each week when the new BCS computer rankings are released, it’s a big surprise to see who comes out on top. These rankings take “strength of schedule” (a broken formula that I will get into later), opinion polls, and about 5 other computer based polls into account to make the BCS Meta-rankings. And the funny thing: all college football fans agree the system is broken but it seems to never get fixed. I want to argue two things: one, that an intrinsic part of the sport of college football is the debate to who is best; and two, that a better non-playoff system can be molded by game designers like us to effectively declare a champion.