SALT LAKE CITY – It's not easy being the BCS these days. In a way, it's like the waning days of George W. Bush's administration. The economy was sinking and critics were everywhere. His popularity was at low ebb. He got blamed for everything, from bin Laden's whereabouts, to the price of gas, to the wildfires in California.
Boy, can the BCS relate. It still has supporters, mostly in the southeastern United States. But other places, it's as popular as mildew. Even the president is a critic.
With that in mind, it seems obvious there's one way the BCS can raise its popularity and even end up looking fairly good this season: by making sure Boise State plays in the national championship game.
It would be a Mickey Rourke-like turnaround.
One day hardly anyone has anything good to say about you, next day you're up for an Oscar.
Who couldn't use that kind of makeover?
Objectively, Boise State probably isn't as good as its hype. It does have a lot of returning players. But the Broncos barely got past TCU in last year's Fiesta Bowl and didn't have an easy time with Tulsa. They aren't likely to run the table on consecutive years, even playing in the WAC. They would need to beat Virginia Tech and Oregon State — both losable games — and afterward take care of the riffraff.
Logic would say the overachieving Broncos are due for an attention lapse and the dream will be over, which would render this argument pointless. But as long as it's the preseason, the Broncos are undefeated. If that's still the case in December, the BCS needs to have them playing in the national title game.
For years, the BCS has craftily run its show, meting out privileges to the underclass like the workhouse masters in "Oliver Twist." Please, sir, I want some more. It did let the little guys (Utah, Hawaii, TCU, BSU) into the big bowls and paid out equal money. The snag is that the little teams didn't get to keep as much. They had to share their earnings with other non-automatic qualifying conferences, instead of just their own. When Utah went to the 2009 Sugar Bowl, $19.3 million was divided among all non-AQ conferences, while AQ conferences were guaranteed $17.8 million.
Thus, the biggest money continued flowing to the biggest teams.
Along the way, the BCS has kept the smaller teams under control with the ever-popular computer formula, which is a major factor in deciding bowl pairings. When it came to the end of the season, undefeated TCU, Utah and Boise State always came up wanting.
People are saying this year it will be different, and in some ways it is. That's because BSU starts the year rated fifth nationally by USA Today, third by ESPN. Something called Congrove Computer Ranking has BSU No. 1. The Broncos don't have to climb far to be rated at the top in the polls. But would they also rise to the top of the all-important BCS ranking?
Not likely, but possible.
That doesn't mean the system would be fair if Utah, BYU, TCU or Boise State got to the title game. It would only mean one of them had navigated its way past the roadblocks. But true fairness won't happen until there is a national playoff of reasonable size. Still, this column isn't about a playoff, it's about saving the BCS's backside, free of charge. The BCS won't ever agree to a playoff because that might render its system obsolete. If the NCAA ran it like the basketball tournament, that would mean the BCS couldn't run it like a fiefdom.
Don't plan on any of that happening.
Either way, making things so a non-automatic qualifier truly could win a championship would do miracles for the BCS's popularity and credibility. Suddenly it would become, if not likable, at least tolerable. At which time the BCS could bide its time until a day when, like George W. Bush, it can quietly retire to somewhere in Texas.