The BCS stands for the Bowl Championship Series. To explain what this really means, a brief account of the history of college football is needed.

Long, long ago (before 1993), The major bowl games (Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl) made contracts with individual division I-A conferences. Conference champions would be contractually obligated to play in a specific bowl. There was no National Championship, save that the two polls, one of coaches and one of writers, would vote a team #1: this was called the "mythical" national champion.

Problem was, it was often impossible to determine who the national champion was. If Washington finished undefeated and played in the Rose Bowl, and Georgia Tech also finished unbeaten and played in the Orange Bowl, there would be no sure way of telling who the real best team was. Often it was the case that the coaches picked one team as #1, whereas the writers picked another. The championship was "split" between the two schools.

Starting in 1993, a bowl coalition was created to designate one bowl game per year that would host the #1 and #2 teams, meaning a much less chance of a split championship. This coalition, and the alliance that followed, worked well. EXCEPT that the Rose Bowl did not participate. Big Ten and Pac-10 conference champions could not participate in a national championship bowl. Which ended up costing both Penn State and Michigan full blown championships during this period.

The BCS was designed as the "Final Solution" for this problem. The BCS was like the alliances that preceeded it, but it included the Rose Bowl (along with the Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta), and therefore, the Big Ten and Pac-10. As it turned out, the BCS only worsened the controversy:

  • A complicated ratings formula, consiting of poll rankings, computer rankings, and strength of schedule, is used to determine who is the #1 and #2 team. The formula is very complex, and few people understand it fully.
  • The BCS system basically locks minor conference teams out of the major bowls, which generate a lot of money. This has opened the six major conferences up to antitrust complaints.
  • The task of choosing two, and only two teams, out of well over 100 Division I-A teams, is nearly impossible, and no one will be completely happy with the result.

    Despite these controversies, most fans agree that, apart from running a playoff, the BCS, or something like it, is the best way to settle a national championship in major college football.