BCS stands for Bowl Championship Series, a system that allows top teams in the NCAA to play one another during the postseason. The top two teams in the country play in the national championship game, with the other teams matching up in other prestigious bowl games. While other bowl games exist, all NCAA teams aim to reach the BCS.
Other than the BCS National Championship Game, BCS teams participate in the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. Each season, the BCS pays out about $260 million to NCAA schools and the games generate revenue for the cities that host them.
The BCS selection process begins with the automatic qualifiers, which means that the winners of the ACC, AAC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC all receive berths in one of the bowl games. The champions of smaller conferences like Conference USA, MAC, MWC, and the Sun Belt Conference receive automatic bids if they finish in the top 12 of the BCS standings or in the top 16 of the standings and have a higher ranking than one of the champions from an automatic qualifier conference. Only one team from a smaller conference can receive an automatic bid per season. Notre Dame also receives an automatic bid if it finishes in the top eight of the BCS polls.
If fewer than 10 automatic qualifiers exist, the BCS will select some at-large teams to participate. These teams must have at least nine regular season wins and finish in the top 14 of the BCS standings. Each conference can have a maximum of two teams in the BCS. If not enough teams with those qualifications exist, the BCS expands its criteria to include teams ranked between 15th and 18th.
The top two teams play in the BCS National Championship, but conferences also have contractual obligations to certain bowls. The ACC champions must play in the Orange Bowl, the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions in the Rose Bowl, the Big 12 champion in the Fiesta Bowl and the SEC champion in the Sugar Bowl, unless the champion of that league qualifies for the national championship game. If the champion from a contractually obligated conference plays in the championship game, the organizers must select a replacement from the pool of qualified teams, starting with the automatic bid teams. The replacement team does not have to come from the same conference.
Many do not like the BCS because it gives only large schools the chance to play for the national championship. Since only six conferences receive automatic bowl bids, teams from the remaining conferences rely on the rankings to have a chance at a BCS game. Even if a small-school team goes undefeated, it remains unlikely that it will play for a national championship. This also means that smaller schools do not receive as much revenue from these BCS games, putting them at a disadvantage when recruiting, hiring coaches and improving facilities.