From the white canvas rooftop built to resemble the nearby Rocky Mountains to the longest public-use runway in the United States (Runway 16R/34L, to be precise), DIA is was supposed to be an architectural wonder. It became an international laughingstock.
If you think of the hundreds of daily tasks that go unnoticed at any major airport you’d be hard-pressed to find many as uncomplicated as luggage transportation. You check your bags at the counter and a team of workers loads them onto the plane. Complicated? No. And it’s not always foolproof. Any poor soul who has been the last one waiting at baggage claim with no baggage can attest to that.
Despite the dread we travelers feel as that conveyer begins its lurch, lost baggage really isn’t a widespread problem; only about 1 percent is actually mishandled. But airport honchos decided to do what they always do when air travelers start citing irrational fear: They overreacted. And in 1994, as construction began on DIA, engineers decided to take a crack at making luggage transportation foolproof.
Plans were drawn for a baggage-handling system as devoid of the human element as possible – a system of motorized carts, jetting about on roller coaster tracks, which employed barcodes and motion sensors to transport individual bags from terminal to plane with unrivaled accuracy. The “automated baggage transport system” was born.
After adding nearly an entire year to the airport’s ribbon cutting and countless millions of dollars to the bottom line, the ABTS debuted under the eye of every national media representative that could be jammed into the terminal’s underbelly.
It was a spectacular joke.
Bags were mangled in the machinery, carts flew off their tracks and workers ran about furiously collecting the contents of far-flung Samsonites. The airport was forced to close for 11 more months while the baggage system – which was installed without a human backup option – was retrofitted to the old technology of worker receives bag, worker puts bag on plane. The takeaway from this engineering disaster was simple: technology is a wonderful tool, but some tasks simply necessitate the human touch.
These days, all that remains of the ABTS is a pile of egregious debt and a terrific episode of the History Channel show “Modern Marvels”. (Engineering Disasters 12, if you have the box set.) Unfortunately, however, this technological disaster has its imitators. One in particular is currently kneecapping America’s new favorite pastime.
It used to be, that human beings watched football teams play each other on the field, and used their own judgment to determine which team was better than the other. Complicated? No. And not always foolproof, as every so often different teams would finish the season atop one of the two final polls, thereby splitting the national title for the year.
Now, instead of exercising some simple common sense – such as the playing the two deadlocked teams against each other in a “plus-one” game – some intellectual folks decided that computers should determine who the best teams were and who should be crowned the ultimate champion.
They developed an algorithm that averaged together variables like strength of schedule, margin of victory, human polling and computer polling and spit out a weekly rankings chart that eventually would pit the No. 1 and No. 2 teams against each other in a national championship game.
Thus was born the Bowl Championship Series, which was charged with two ultimate objectives: determine the two best teams in the nation and prevent split titles from ever happening again.
The obvious flaw is that computers – save for the occasional PlayStation – don’t play football. It begs the question: Why introduce an element foreign to the process of the game into determining what team is best at the game?
Just like the DIA baggage debacle, the BCS is a spectacular joke. Its ultimate downfall came in 2003, when LSU and USC split the BCS and AP national titles, a direct violation of one of the two charges the BCS was burdened with carrying out. The second charge – separating the two top teams from the rest of the pack – was violated in 2004 when undefeated Auburn was expunged from the BCS title game in favor of Oklahoma, who proceeded to lose 55-19 to USC.
This year’s Auburn is Texas – a team that defeated Oklahoma in the regular season, finished the season with the same record as the Okies, and now sits idle watching the Sooners play in the BCS title game. Common sense dictates that when all else is equal, a head-to-head match-up should serve as the tiebreaker. That scenario would have put the Longhorns on the path to Miami for a title shot. But, unless I miss my guess, no common sense computer chip has yet been developed.
What should decide college football’s champion is a playoff system. Every other major American sport settles their seasons in such a fashion, as do the smaller divisions of college football. Critics argue that a major college football playoff would make regular season games less important and make it more difficult for fans to follow their team throughout the duration of the postseason.
However, no one argues that college basketball’s 64-team tournament dampens its regular season. And when you look at proposed college football playoff scenarios, it usually involves only the top eight teams, meaning the final two teams would play only three games, which is not a crushing demand on any hardcore fan base. The remaining bowl eligible teams outside the final eight would finish their season in a smaller-tier bowl, as they would have otherwise under the current BCS system.
An emerging proponent of a Division 1A college football playoff system is the change agent himself – President-elect Barack Obama. Obama told ESPN’s Chris Berman during the halftime of a pre-election Monday Night Football broadcast that he’s “fed up with these computer rankings.”
“Get eight teams -- the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide on a national champion.”
Right on cue, the folks on the BCS rules committee dismissed the President-elect’s plan, deciding it was “not in the best interest” of the sport.
So I guess that means no changes for now, not with the current leadership structure in college football. Champions will still be crowned in America’s new favorite pastime, just by a fraudulent system. (That’s only when we are not crowning two champions at the same time.) Hopefully, if Barack Obama can bring a modicum of common sense to the Oval Office, then he could also change the way we do business in college football. Both would be a welcome change from the status quo.