2011 Spring Questions - No. 11
What's The Really Big Deal?
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Now that Bin Laden has been found, no, the United States government really doesn’t have anything better to do than figure out why college football doesn’t have an adequate playoff system.
The BCS has been criticized from the start
of the 1998 season as exclusionary, bizarre, and disappointing
in the way it determines a national champion, and now it also might be illegal.
The Justice Department, speared on by a push from the Utah attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, and headed up by U.S. Assistant Attorney General, Christine Varney, is taking a serious look at whether or not the Bowl Championship Series violates federal antitrust laws because 1) some conferences – currently the MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA, and WAC – have to jump through hoops to
get into one of the big money bowl games, and 2) because there’s such a major discrepancy in the money and the payouts between the haves and the have-nots. Basically, the Department of Justice has the same questions that most fans have had for more than a decade.
Why the heck is there a BCS and why isn’t there some sort of a playoff?
While this might not seem like some sort of a major national injustice, the
BCS and college football bowls are multi-million
dollar businesses. And when the outcomes of big
football games affects the bottom lines of
taxpayer-funded universities, and when some schools
are getting paid more than others, questions start
to get asked.
For the 2010 season, every ACC, Big East, and Big 12 school made $21.2 million from the BCS. Every Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-10 school got $27.2 million, making more because the three conferences each had two teams in the BCS
games. On the flip side, every non-AQ conference, not school, conference, got $24.72 million.
While the BCS has put in rules to make it easier for the teams from non-automatic qualifier conferences to
get one team automatically eligible for one of the five BCS games, there are those who believe the system might technically be a monopoly.
Now Varney and others are asking the NCAA to figure out some way to change things up.
The process began with a sour grapes argument coming from Utah, whose politicians, particularly Senator Orrin Hatch, have been in a frenzy over the BCS system since the University of Utah was famously spurned from the national title process in 2008.
The Utes went undefeated, upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and finished behind a one-loss Florida in the final pecking order
and didn't get its chance for the title. That Utah is now in the club as a member of the Pac-12 has nothing to do with the fight, and this probably wouldn’t be on the table if the Utes had been blown away by the Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, but Shurtleff is still going after the antitrust lawsuit.
Shurtleff got the ball rolling, and the Department of Justice is stepping up with the muscle with Varney’s letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert asking why college football doesn’t have a playoff at the highest level. But this might not really be an NCAA issue.
Unlike the wildly popular men’s basketball tournament, the final determining factor in the college football national championship process is run by the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools with the university presidents and athletic directors running the show more than the NCAA. Technically, there really isn’t any form of a college football post-season as run by the NCAA, but that doesn’t mean the organization isn’t being asked to show why there isn’t a better system that could do a better job of including all 120 members in the process.
For the BCS, its proponents, and the bowl system in general, it’s a case of bad timing and worse luck that the lawsuit and the anti-BCS movement is able to gather momentum, and now, the BCS and its cockamamie system could be on the brink of non-existence. This all could’ve been moot if one 45-yard field goal attempt had gone a few feet the other way.
In 2009, TCU, a non-AQ school, was neck-and-neck with Cincinnati, from the BCS’s Big East, in a fight to jump into one of the coveted top two spots in the final BCS rankings, which would’ve assured a place in the BCS Championship. All the Horned Frogs and Bearcats needed to wage the battle in the polls and computers was for unbeaten Texas to lose the Big 12 Championship game against Nebraska, and it almost happened.
The Longhorns kept the regular season perfect when Hunter Lawrence hit a bomb of a game-winning field goal in the final moments to secure a spot in the BCS Championship game against Alabama. Had Texas lost, TCU would’ve had an honest chance to beat out Cincinnati to play for the title
and a non-AQ program would've had its day in the sun. The 2010 Horned Frogs came close, too, finishing third in the final BCS rankings. They would’ve had a shot at playing for the national title if Auburn had lost the SEC Championship to South Carolina or if Oregon had lost the regular season finale against Oregon State.
Had TCU played in either one of the last two BCS Championship games, it would’ve been a hard sell for the BCS-is-exclusionary fight and would’ve been a blow for those desperate for a real, live college football playoff. But now, because of the legal system, fans clamoring for some semblance of a playoff to determine the national championship on the field instead of by a slew of voters and wacky formulas are closer than ever to their dream coming true.
But the Football Bowl Association and the BCS types like things the way they are because the rich old guys in the silly yellow bowl jackets want to keep all the power and all the money for themselves. They’re not going to go down quietly.
School presidents and athletic directors like the bowl system because it keeps the alumni happy, coaches employed, and the pressure off. If there are 35 bowl games, 35 teams end their season on a happy high note. There’s only one winner in a playoff, and if you’re a big-wig at Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida State or some other football powerhouse who ended the
2010 season with a huge bowl victory, the last thing you need is a grouchy fan base cranking up the heat after the football team flamed out in the second round of a tournament. But that’s life in a playoff, and most fans will accept that if it means an honest shot at a national title through some sort of tournament.
So now it’s up to the BCS and the NCAA to figure out its next move, and both can easily save face, avoid the costly lawsuit, make gobs of money, make fans happy, and even turn the system more in its favor with just a few tweaks. Here are two very easy ways to make this all go away, but neither idea will happen because of the egos involved.
1) Throw out the criteria to get into a BCS game.
Going back to the TCU argument of the last few seasons, a non-AQ team was this close to playing in each of the last two national championships. NCAA and BCS, that’s your defense. How could the system be a monopoly and exclusionary when a non-AQ team was closer to playing for the title than Ohio State, Oklahoma, or several other big-name BCS-league schools?
But that’s not going to fly with the feds, so to get rid of the exclusionary aspect of the BCS, simply eliminate the idea of the automatic qualifiers. There are ten spots in five bowl games, so simplify it: the top ten
ranked teams are in no matter what the conference affiliation.
No. 1 vs. No. 2 plays for the national title, and the other eight teams in the top ten get a spot in one of the big money games. Don’t like it, Sun Belt? Neither will the Big East or the ACC. Mountain West and Conference USA, if you want the money, then make sure you have a few teams good enough to be in the top ten. The argument then could be that, in theory, four Mountain West teams could be in BCS games if they’re good enough. In reality, four SEC teams might be in the money every year, but at least the system would no longer delineate between the BCS schools and the little guys.
Everyone has an equal shot. Go 12-0, and you're
almost certainly going to be in the top ten.
2) NCAA, just make an easy playoff system.
Here’s the little secret that BCS executive director Bill Hancock and his minions don’t want the world to figure out. College football can have a playoff and the bowl system can stay in place.
People who watched the Ticketcity.com Bowl last year are still going to watch if there’s a playoff. Have the normal minor, non-BCS bowl season as it stands now. The same people who didn’t go to the Little Caesar’s Bowl before will still keep Ford Field empty, and New Year’s Day could still have its smorgasbord of games like
fans have always enjoyed. The difference would be that the current BCS games would take on more importance.
The top eight ranked conference champions would be in a playoff. If you’re the MAC, Sun Belt, or WAC, and
if you have a problem with this, then get better. In most seasons, the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC would be almost assured a spot, and the Mountain West and Conference USA would likely get the other two spots. (And as for Notre Dame, enough is enough with the preferential treatment. Join a conference if you want to be a part of the fun.)
Starting on the Saturday night on the weekend closest to Christmas – forget about Sunday since college football, even
with a playoff, doesn’t want to compete with the NFL – it’s Round One of an eight team playoff. The Final Four would be played the following Saturday, and the National Championship would be played on the Monday nine days later with the game being played roughly around the day it’s currently scheduled.
There would be seven total playoff games that would rotate among six bowl games – Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Rose, Sugar, and a new bowl to be played in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, to give the Midwest fans an easy chance to get to a game – with the national championship rotating in an extra game among the six. For those who think the game would have a hard time bringing in fans, it wouldn’t be any different than the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament; these games would take on a life of their own.
The season would end at the same time it does now; all the student-athletes would be on winter break
and wouldn't miss any school; the national championship combatants would only play two more games than they would under normal circumstances; and the integrity of the regular season would remain intact, since winning a conference title would mean everything.
How would the big conferences react to not getting two teams in a tournament? Simple. Get to the national championship and get three BCS-bowl paydays instead of the maximum of two a league can currently get. The SEC would take that chance in a heartbeat.
But for now, the NCAA and the BCS are going to use their flimsy defenses to try to fight the U.S. Department of Justice, and they’re going to lose and lose big unless they change things up in a big hurry.
The call has gone out to the BCS to adapt and change
or die, and college football fans everywhere will
eventually rejoice because of it.