Wednesday, April 30, 2008

If It Ain't Broke ... Why Even Talk About It?

So the head honchos who run college football went to Hollywood (Florida, that is) and, after a few days in the sun and too many pina coladas, they reached this shocking conclusion:

The BCS is beautiful as it is. Why mess with it?

With that, the Guru breathes a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I won't have to fold up shop after the 2009 season. Heck, the way this meeting went, I should be able to count on lots of buffo business well into my retirement. (Don't worry, I'll just mobile in my blogs from Lanikai -- if "mobile" and "blogs" are still relevant in 2030).

But rather than offering a typical ESPN-esque explanation as to why the BCS conferences -- with input from the smaller ones and Notre Dame -- opted for conservatism over revolution, the Guru considered the issues more deeply. And the reality is so much more than the powers-that-be's allergy to any sort of playoff talk.

So much more ... like 120 million more.

The only alternative on the table, presented by SEC commissioner Mike Slive, was rejected out of hand. The problem with his "plus-one" model was not so much that it resembled a playoff, but because its existence would threaten the financial well-being of some of his fellow travelers.

While it was well-known that the Big Ten and Pac-10 passionately opposed any alterations to the current format, the Big 12 broke its silence and threw its weight behind the status quo. And you can add the Big East to the mix as well. That makes four out of six BCS conferences. Slive's proposal was DOA before the first drink was poured.

The Big Ten and the Pac-10 want to keep their lucrative Rose Bowl deal in tact, and any sort of a "playoff" would jeopardize that. The Big Ten-Pac-10-Rose Bowl triumvirate worked very hard to keep their little cartel going -- they reluctantly joined the BCS after spurning the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance, and they extracted a lot of concessions when they finally entered the arrangement. Last year's USC-Illinois farce in the Rose Bowl was all you need to know about their protectionism.

Besides, the current system works out just fine for the two conferences. A team from either conference has played in the BCS championship game in five of the last six years -- and the year they didn't, USC won the AP title anyway. The Big Ten especially has been fat and happy, placing two teams in BCS bowls in five of the last six seasons, far more than any other conference.

For these guys, the system is working like a charm.

The Big 12 has different issues. Although a football power, the Big 12 is a distant fourth wheel in the BCS structure, behind the Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC. Aside from the University of Texas, none of the member schools is a strong draw in a big media market. So the BCS cash is critical. The current system works fine for the Big 12, too, as it's played in half of the 10 championship games in the BCS era.

That leaves Slive barking up the wrong tree. The SEC is pressing the "plus-one" because it is the most insecure conference about the current system and probably has the most grievance against it. Without a couple of huge upsets -- USC to UCLA in 2006, West Virginia to Pittsburgh in 2007 -- plus a computer-generated escape by LSU in 2003, the SEC would've been shut out of the BCS title game the last nine seasons.

As the strongest conference, in terms of balance, the SEC has more to worry from fratricide under the current regime than it would in a four-team format. In the latter scenario, the SEC will almost always be assured of a spot in the football version of the Final Four; and it would be content to let its representative(s) play their way to the championship.

So the plus-four died a swift death not so much because the P-word is malodorous, but because it potentially could hinder some very cozy relationships and access to fast cash. The smaller conferences and Notre Dame, with no chance of playing for the national championship (and I write this with a straight face) but with low thresholds to qualify for a BCS bowl and thus, a big-time payout, also want to leave well enough alone.

It's just as well. Slive's proposal was highly flawed anyway. It was no improvement over the current system and would've invited no less controversy. For example, in last year's scenario, Ohio State would've faced Oklahoma in one semifinal and LSU against Virginia Tech in another. More deserving teams such as USC and Georgia would've been shut out anyway and you'd still had the LSU-Ohio State championship game -- only now it'd take two weeks to reach the same mess. Why bother?

Since the BCS is all about the jack, we should just recognize that until someone can come up with a system that can guarantee more dough to more people, then we've reached an impasse. Don't forget that the "national championship" is a mere illusion and in this industry it's only incidental to the big picture.

We're not here to crown a champion. We're here to stuff our wallets. That's why this thing is called the Bowl Cash Series.


Anonymous said...

Great article, agree that a better playoff system needs to be presented than the plus-one. When a new system does come about I would imagine for the most part it would be the end of bowls always being played in the south. That would be a shame for kids looking forward to a trip to some sunny climate as it was one of the early reasons for the creation of bowls in the first place. The SEC teams should eventually find it a lot more challenging to go up north and win so a playoff system should be an advantage to northern teams.

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