Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Exclusive: One-on-One with Bill Hancock

Who's Bill Hancock? You ask.

He's the one and ONLY employee of the Bowl Championship Series. Mr. Hancock is the BCS Administrator, essentially, the spokesman and the face of the BCS. He doesn't have a corner office in a big building with lots of copy machines. He works out of his house in the suburbs of Kansas City, with his grandkids running around while they're visiting.

For 13 years, Mr. Hancock was the director of the Final Four of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, from 1989-2002. He left the NCAA to spend more time with his family after his son Will, a sports information director for Oklahoma State, died in the 2001 plane crash that took the lives of 10 OSU athletes and officials. Mr. Hancock returned to college sports in October 2005, when the BCS established his position.

The Guru caught up with Mr. Hancock over the Thanksgiving weekend and had a lengthy conversation with him. Here's the complete transcript of our Q&A:

Guru: Has President-Elect Obama's apparent interest in the BCS, expressed both on ESPN and on CBS' 60 Minutes, brought a lot more, or perhaps unwanted, attention to the BCS?

BH: The BCS gets lots of attention this time of the year to start with, but I don't remember getting it from the president before. We congratulate him and are deeply honored that he's a passionate fan of college football. But I don't feel this has particularly increased the demand for change.

Guru: Speaking of change, or change you can believe in, has there been any push toward a playoff or a Plus-One, anything?

BH: There's always a great deal of interest in change coming from different quarters. But the fact remains that the presidents, athletic directors, commissioners and coaches, the four core primary groups involved have not expressed a desire for change. Among those constituents there's no consensus for change. There are several individual (coaches) who feel strongly about it, but every time when the issue was put in front of the AFCA they have not been in favor of a playoff.

Guru: The new television contract with ESPN, replacing Fox, how might that benefit the BCS?

BH: The deal with ESPN is a really good thing. ESPN has so many platforms for promoting games - all their broadcast channels, the website, ESPN360, their magazine. ... Their coverage of the regular-season games is phenomenal. But I want to say that FOX has been terrific - their people are wondeful to work with. FOX did promote the BCS through NFL games and the website. They did a nice job. Obviously, ESPN's financial offer was better, and they also bring a season-long promotional platform, it's a presence FOX couldn't provide.

Guru: But are you concerned that ESPN wants to put all the BCS bowl games on cable?

BH: We know that 98 million households get ESPN over basic cable. While there are many people who don't get cable, most of the fans who are interested will find ways to watch the games. And by January 2011, (ESPN's first BCS bowl games) there will be many more people who'll have access to ESPN.

Guru: Is there any movement to alter or tweak the existing formula, which has been in place since 2004?

BH: There has not been any discussions at all about changing the formula. That topic has not been discussed nor would I expect that it'd come up (at the next meeting). It's not a factor.

Guru: What about changing the eligibility requirements for automatic qualifiers. Both the Big East and the ACC will have guaranteed slots through the 2013 season, what about the Mountain West or the WAC, given their recent performances?

BH: There has not been any push for a change on that, either. The commissioners meet every April and they review everything. At that time they will consider any changes to the existing structure if necessary, but based on my visits with them from the past several months, there's no groundswells for any change.

Guru: The BCS standings use coaches and Harris polls. But until the final ballot, the votes are secret. We have a situation this year when the standings are used to break a tie in the Big 12, yet we won't know how the pollsters voted. Are you concerned about this lack of transparency and will the BCS demand that the votes be made public every week?

BH: We have no control over the coaches poll, you'll have to visit the coaches association about that, on how they manage what they do. I will say that the commissioners talked about this issue but Harris has told us that one voter out 114 cannot affect enough change to make a difference in the standings, one voter can't make a significant difference. We think there is transparency - the only poll that matters is the last one and there is transparency.

Guru: But what about this week, with the Big 12 tiebreaker?

BH: That's a question for the Big 12.

Guru: With a lot of sports entities and franchises concerned about the financial crisis, how is the BCS positioned to weather this?

BH: I think everyone in the country is concerned about the crisis. There is no safe harbor and no one is immune - not in sports, so this is a situation that we have to follow and no one really knows how severe it's going to get. I think the BCS is on solid ground, not just on the TV side, on the other side our attendance in games has been up and we don't have any indication that the bowls are having difficulty selling tickets. That said, we won't really know how this will affect our fans, the schools and the participating teams for another month.

Guru: So it's safe to say that the BCS won't be setting up a big office and a staff any time soon?

BH: The commissioners believe the most appropriate way to run the BCS is to have a full-time administrator. Now that's in place, there's no need for a big staff. The bowls have big staffs and they and the conferences keep things moving. For an organization that's a 90-million-a-year operation, on a per-dollar budget basis we're spending our money very wisely. The BCS is as, if not more frugal, than any entity in sports. We won't need a bailout.

Guru: Obviously, you're busier now than you've ever been, fielding questions from all comers. Are you comfortable defending the BCS?

BH: You know, the more people talk about it the better, I believe it. People who understand college football and the complexities of how it's run generally are not too critical. It's the people who are the drop-in journalists, who only jump in one month out of the year, they're the ones who don't get it. My job as the administrator is to explain to people about the BCS. Whenever somebody asks me about a playoff, invariably 9 out 10, after I have a chance to lay out the situation, they'll say, 'golly, you're right, never thought about all these things.' But they can't be recorded in just sound bites when I lay them out. I don't blame people: It's a hard concept to grasp and it's clear that the devil's in the details.

Guru: It's safe to say, then, that the BCS is here to stay for awhile?

BH: I really think the BCS is good for college football. We have tremendous amount of interest in our regular season - more so than in any other sport. I ran the Final Four for 13 years and we just don't have this kind of passion in the regular season. And the BCS has moved college football from regional to national. The SEC fans are now very interested in the Pac-10. Before the BCS, that interest was there but not at the level it is today. College football is more popular than ever and we believe how our postseason is handled is a big factor in that. When you consider a change, the single biggest thing we have to think about is what would it do to the regular season. That's the great unknown and there would be unintended consequences to any change, with out a doubt. This is the crown jewel and it's too risky to just tinker with it. I think the commissioners are on the right track in being very deliberate about change. We don't know if this is perfect, so let's not tinker with it until we're sure we know how it's going to be better.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bunch of crap to me. Mr. Hancock knows just as well as everyone else that the BCS is in place to make 6 conferences money. They have been forced to share a little with the extra game, but that is all they will ever do. A playoff system would not hurt the regular season at all, nor would it mess with the student athletes' education. All it would do is spread the money out, causing the 6 power conferences to share the wealth. I hope no one ever believes otherwise.

Anonymous said...

There is so much more money to be made through a 16-team playoff with 11 conf. champs and 5 at-large teams.

Heck, that's 15 playoff games.

you can't tell me those games wouldn't be worth more than all the bowl games combined. AND, you can still keep your meaningless bowls.

Additionally, too many games.


Everyone plays 8 regular season and 3 non-conference. That's 11.

Add a conference title game and that's 12.

Add 4 rounds of playoffs and that get's you to 16 for the finalists.

IIRC, Kansas State and BYU have played 15 games in a season and no one died for it. 1 more game than that for 2 teams to get a real national champ isn't asking much.

Heck, the lower divisions champs regularly play 15 games. I have even seen teams play a 16-game schedule, I think it was Delaware a few years back. Are you saying they are not as academic? Come on!

Anonymous is right. A playoff means the NCAA corporate gets more money. Bowls keep it all in the conferences via tie-ins.

Great another year where nothing is settled convincingly.

Anonymous said...

So, he can't explain the pros in sound bites (just to complicated)....okay, lay it out for us then. Concern for student way (do away with 12 game against typically against FCS teams); concern about relevance of regular way (do away with conference "playoff"...won't Mizzou win make Big 12 regular season meaningless). In both cases above, $$ is driver. A 12-16 team playoff would keep everyone very interested in national regular season (seeding would be extremely compelling (possibly a bye). The only question I've heard that resonates regarding playoff is could fans be expected to travel for 2-4 consecutive weeks to bowl sites (or would some home games be necessar y in early rounds). It would be the greatest sporting event in the world.

Stephen said...

Just another f'n fat cat covering his ass. Just like the sorry major conference commissioners. The worst, Tom Hansen finally retired from the Pac 10..Maybe they will get their heads out of their own asses in the coming future..There needs to be a top 8 team playoff bracket!

Anonymous said...

"It's all good" Unfortunately, that's the slogan that many ous Americans have been using for years now. Well, it's not all good! And, the sooner we learn that, the sooner we'll be able to pull ourselves out of thuis mess along with many others. We live in a sea of mediocrity, and most are completely satisfied to sit and do nothing about it - just like our governemnt and corporations have done these past two decades..

Joe Stallings said...

No groundswell for the Big 6 commissioners to add the WAC and MWC? Really? Why wouldn't they want to divide their monopoly with 2 more conferences. I am sure they like it just the way it is. The ONLY way this will change is with an anti-trust lawsuit or congressional intervention. It's always about the money and right now, 6 conferences control that money no matter how undeserving some of those teams may be ( ACC, Big East ). MWC and WAC schools..and now MAC schools will forever get screwed out of guaranteed $ as long as these 6 commissioners control the decisions.