(After the Q&A, the Guru offers his critique of the book as well.)
Guru: The book seems to be written with a lot of passion, bludgeoning the BCS from page 1, what's the inspiration for it?
Wetzel: We went with a real subtle title for the book, didn't we? This began a few years back, we wanted to find out why we have the BCS. We went after the tax documents, university contracts and we talked to hundreds of people: marketing types, bowl directors, not just the PR people but people who know stuff. The more you got into it, the propaganda talking points just turned out to be false. It took an immense amount of research. We all had day jobs, so we needed multiple people for this project. We needed people dealing with the statistical stuff. We also hired accountants, lawyers to read tax documents, checking all the facts. It's a real team effort because it's a huge undertaking.
Guru: Ohio State University president Gordon Gee was recently lambasted for a comment about his team's worthiness vis-a-vis Boise State. You alluded to it in the book, that people who're in the position of making the final decisions seem to be the least informed. How could that be?
Wetzel: For some reason, the (university presidents) just take the word of conference commissioners and bowl representatives than actually try to understand the issues. What Gee said really helps the anti-trust case against the BCS because it was a serious admission that they think teams like Boise should be excluded. But as the argument that we made in the book, a football playoff would make millions more than what we have now, which means a lot more money for each university. Every single expert that we talked to say that the TV ratings would go through the roof. But the BCS is about protecting the bowls and the bowls' money. They want everybody to get into these tedious debates to create mass confusion.
Guru: You really made a case for the nebulous role the bowls play in all this, yet you still want to preserve the bowls. Aren't you a bit conflicted?
Wetzel: My problem is with the bowl system and how it's an obstacle to a playoff, not that it exists. I love football, I want to watch football games, even if it's not to crown a champion. The NIT is fun, sometimes I'll watch it. I watch the Chick-fil-A Bowl, even though nothing is on the line. I don't want the teams to be cheated out of playing in a bowl. But we don't say because we have the NIT that we don't need the Final Four. That would be ridiculous. But in college football, we let the bowls stand in the way of having a playoff.
Guru: Well, then, the NCAA runs the NCAA basketball tournament among its 88 postseason championships. Why couldn't the NCAA get involved to have a Division I-A playoff?
Wetzel: I'll never understand that Walter Byers, a powerful guy who started the NCAA, never got into this. But the problem with wanting the NCAA to do something is that the NCAA is made up of the same people who are running college football - the conference commissioners and the university presidents, who I think as a group is an utter failure. The problem with college football is knowing who's in charge,.There is no Roger Goodell to put his foot down. Everybody is just fighting for their own self-interest.
Guru: So maybe it's up to the politicians? Maybe it'll take Congress or the Justice Department to break up the BCS?
Wetzel: I don't have a good feel for that. I'm not in Washington and I'm not a lobbyist. The group PlayoffPAC, they have done some incredible research and they have resources, maybe they'll be able to push forward a change. In our book, our thing is debunking the arguments you've heard from the BCS, but we barely mentioned the Justice Department or the anti-trust issues. But we hope the facts that we brought to the table might have a positive impact.
Guru: A central theme of your book, in fact, in the first chapter, you proposed a 16-team playoff to replace the BCS. Do you think that'll eventually happen?
Wetzel: No, not anytime soon, realistically I can see a 4-team, maybe an 8-team playoff. They'll never let say, the Sun Belt champion to have a chance. But a playoff makes more games meaningful, not fewer. Like last weekend, there would've been a lot more interest in the LSU-Arkansas game if a playoff berth was on the line. And the fact is that there are more teams that are good enough to play for the national championship now than ever before. Now you can play on TV wherever you play and the kids don't just go to the traditional powerhouses. There used to be maybe 8 or 9 schools that can win it, but now it's maybe 35 deep. You look at Michigan State, they're 11-1, they have a lot of kids that in the old days would go to Michigan, Ohio State or Notre Dame and hope they get to play as a junior or senior. But not anymore, it's a different time.
Guru: You also mentioned that it's a different time for the fans, especially the younger ones, who are not wedded to the traditional bowl matchups. Are they more likely to demand a playoff?
Wetzel: There's a huge divide among some of the fans, maybe people 65 or older think all this stinks, they like the way it used to be, but people under 40, they're used to seeing every game on TV and they'll want these teams to play each other to decide a champion on the field. The old days when just a few schools dominated are gone. You look at Texas, they're not even bowl eligible this season. Alabama has three losses. Florida five. There's a lot of parity, that's why we need a national tournament. The way the BCS and bowl systems are designed is that so nobody can seize control and take the bowls out of the lucrative game. The title game is a huge monetary property, and the bowls want to be part of that. But think about how ridiculous this is. Would the NFL rent you the AFC Championship Game and let you run it and keep most of the money? College football is a big enough business that they don't need (Fiesta Bowl president and CEO) John Junker to rent the stadium to play the championship game. Why would you want to outsource your most important product to people whose values are not intertwined with yours?
Guru: What are we missing out on not having a playoff?
Wetzel: My thing is that you're missing all the great fun. Take the Big Ten, it's always been the conference most opposed to having a playoff, yet this year, they have three teams that could play for a championship but none of them will. Our playoff would have other teams traveling to these places in the Midwest to have playoff games - and the Midwest can use the economic boost from it, why should they always have to benefit Florida, Arizona or any of those states in the south? And at the end it's not always the small schools that get cheated out of a chance to play for a championship, the big schools do, too.
So, what does the Guru think of "Death to the BCS"?
First, let me just say that if you are a college football fan and are interested in the BCS debate, you need to buy this book. It's a good read and a fast read: Fewer than 200 pages in a small book, I polished it off during a cross-country plane ride. If anything, it's not boring.
The authors thoroughly researched the issues involving the BCS and did a good job debunking many of BCS's propaganda. Case-in-point: The bowls have always claimed that they've given millions of their revenues to charity. In the book, that argument was mercilessly ripped apart.
The best thing the authors did was to reveal the economic idiocy of the current BCS/bowl system vis-a-vis a playoff and the millions that the schools are squandering by not having a postseason playoff hosted mostly on campus sites. The financial impact is stark: Why university presidents choose to piss away untold millions that they could earn from a massive TV deal and instead lose money to go to bowl games is simply a mystery.
But as well as the book did in addressing a number of subjects, I had a few issues:
* The biggest weakness of the book, which is unfortunately fashioned in the first chapter, is the authors' proposal of a 16-team playoff, which involves inviting the champions of all 11 conferences plus five at-large teams. C'mon, genetically re-engineers pigs will be causing air traffic gridlock before you'll see a 7-5 Troy team get an automatic berth in a college football playoff. It's simply an unrealistic proposition, which does much to harm the book's credibility from the very start. A four-team or even an eight-team playoff is much more probable, and with it still a considerable financial windfall. Even Wetzel acknowledged during our interview that he thought a 16-team playoff is unlikely to ever become reality. So why put it in there?
* "The Cartel," which throughout the book is vilified as the single most nefarious influence on why we have the system today. But in truth it's really just conference commissioners who have more say than they probably should. Jim Delany of the Big Ten is rightly portrayed as a supremely powerful figure, but Dan Beebe of the Big 12 and the rest of them surely are not (and for the record, Mike Slive of the SEC is in favor of a four-team playoff). I think the reach and power of the Cartel is a bit overstated in the book. Inertia has just as much to do with the state of affairs today as with anything else.
* The book adopts a tone that's extremely confrontational and belligerent:
So for now the BCS survives, a roach amid a typhoon of Raid, emanating coldness, ignoring the measured consideration of old coaching icons, and dismissing fans' bellows. Even the unyielding common sense is held off with mistruths and misdirection that turn the entire issue into a river of red herrings.That's on page 8, and it doesn't let up from there as though the book is a sermon from a fiery preacher calling out for the sinners to repent. The problem is that this approach will win few converts. Despite the fact that the book presents a treasure-trove of meticulously researched material, its persuasive powers ultimately is compromised. If anything, opponents of a playoff will only harden their stance after such a blistering attack.
Facts have power, though. The truth has might. The rational presentation of both can upend even the longest-held conventional wisdom and expose the Cartel for what it is: a not-half-as-smart-as-it-wants-you-to-believe group of leaders that history will one day mock for its obstinacy.
That's probably my biggest disappointment with this book. It can and has done much good by bringing a number of issues to light, but its shortcomings do somewhat sabotage its own cause, which unmistakably is bringing "Death to the BCS."