Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BCS Is Finished ... But How Soon

Hosni Mubarak is history. Muammar Gaddafi has one foot out of the door. Could the BCS be next?

Just as dictators in the Arab world were stunningly and suddenly deposed this spring, a revolution is brewing in college football. All the years of discontent with its lack of a national championship playoff is bubbling to the surface. And this time, the voice of fans are amplified because, surprisingly, the government decided to get involved.

The BCS has been under fire before. Almost in its entire 13-plus-year existence, it's been the target of irate fans and disenchanted media. But what's happening now really is different. If the Justice Department is serious about its involvement - and judging by this opening salvo, it is - then it might be game over for the BCS.

While the BCS is already a big loser in the court of public opinion, there will be real consequences if it should lose in a court of law. And the people who are behind the BCS are smart enough to make sure this never gets in front of a judge - they simply can't afford it.

So how did we get here? And where do we go from here?

Like any forest fire, it started with a small spark, which in this case is Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel, Jeff Passan and Josh Peter. Released last fall during the college football season, the well-researched book for the first time laid bare much of the BCS charade. With its brisk sales and Yahoo's ability to reach a wide swath of audience, the BCS was put on notice and on the defensive.

While Death to the BCS made its case to the masses, PlayoffPAC brought the nefarious practices by those affiliated with the BCS to the attention of law enforcement. On PlayoffPAC's radar from the start was the Fiesta Bowl. Its dogged pursuit of this case resulted in the ouster of Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker. As the bowl's allegedly corrupt practices came to light, the BCS was forced to feign outrage (this really is a Casablanca moment, with the NCAA and BCS prominently implicated in the infamous Fiesta Frolic).

Then the piling on really began. Twenty-one prominent academics and anti-trust experts formally asked the Justice Department to investigate the BCS. Mark Shurtleff, Utah's attorney general, announced that he would be filing an anti-trust lawsuit against the BCS in the immediate future.

That led to Wednesday's letter of inquiry from the Justice Department to the NCAA. While the NCAA has been so imperious when it comes to answering questions from the media and the public, this is one phone call it can't just let it go straight to voicemail and press the delete button.

The BCS says it hasn't received anything from the DOJ as of now, but don't worry, it will. And the tired line of "the government should have better things to do than getting involved in college football" isn't going to fly anymore. It's not so much that Barry Bonds escaped nearly unscathed in his perjury trial so the feds needed a new fall guy (or maybe it is). It's that the monopolistic practices of the BCS, with billions of dollars at stake, is a legitimate target under the DOJ's jurisdiction.

When the BCS does get that inquiry/subpoena from the DOJ some time, presumably by the end of the year, what will it do? Fight it or fold?

The answer may be surprisingly simple: The BCS will settle with the DOJ by presenting a playoff format to the feds' satisfaction. There is no way that this ends up in court. The only question would be how soon will the new plan be implemented.

That the BCS will not wage a fight through litigation should be obvious, if you understand what the BCS is in the first place.

The BCS is not some omnipotent, evil organization like the mob. Evil, maybe, to some. Omnipotent, most definitely not.

The BCS doesn't even have a corporate office. It has only one known full-time employee - Bill Hancock, the coordinator who works out of his house in Kansas City. The people who "run" the BCS are conference commissioners and university presidents.

These individuals not only have day jobs, they have disparate interests. At this point, their collective interests may longer be aligned. University presidents' support already began to peel off as they absolutely would not permit their schools to get entangled with the feds, particularly one that could cost millions of dollars. Besides, a number of them have caught on to - as clearly enumerated in Death to the BCS - how the BCS doesn't even serve their respective schools' best interest financially, especially those whose schools that are not in the so-called BCS conferences.

Also keep in mind, at the core, they are the NCAA. So the heat is on them already.

The conference commissioners, realizing the gig is up, won't put up much of a fight, either. The Fiesta Bowl fiasco has nearly destroyed the credibility of the bowl system as a whole (if it had much to start with). That being the case, they also would not hesitate to cast the bowls aside to enact a playoff, for their own best interest.

In addition, the big six BCS conferences are already awash in cash with recent television deals. Big Ten and SEC members rake in between $17-22 million per school from their new media package. The Pac-12 has just signed a brand spanking new $3 billion deal with ESPN and Fox that dwarfed anything the conference has ever done before. They will not jeopardize that cash flow to defend what is clearly indefensible.

The BCS establishment will stall for a bit at the outside, when Justice knocks on the door. But as soon as a plan is formulated (and there's reason to believe that they're working on it right now), they will move swiftly to get the DOJ off their back.

And that means disassociating themselves with the bowl system and a playoff will be born, perhaps as swiftly as for the 2012 season, before the current BCS television deal even runs out. ESPN, which owns the BCS rights through the 2013 season, will not mind if it has to tear up the current package as long as it gets to showcase the new, and much more lucrative, college football postseason.

All the edifice of this college football infrastructure, rotten to the core after being around for over 100 years, will all of a sudden come crashing down. This much is certain: It will be missed as much as Mubarak and Gaddafi.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I few more items of background for your information:

*There have been three congressional hearings into the college fball bowls. The first congressional hearing about the forerunner of the BCS (The "Bowl Alliance" was held way back in 1996 in the Senate when BYU was passed over by the Fiesta Bowl in behalf of a lower ranked Penn St team who was joining the Big 10 the following year (appeared to be a quid pro quo by Junker to the newest member of a power conference and to try and lure the PacX/Big 10 to join the Bowl Alliance (which then became the BCS)).

And, of course, you are aware of the pressure which the MWC put on the BCS two years ago when after great finishes from BYU, Utah, and TCU over several years they submitted a playoff proposal to the BCS (which was rejected out of hand). Perhaps I am a conspiracy theorist, but doesn't it seem awfully convenient that the thorn-in-the-side MWC was neutered the next year right as the MWC was preparing to invite Boise St to join the conference and become a legitimate candidate for auto-BCS status?

Yea, me too.