Saturday, January 4, 2014

BCS Ends as Uncertainty Greets New Era

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — When Bill Hancock joined the BCS in 2005, his job was to catch flak and deflect it. The system, then eight-plus years old, was coming off two contentious seasons with a split national title in 2003 and unbeaten SEC champion Auburn hung out to dry in 2004.

And back then, he never expected that we'd be at the precipice of a new age eight years later. Monday's BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl will mark the final game of the 16-year BCS era.

"We didn't envision how big the BCS would grow and all the great things it'd do for the regular season," Hancock, the BCS's executive director, told the Guru during the BCS National Championship Game media day on Saturday. "And for the conferences that didn't have a contract with big bowl games. We really thought the BCS would just be a refined bowl-selection process. We didn't dream what it's become."

The BCS had become a fact of life for college football, but not without some growing pains. As we chronicled during the past few weeks, criticism of the BCS reached a crescendo in the mid-2000s as the standings were constantly tweaked. A bestseller, written by three Yahoo! Sports reporters—Death to the BCS—was published in 2010.

But under the stewardship of Hancock, who took on the title of executive director in 2009, the BCS has survived and thrived.

"In the beginning the BCS was extremely popular and well received," Hancock said. "And people were thrilled with that, because it's what they wanted, having No. 1 playing No. 2 every year. But then it became de rigueur to criticize the BCS, when in fact it's done a lot of really good things. I'm not hearing the criticism now—it could be because the playoff is starting, or it could be that we've been getting it right."

The BCS will give way to the College Football Playoff starting next season. Instead of two teams vying for the national championship, there will be four. The roster of top-tier bowls will increase from four to six, with the Cotton Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl joining the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls to host the most lucrative games, including two national semifinals.

The new era comes with much uncertainty. The BCS standings, the formula for which remained unchanged for the last eight years of BCS's existence, will be discarded, with a 13-person committee taking over the duties of selecting the teams for not just the playoff but also the matchups for other major bowls.

Fans will miss the transparency and predictability of the BCS standings, as the committee will be the sole source of determining the four participants in the playoff. While four standings will be revealed during the season (presumably every other week starting at midseason, but still to be determined), the final picks will be completely at the discretion of the committee members.

Hancock said that members of the committee will be available to the media to discuss their participation throughout the season but that only he and chair Jeff Long—Arkansas' athletic director—will speak on the "actions and decisions" of the committee. He dismissed the idea that the committee should've revealed its picks for 2013, saying that it would have been a distraction to this year's proceedings.

While there's much unknown going into the 2014 postseason, there is one certainty, according to Hancock. The College Football Playoff, which will be in place for 12 years after signing a $7.3 billion deal to have all its games aired on ESPN, will remain a four-team format for its duration, even if there's a clamoring for an eight-team or even a 16-team playoff.

"We're committed to these four for the next 12 years, and it would be inappropriate for anyone to speculate what might happen after that," he said. "The things people don't realize and so many people misunderstand about the BCS is that we believe the postseason and regular season are intrinsically linked.

"The people who say 'give us 16 teams' forget how important the regular season is. But those of us in the decision-making position can't forget that. We cannot and must not jeopardize the regular season, because it is the best regular season in sports."

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