The once and future BCS

The presidents and conference commissioners are meeting… but on the BCS front, nothing much is likely to happen.

The annual B.C.S. meetings involving 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, which start Sunday in Florida, were seen as an important milepost on the way to any changes. But in the past three months, the optimism has turned to pessimism and the “season of discussion” appears likely to be nothing but talk.

“I don’t know if we’re in a place to have a serious conversation,” said Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White, echoing the sentiments of several high-ranking officials interviewed last week.

The parties that would like to move forward on a plus-one format have no proposals to present.

… But perhaps the most glaring sign that the Plus One will not materialize is that the commissioners who have been open to change have not gathered any momentum.

“I haven’t really seen any hard and fast, black-and-white proposals,” said Craig Thompson, the Mountain West commissioner.

The lack of momentum behind a specific model combined with opposition from the Big Ten and the Pac-10 mean that the status quo appears to be the likely route. Swofford stressed that any change had to be approved unanimously.

The usual suspects continue to express their opposition.

“It isn’t really a case of being open-minded,” Tom Hansen, the Pac-10 commissioner, said. “It’s a case of having certain goals and certain historical relationships that we are very protective of.”

The Pac-10 and the Big Ten have a television contract with the Rose Bowl and ABC separate from Fox’s B.C.S. deal. That relationship with the Rose Bowl is something the conferences cherish for its tradition and its high television ratings.

Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten, said the four-seeded-teams model would soon morph into an 8-team or 16-team playoff. He is adamantly against any playoff.

“The one that seeds them, it is what it is,” Delany said. “It has a tail and it barks. It’s a four-team playoff.”

Nothing scares university presidents, to whom the commissioners report, more than the potential of a football playoff. E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State, said: “You’ve got to persuade 60 university presidents to move to a playoff system. That is just not going to happen, at least in this generation.”

And Notre Dame knows the most important thing here is to follow the money.

The likely next window for significant change in the postseason would be 2014. That is when the Pac-10 and Big Ten’s deal with ABC for the Rose Bowl expires.

“With the lack of contractual symmetry, it’s a futile exercise in the short term,” Notre Dame’s White said.

Speaking of television, Fox seems pretty satisfied with the status quo…

Until then, the biggest drama is probably going to be whether Fox keeps the rights to the B.C.S. Fox is pleased with the results so far, including the ratings, and it will probably need to pay much more next time. College football’s popularity, as measured by regular-season ratings and attendance, has increased significantly in the past few years.

Ed Goren, the president of Fox Sports, said that the relationship with the B.C.S. had been a “lovefest,” and that retaining the contract was the “No. 1 priority.”

“If there are modifications in the system, I’m sure we’ll be as interested in the relationship,” Goren said. “But it’s not for us to say. There are already probably too many agendas and voices to sort this out. They don’t need any help from us.”

… while ESPN sounds as if it would prefer a few changes.

Fox has a one-month exclusive negotiating window in September, though ESPN has expressed its interest in acquiring the games.

“I think that sort of goes to our interest,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s senior vice president for college sports programming. “We are interested now, and we’d be more interested if it was slightly tweaked.”

You wonder how much the WWL would be willing to pay for the tweaks. And even if the Game Day crowd were willing to pay more for the privilege, how much of a difference maker would that be in the end? If you take the BCS crowd at its word, maybe not as much as you’d think:

There is a feeling among the commissioners that the B.C.S., though not immune to criticism, has overcome some of its earlier controversies and that the public has developed an understanding of it. The biggest roadblock to change may come from administrators who do not want to water down the regular season, which they say has a playoff-like feel every week. The Big Ten’s Delany and Wright Waters, commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference, mentioned the lack of buzz surrounding regular-season college basketball.

And while the ending of the football season may generate controversy every season, the buildup is among the best in sports.

“I would say that a lot of people from an operation and a working standpoint seem to feel pretty good about the B.C.S. as it exists,” Swofford said.

Which brings us to Tony Barnhart’s post of the day: his solution to the BCS dilemma. He proposes a plus-one format matching the top four BCS ranked teams in 1 vs.4; 2 vs. 4 semi-final games, with the winners playing in a national title game. He would add a fifth BCS game to accommodate the extra round. He would also permit the Rose Bowl to maintain its traditional arrangement with the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences, although that would mean accepting some tradeoffs:

The national championship game will be on a five-bowl rotation (Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Rose, and Chick-fil-A). The semifinal games, however, will rotate among four bowls because the Rose, by choice, will not participate at that level of the playoff.

That would mean the Rose would host the MNC game less than it does now and that it would agree to a lesser standing than it has now, with three postseason games ahead of it instead of one – all while continuing with the same payout. Somehow I doubt this will be satisfactory. I’d also expect the TV rights to be worth less under this format. Barnhart doesn’t address any of this, which is problematic to say the least.

What he does address, though, and what is a useful exercise, is what the previous seasons would have looked like with his four team playoff proposal. I’ll go through them with his commentary and add mine after each, along with whether I think the plus-one would have been an improvement over the one shot BCS title game – or not.


No. 1 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (11-2)

No. 2 LSU (11-2) vs. No. 3 Virginia Tech (11-2)

Comment: After No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia both lost on championship Saturday, No. 3 Ohio State jumped to No. 1. No. 7 LSU jumped all the way to No. 2 after winning the SEC championship. A four-team playoff would not have helped Georgia (10-2), which dropped from No. 4 to No. 5 in the final standings. It also would have created a rematch of a regular season game (LSU vs. Virginia Tech).

We don’t get Georgia or USC in either game. What we do get is a rematch of a 48-0 game from the regular season. The irony here is that these pairings would have created even more controversy than the one game that was in fact played. Thumbs down.


No. 1 Ohio State (12-0) vs. No. 4 LSU (10-2)

No. 2 Florida (12-1) vs. No. 3 Michigan (11-1)

Comment: When No. 2 USC lost on championship Saturday, Florida jumped from No. 4 over Michigan to the No. 2 spot in the Final BCS Standings. Michigan’s only loss was in a close game to Ohio State (42-39) so the Wolverines thought they deserved a rematch. LSU thought it had the best team in the country at the end of the season. With a four-team playoff, both LSU and Michigan would have gotten their chance.

We would have gotten the game that we wanted here to settle the controversy at season’s end: Florida vs. Michigan. Wonder what ol’ Kirk would have had to say about two teams that didn’t win their conference championships playing in the semi-finals. And LSU didn’t play in the SECCG, either. The Rose Bowl would have been stuck with the third best team from the Big Ten, to boot. Sucks for Pasadena, but overall this would have been better for the fans. Thumbs up.


No. 1 USC (12-0) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (9-2)

No. 2 Texas (12-0) vs. No. 3 Penn State (10-1)

Comment: USC and Texas were clearly the best two teams in the country in 2005. With a four-team playoff, we might have missed one of the best college football games ever played (Texas over USC 41-38 in the Rose Bowl).

Nothing more needs to be said about this one. Thumbs down.


No. 1 USC (12-0) vs. No. 4 Texas (10-1)

No. 2 Oklahoma (12-0) vs. No. 3 Auburn (12-0)

Comment: Auburn, the SEC champ, was shut out of a chance to play for the national title. A four-team playoff would have given the Tigers their shot. Texas’ only loss was to Oklahoma (12-0) but the Longhorns finished strong and beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

The poster child for a four team playoff (although I doubt it would have made any difference ultimately in the result). Thumbs up.


No. 1 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 4 Michigan (10-2)

No. 2 LSU (12-1) vs. No. 3 USC (11-1)

Comment: USC was ranked No. 1 in both human polls (AP, coaches) but finished No. 3 in the BCS Standings. As a result, college football had split national champions: LSU (BCS) and USC (AP). A four-team playoff would have avoided that.

No doubt this was another strong year for a four team playoff after Oklahoma lost in the Big XII championship game. Thumbs up.


No. 1 Miami (12-0) vs. No. 4 USC (10-2)

No. 2 Ohio State (12-0) vs. No. 3 Georgia (12-1)

Comment: Miami and Ohio State played a great double overtime game for the national championship. A playoff would have given Georgia, the SEC champion, a shot. USC, under quarterback Carson Palmer, the Heisman Trophy winner, was a great team by the end of this season.

As a Georgia fan, I would have loved it, of course. But the reality of it is that the two top teams were undefeated and deserved to meet. Adding a two loss team to the MNC mix in that context would have really watered things down. Thumbs down.


No. 1 Miami (12-0) vs. No. 4 Oregon (10-1)

No. 2 Nebraska (11-1) vs. No. 3 Colorado (10-2)

Comment: Nebraska made the BCS championship game despite losing its last regular season game to Colorado 62-36. Oregon, the Pac-10 champ that was ranked No. 2 in the human polls, was locked out. The result was the worst BCS championship game ever. Miami led Nebraska 34-0 at halftime of the Rose Bowl. This year screamed for a playoff.

No it didn’t. What it screamed for was for the voters to get their heads out of their asses and realize that Oregon should have been the clear #2. Teams that give up 62 points to a two loss team shouldn’t drop a mere one slot in the polls. I suspect that a four team playoff would actually encourage more buck passing, since the voters could reassure themselves that it would all get sorted out in the plus-one games. As a bonus, we would have gotten a rematch of the Big XII championship game. Ugh. Thumbs Down.


No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0) vs. No. 4 Washington (10-1)

No. 2 Florida State (11-1) vs. No. 3 Miami (10-1)

Comment: Miami was ranked No. 2 in the human polls and had beaten Florida State (27-24) in their head-to-head match-up during the regular season. But the BCS formula put FSU into the championship game against Oklahoma and left Miami at No. 3. A rematch in the semifinals would have been compelling.

Again, a rematch in a semi-final game. Not good. But Miami did get screwed that year. You just wonder why the BCS formula couldn’t be tweaked better to avoid situations like this. And what would Richt have done with the Georgia job if FSU’s postseason had been two weeks longer? A (reluctant) thumbs up.


No. 1 Florida State (11-0) vs. No. 4 Alabama (10-2)

No. 2 Virginia Tech (11-0) vs. No. 3 Nebraska (11-1)

Comment: Florida State and Virginia Tech were the only two undefeated teams, but Nebraska had a compelling case to be in the mix. The Cornhuskers (11-1) only lost one game (24-20 at Texas) but then avenged that loss by beating the Longhorns (22-6) in the Big 12 championship game.

Compelling cases are slippery slopes, Tony. And again, this would have allowed another two loss team to gate crash. Thumbs down.


No. 1 Tennessee (12-0) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (10-1)

No. 2 Florida State (10-1) vs. No. 3 Kansas State (11-1)

Comment: Florida State jumped from No. 4 to the BCS title game when No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Kansas State both lost on championship Saturday. Kansas State’s only loss was in double-overtime (36-33 to Texas A&M). Ohio State’s only loss was to Michigan State (28-24).

And Kansas State played a Kansas State schedule that year, too. It won its three OOC games by a combined score of 201-14. I don’t see where a plus-one would have added much here, but it probably wouldn’t have detracted from much, either. No thumb.

By my count, that’s four thumbs up and five down – not a very compelling case. Is fixing years like 2004 worth the downside that Barnhart acknowledges even as he pitches this?

2. It will devalue the regular season. The reason college football has the best regular season of any sport is the weekly tension of knowing that one loss can knock a team out of the race for the national championship. Schools have invested millions in facility improvements and count on full stadiums during the regular season. Example: The West Virginia-Pittsburgh game on Dec. 1 drew huge ratings because West Virginia had to win to get into the BCS championship game. That drama would be lost with a playoff.

3. The bowl system, which has contributed millions to college football, would eventually be damaged. Every playoff in the history of college athletics has grown and this would be no different. Once the playoff grows to eight or more teams, the early rounds of the playoffs would be held on campus as is the case with the lower divisions of college football.

It’s obviously not my call, but a solution that raises as many problems as it intends to fix isn’t much of a solution.



Filed under BCS/Playoffs

12 responses to “The once and future BCS

  1. kckd

    Senator, Barnhardt and you both jump to conclusions here. That top four for this year was based on a lot of people knowing there were only two spots going in and not wanting to see UGA play in the LONE game because they had not won the conference.

    On the other hand, if the poll folks had known there were four spots open, I sorta think they would’ve given us that LSU/UGA matchup many wanted to see before UK missed that chip shot FG.

    The bottom line is you can’t assume those folks would vote the same way given a whole new set of rules. But regardless, no reason to mull over that. I wasn’t upset about UGA not playing in the game. Just over how quickly ESPN dismissed UGA when they argued for Michigan in 2006 and at least let Nebraska be a part of the discussion in 2001.

    BTW, should we just have polished the trophy up and given it to OSU last year??? I see you have a big problem with two loss teams crashing the party.

    Hey Bluto, sometimes those two loss teams are actually the best teams. At least you thought so last year. And sometimes playing in the tougher conference makes a difference.


  2. On the other hand, if the poll folks had known there were four spots open, I sorta think they would’ve given us that LSU/UGA matchup many wanted to see before UK missed that chip shot FG.

    I see. TB can’t jump to any conclusions, but you can speculate to your heart’s content.

    BTW, should we just have polished the trophy up and given it to OSU last year??? I see you have a big problem with two loss teams crashing the party.

    Hey Bluto, sometimes those two loss teams are actually the best teams. At least you thought so last year. And sometimes playing in the tougher conference makes a difference.

    You misinterpret my stance here. In the two instances I object to a two loss team, you had two undefeated teams. Last year, there were none – and in fact, only one one loss team from a BCS conference.

    The big thing I note in your comment is that you have no comeback for TB’s last two points.


  3. kckd

    I’ve talked about this enough you ought to know my thoughts. It does not devalue the system. It simply changes what games are important. Tony and you failed to mention that with a four team playoff, WVU would’ve still been playing for a playoff berth.

    The bowl system itself is a one game playoff in which you qualify for a spot. We already have a playoff. So at least to this point, one playoff system has not grown. If what he says is true, I guess it’s gonna happen then. Should’ve thought of that before they agreed to the BCS in 1998. Were you against that?


  4. It does not devalue the system. It simply changes what games are important.

    Nicely spun, sir.


  5. kckd

    LMAO, it’s spinning when I say that. Yet when you trumpet Barnhart’s proclamation of how important that WVU/Pitt game was last year and how much was riding on it. And if a four team playoff happened how that would all change, that’s straight up honesty right there. How exactly would a four team playoff have not made that game any more urgent for the Mountaineers? How would it have less effect on the college football world?

    Let’s put it this way, a four team playoff makes more games important late than a two team playoff does.

    I personally think it’s a little insane to be worrying about your BCS invite in the first half of the season anyway, even if you’re no. 1. ESPN has made it that way it seems. And as far as it devaluing the system, how about that UGA/Tech game in 2006? Did that feel like some extra game with nothing riding on it? I guess it should’ve sent we were both knocked out by then.


  6. Let’s put it this way, a four team playoff makes more games important late than a two team playoff does.

    At the expense of making earlier season regular games less important… but of course, you dismiss that concern as insane.

    If making more late games important is the goal, wouldn’t a sixteen or thirty two school playoff be an even more successful way to accomplish that?


  7. munsons_call

    One correction. In 2001 the set up would not have resulted in a rematch of the Big XII Championship. Colorado pasted Nebraska in the last game of the regular season. Colorado then upset Texas in the Big XII Title game. Nebraska didn’t even play for its conference title.


  8. mc – you’re right. Thanks for the catch.


  9. kckd

    Again Senator, for all the fretting you do over this stuff, exactly how would it change your want to beat UT, SC, UF, GT etc. etc. etc. Would those games suddenly become less important to you?

    I said it’s stupidity to worry about losing a NC in September because it’s early and the season has a long ways to go. You don’t know how it’s gonna play out and it’s pretty arrogant to be calling it at that time.

    I generally take things a game at a time. But again, I was just as interested in the Dawgs in 2006 as I was in 2007 and in 2006 in terms of championships and national recognition, well, we were left playing for pride.


  10. kckd, UT is a good example of what I worry about.

    Prior to ’92, Tennessee wasn’t a big rival of either Georgia or Florida. That changed as a result of divisional play and the fact that those three schools have had to claw over each other to make the SECCG.

    Would the intensity of that change with a playoff? Not with a four or eight team format, but as you expand the pool beyond that, the risk is certainly there as it becomes easier and easier to brush off the effect of a loss during the regular season.

    That’s exactly what has come to be in college basketball.


  11. munsons_call

    No problem. The only reason I caught it is because I am a CU alum and attended the Big XII Champioship game that year. I was also fortunate enough to attend the SEC Championship that year and watched LSU upset the Vols which I thought would send the Buffaloes to the BCS Title game. I agree Oregon probably most deserved to play Miami that year. All I knew at the time was Colorado was WAY more deserving than Nebraska. Ofcourse, Georgia received the backlash of the 2001 season’s outcome this last go around in my opinion. I am a UGA fan as both my parents went there but still thought LSU deserved to go over the Dogs based solely on the fact that they won the conference title, however.


  12. Considering Nebraska and Colorado are both in the same division, I don’t know what I was thinking when I posted that. Or even if I was thinking…