New BCS boss undaunted by challenges
Posted: Thursday January 8, 2004 11:40AM; Updated: Thursday January 8, 2004 8:18PM
So, where does the BCS go from here?
While LSU and USC bask in the glory of their split national championship, the system that allowed for such sharing is at an all-time low. In terms of credibility, college football's six-year-old experiment sits somewhere between Pete Rose and boxing in the eyes of the sports world.
Even before the controversy regarding top-ranked USC's exclusion from the Sugar Bowl, BCS officials were feeling the heat from numerous directions.
Presidents from the conferences now without an automatic berth are crying for greater access to the lucrative BCS bowls. Congress has been holding hearings about potential antitrust implications. Columnists and sports talk hosts are blasting the BCS every chance they get.
Stepping into the middle of this madness is Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, who succeeds the Big East's Mike Tranghese as BCS coordinator on July 1. Last year, Weiberg resigned his position on the NCAA tournament selection committee to devote more time to BCS issues.
In addition to probably revising their controversial formula before next season -- since Sunday, both Tranghese and the American Football Coaches Association have called for greater emphasis in the equation on the human polls -- Weiberg and his colleagues will spend much of the next year devising a new postseason format to take the place of the current one, which expires the season after next.
On Wednesday, I spoke with Weiberg about the state of the BCS and its future direction.
SI.com: Mike Tranghese said in USA Today this week he'd like to have any changes to the BCS formula finalized by the time of the Final Four [April 3-5 in San Antonio]. Is that doable?
Weiberg: I don't know if by the Final Four is realistic. We have a meeting later in April [in Phoenix] in which we have a chance to talk to ABC and the bowl partners. Adjustments in terms of next year would more likely be finalized by the time of that meeting. I have that date more in my own mind. We'll have a few opportunities upcoming, we'll probably have chance to meet at [this weekend's] NCAA convention [in Nashville], there may be a conference call or two. And there could be one face-to-face meeting prior to the Final Four in February.
SI.com: What would you most like to see changed?
I'm certainly in favor of taking a look at the poll situation and analyzing it. I know Mike made a strong statement about computer polls [suggesting the BCS get ride of them]. I'm interested in finding out why he said what he did and whether others feel the same way. The weighting given to various components will have to be analyzed again as well.
SI.com: There are many who feel there should be a requirement that a team win its conference championship to play for the national championship. However, since it's your conference that was affected two of the past three years [with Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003] will you be opposed to it?
Weiberg: I'm going to be open-minded about it, but I have said in past that I really don't believe elimination fo a non-champion being able to access the championship game is appropriate. When you get in a situation where you're dealing with teams with one loss, I don't think they should be penalized more for losing in a conference championship game than a team that lost a regular season game somewhere along the way. But I want to hear the argument for it. Also, there's been some concern about how strength of schedule is impacted by the championship games. I'm not real anxious to put in place a provision that puts a greater burden on our championship game.
You could also have two undefeated teams from another conference that didn't play each other. Every conference has its own procedures for determining champions, and I've never really thought of the BCS in dictating how we determine who our champions are. I know it's not the same because this is not a tournament situation, but we have numerous sports where a team wins an NCAA championship that did not necessarily win its conference championship. I have a little trouble in my own mind understanding that criticism.
SI.com: Are you surprised that after six years, the BCS formula has yet to achieve the same kind of credibility associated with the human polls, and do you find yourself tweaking it every year just to try to bring it more in line with the human polls?
Weiberg: I am a little bit surprised. I know that the system has taken ongoing criticism and that there has been continual concern expressed by writers about the computer polls. They seem to be an unpopular component of this poll. The amount of criticism has contributed to what is a perceived lack of credibility of the overall system, despite the fact that every year when we have had a situation that was controversial we've gone back and tried to make some adjustments.
We've always recognized that there was the possibility to be a difference [between the human polls and the BCS poll] in the end. It is true that most of the adjustments made have been as close as possible to the thinking of the polls. What is well known is that when the BCS was created, the AP writers group was not willing to allow its poll to be used as a stand-alone determining factor in determining the 1-2 matchup. I don't know what the thinking is on that now; maybe it's changed.
SI.com: You've been working for some time now on devising what the BCS will look like in 2006. Where does that process stand now?
Weiberg: When the presidents and chancellors [for both the BCS and non-BCS schools] last met [Nov. 16], they asked us to begin a process of evaluating potential models. They gave us a timeline of roughly 90 days to do it. We'll be working at it at the same time as we work on some of these poll issues and will report back to our respective presidential groups sometime in February. The groups will get back together at that time. I don't know that a meeting has been scheduled. Whether we go forward together at that point in terms of doing some marketplace testing remains to be seen.
SI.com: There was much discussion at the Rose and Sugar Bowls about the so-called "plus-one" model -- adding an extra game after the four major bowls. Is that the leading possibility at this point?
Weiberg: I wouldn't call it the leading possibility, but it's clearly an option we have to take a look at. [Note: Since this conversation, Division I-A coaches voted against endorsing a plus-one game].
SI.com: What are the other possibilities?
Weiberg: There remains interest in looking at a fifth bowl, in terms of helping to address the access issue. And then there could be some combinations of the two discussed. Right now I'm sort of expecting it. Status quo also remains an option from my perspective, although there are some who would disagree.
SI.com: The presidents have been adamant about not wanting to consider a full-blown playoff, but what about additional games beyond the plus-one but falling short of an NFL-style playoff?
Weiberg: I really don't see that. I really believe our presidents and chancellors would say that's going too far.
SI.com: When do you foresee being ready to begin formal television negotiations?
Weiberg: The Rose Bowl's contract comes up first. They have the option beginning Jan. 1, 2004, through this summer to enter into an [exclusive] negotiating period with ABC. In terms of our television discussions, unless for some reason ABC would come to us and ask to move up the process, it would be toward the end of the year before we wrap up our discussions with them. It's hard to predict a timetable, really. It easily could extent into January of 2005 before we're in a position to know that. It depends on how our discussions go. As long as we have year remaining I don't know that there needs to be any kind of artificial deadline. We do want to know what direction were going to before we're into final season of competition, and I'm sure network would like to know where they stand by the first quarter of 2005.
SI.com: What's your personal opinion of the way the BCS transpired this season?
I think it was definitely controversial. I'm certainly well aware of what the various columnists said about it. I've also seen a few positive. stories. The result was surprising in some ways, but to me it also wasn't surprising. To me, in terms of the fact we had sold out bowl games, real good matchups -- I didn't think it was end of world. I know some portrayed it that way. Nonetheless, I know it's going to continue to be a source of criticism.
SI.com: Did it actually benefit the BCS to have what amounted to two championship games?
Weiberg: I didn't see that as being a problem. We had a situation more like what we had in the traditional days of the bowl matchups. I thought perhaps there was a little too much angst. If you're a fan of Southern California, you can understand the reaction they had, but being in the Rose Bowl is not such a bad thing.
That said, the BCS has been about putting together a 1-2 game that would be regarded as a true 1-2 game. When that doesn't happen, there's going to be criticism. We've been fairly consistent in saying this isn't a perfect system. Quite honestly, I'm not sure if you were using just traditional polls that there wouldn't be controversy about that. Even in a multi-tier playoff I think you would have controversy.
SI.com: As you develop the next system, does it become imperative to make sure you avoid another situation like this year's? Is it even possible?
Weiberg: I'm optimistic that we can continue to work on improvements, but based on what we have seen so far, I'm not sure there is a perfect result out there. There's a difference in what one person might describe as perfect from the next. I'm confident we can address some of the issues ahead of us -- the credibility of the 1-2 matchup, the access issue, etc. I'm confident in our ability to make progress.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.