Four more years -- of BCS frustration
Fox's $320M deal ensures plus-one playoff won't happen anytime soon
Posted: Monday November 22, 2004 4:25PM; Updated: Tuesday November 23, 2004 11:20AM
And you thought our nation's president was a polarizing figure -- at least he had 59 million supporters chanting "four more years" on election night.
How many people around the country are holding a similar celebration today for four more years of the BCS?
The nation's most controversial major sporting event announced Monday it has reached a four-year agreement with Fox Sports to televise its new five-bowl model, starting with the 2006 season. The announcement officially quashes recent speculation that a chilly marketplace might force the BCS to revisit the possibility of a "plus-one" championship game.
ABC, the BCS' current partner and the network most traditionally associated with college football, withdrew its offer late last week, citing lack of interest in an extra game that has no bearing on the national championship race. (ABC previously reached a separate deal for the Rose Bowl). But Fox, despite the fact it airs just one college football game all season (the Cotton Bowl), stepped up to the plate, offering a reported $80 million per year, a slight increase from the BCS' current, $76.5-million deal with ABC (though with an extra game in the new deal, it comes out to fewer dollars per bowl).
In announcing the agreement in a teleconference with reporters, BCS coordinator and Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg called Monday "a good day for college football." The millions of people who support college football -- its fans -- have to be asking, "How?"
Here we are, potentially two weeks away from the most controversial outcome yet of the BCS era -- an undefeated, major-conference team (Auburn) getting shut out of the national title game -- and the powers-that-be have just ensured there will be no fundamental change to the way the national champion is determined until at least 2010. The only noteworthy developments: the creation of a "more unique and distinct national championship game," to be played on a Monday or Tuesday night several days after the four BCS bowl games (one of whose cities will also host the title game on a rotating basis), and greater access for teams such as Boise State, which will now need only reach the top 12 rather than the top six of the BCS standings.
In that vein, here's a proposed name for the new, fifth BCS game: the Humanitarian Bowl. After all, doesn't this whole thing basically amount to one very expensive goodwill gesture?
A little refresher on how we got to this point:
In the summer of 2003, Tulane president Scott Cowen organized a coalition of presidents from the so-called "non-BCS" schools to rail against the unfairness of the BCS system, prompting congressional hearings and the threat of lawsuits.
The BCS conference's presidents held a series of meetings last fall and winter with the coalition presidents and NCAA president Myles Brand, culminating in an announcement last February in Miami that the two sides, much to the surprise of the actual BCS bowls and commissioners, had decided to create a fifth game and provide more access for coalition schools.
The commissioners were then charged with the task of making the new model work. First they devised the "piggyback" concept, in which the four current BCS cities would share the fifth game, then took it to ABC, where the proposal was met with a thud. But before anyone would have to go back to the drawing board, Fox stepped in and offered enough moolah to make it work.
As a result, it's not inappropriate to suggest that an Australian, Fox Sports chairman David Hill, is doing more than any other individual to dictate the future of American college football. The BCS' five-bowl model was entirely dependent on whether, as it was announced in February, the marketplace supported it, and Hill's network made sure that it did.
That said, Fox was only cashing in on the opportunity that was presented. At no time in the process did the BCS offer an alternative system, because, to this point, the university presidents have refused to offer even the slightest support for a "plus-one" or any other model they deem too similar to a playoff.
Said Weiberg: "The presidents and chancellors feel like once you start down that path, and you have a year like this one where you might have three undefeated teams, then some [other teams] where there would probably a be a lot of controversy about whether the fourth team in is the right team, then we'd be having a lot of pressure to go from four teams to six teams, or eight teams. Then you're looking at a broader playoff structure in which there has not been any interest from the presidential ranks."
In case you're wondering, the presidents continue to espouse to anyone who will listen that they are merely protecting the best interests of student-athletes by opposing any system that would further infringe on the academic calendar (specifically, the start of a second semester). According to Oregon president David Frohnmayer, chairman of the BCS' presidential oversight committee, the number of schools that could be affected by the new model, in which the championship game would be played somewhere around Jan. 6, 7 or 8, is "less than a dozen," thus making it tolerable.
And yet, as we speak, the University of Arizona basketball team is in the midst of a week-long road trip to Charlottesville, Va., and New York, for the preseason NIT, and North Carolina has traveled to both California and Hawaii. Louisville's football team recently played four consecutive weeknight games. The lords of academia sure know how to pick their spots.
Meanwhile, more players and coaches are going public with their desire to see some sort of playoff. As for the fans -- here's guessing they'll make their sentiment loud and clear come Dec. 5 if in fact USC, Oklahoma and Auburn all wind up undefeated.
Asked how he will continue to justify the current system if and when that scenario plays out, Weiberg said Monday, "We've known all along this system was one where there were only two spots. ... This is not a playoff structure. Obviously, if you have multiple, undefeated teams, there are going to be questions. But I still think this system is an improvement from where we've been. We have an opportunity to match Southern Cal, for instance, against [the No. 2 team] where in a different age they would have been in the Rose Bowl facing a Big Ten team.
"It's important to remember, this is a system that is built around the bowls. ... And given the formula we are using at the present time, we believe there is some sort of national consensus as to who those two teams should be, given that the human polls carry two-thirds of the weight in this system."
Last time we checked, the human polls only represented the voice of 65 sportswriters and 61 coaches. There are several million others involved in the sport -- the fans -- who deserve better.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.