Future of the BCS (cont.)
Posted: Friday January 4, 2008 10:29AM; Updated: Friday January 4, 2008 3:38PM
Leaders of the sport generally point to two primary concerns that would arise from a playoff -- that it would devalue college football's uniquely gripping regular season, and that it would unduly interfere with players' academics.
"Whenever my [league's] presidents have asked me about the positives and negatives of a playoff, I tell them the two positives are [more] money and people will stop yelling and screaming," said Tranghese. "And the negative is that the value and meaning of the regular season will be diminished. Playoff proponents who say that's not true -- that's just pure stupidity."
Tranghese points to Pittsburgh's upset of West Virginia the final night of the regular season, a riveting game that severely impacted the national-championship picture. "If there had been a playoff, who would have watched that game?" he said. "It would have no meaning. West Virginia would already be in the playoff.
"The BCS has created what I call cross-watching," said Tranghese. "An LSU fan had interest in that game, an Ohio State fan had interest in that game. Most of that would go away if we had a football playoff -- that is one thing I'm certain of."
Indeed, there have been numerous examples in recent years of games garnering high national interest that likely would not have happened without such high stakes involved. Last year's Thursday night game between undefeated Big East teams West Virginia and Louisville drew the second-highest rating (5.3) in ESPN history. A similar game the following week between Louisville and Rutgers did nearly as well (5.0).
Meanwhile, this year's late-season Friday night game between WAC foes Hawaii and Boise State earned the second-highest rating (2.8) in ESPN2's history (that channel's season average: 1.1). The next night's ABC duel between No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Missouri -- a rivalry game long ignored by the rest of the country -- drew a 6.6, well above the network's season average of 3.9. This season, CBS recorded its highest college football ratings since 1999 and ESPN had its most viewers for college football since 1994.
"Whether you like the BCS or don't like the BCS, no matter how cynical you may be, you have to agree it has contributed to the popularity of college football, particularly in the regular season," said Slive. "Years ago, when Hawaii played Boise State, it was of interest solely to those communities. It's now of interest to everyone."
The other common argument against a playoff -- the one regarding academics -- tends to draw more rolled eyes from the public. University presidents have repeatedly stressed their opposition to any postseason arrangement that would interfere with first-semester finals (usually held in mid-December) or would carry the season into a second semester (usually starting in mid-January).
Playoff proponents counter that plenty of other sports, such as baseball and basketball, cross over two semesters (though those sports also account for many of the NCAA's lowest APR scores), and that Divisions I-AA, II and III all hold their playoffs during the mid-December finals season.
"Don't insult my intelligence," said Tranghese. "Don't compare I-AA football to I-A football. Appalachian State-Delaware, that's a great game, but they are not operating in the limelight that I-A is. For anyone to think there could be a I-A playoff during exams -- the press demands, the television demands, they're just huge.
"People criticize us for low graduation rates -- then those same people want us to play playoffs during exams."
Many of those same concerns will come up in the discussion of a plus-one, but apparently they're not so mitigating as to hinder interest.
"A plus-one," said Tranghese, "is not a playoff."
That much is clear, if for no other reason than the fact that executives for most of the major bowls -- which, understandably, are opposed to a full-scale playoff -- are supportive of the plus-one concept. Rather than diminishing their games' importance, as a playoff would, the bowls see a plus-one as a possible upside for their business.
"A plus-one is helpful because it gives every major bowl the opportunity to have the winner of that game mean something," said Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker. "We're bowl enthusiasts, and we think there's plenty of meaning in the games already, but if we can add even more meaning, that's a positive."
"We're open to it. We certainly are," said Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms. "Anything that enhances the meaning of your bowl game as it relates to a national-title game is worth considering."