Behind the BCS (cont.)
Fiesta officials consulted both Fox's brass and a prominent former sports television executive, all of whom affirmed that the matchup -- which should benefit from taking the traditional Monday Night Football time slot -- should garner decent ratings (provided it's a close game).
From his office in New Orleans, Cowen initially had his own skeptical reaction about the matchup -- until "I really sat down and thought about it," he said. "I think the plusses outweigh the negatives. The overwhelming plus is we have two [non-AQ] teams in. Secondly, I think this is going to be a very popular game on TV. In the past, people could say the reason a game was so popular was because Alabama was in the game. If this game is popular, they can't say that anymore.
"Most importantly, there's going to be at least two undefeated teams [after the bowls], and one of those will be from a non-AQ. It will ultimately stoke the question of whether there should have been another game or two."
Six years since he began his fight for the sport's disaffected, Cowen remains a playoff proponent -- though he has a strange way of showing it. As Conference USA's representative on the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee (which recently added seats for all five of the non-AQ leagues), Cowen is "100 percent supportive of the agreement we have. I've always believed that the current agreement is a step in a journey. My ultimate vision, whether it happens in four years, eight years or 12 years, is a playoff."
Cowen was notably quiet when the Mountain West -- fueled by Utah's Sugar Bowl victory and accompanying political backlash -- posited its own playoff proposal last spring after the other non-AQ leagues had already signed off on a new four-year contract with ESPN (it begins next year). WAC commissioner Benson was peeved.
"The Group of Five was trying to do some strategic planning in terms of how to tweak the system in the future, possibly calling for a provision that would guarantee a second automatic berth for [a non-AQ with] a top 8 ranking," said Benson. "That got lost in the shuffle after the Mountain West came out with its reform package."
As in 2003, any further changes will likely result from the "Group of Five" working together. Once again, it will have to come from the presidential level.
"What we agreed to in 2003 and '04 is playing out the way we envisioned it would," said Cowen. "Until we proved our credibility on the playing field, questions always arose as to how competitive we were. Those questions don't come up as much anymore."
"We've come a long ways, and to have these two teams pitted against each other is a game people around the country are going to watch," said Benson. "The next hurdle for a WAC team or Mountain West team is to truly be in contention to play for a national championship."
As recently as last summer, that seemed like a pipe dream -- but so, too, did a TCU-Boise State Fiesta Bowl. Monday night's winner will be poised to start next season in the Top 10, if not the top five. Their next watershed moment could come sooner than anyone imagined.
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