SI Vault
Austin Murphy
November 15, 2010
TCU unleashed its purple power against No. 6 Utah last Saturday, staking its claim to a shot at the national championship. But with college football's power brokers profiting from the status quo and blocking the implementation of a playoff ...
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November 15, 2010

Does It Matter?

TCU unleashed its purple power against No. 6 Utah last Saturday, staking its claim to a shot at the national championship. But with college football's power brokers profiting from the status quo and blocking the implementation of a playoff ...

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The 10--0 Frogs, ranked No. 3, will probably finish undefeated but will still need help, in the form of a loss by No. 1 Oregon or No. 2 Auburn, to get to Glendale, Ariz., site of this season's title game. That helps explains a movie clip Patterson screened for his guys the day before the Utah game. They watched scenes from Hoosiers, in which tiny Hickory High wins the Indiana state basketball championship with a buzzer-beater against a bigger, better-known South Bend Central.

"On a national scale," explained Patterson, "we are Hickory.... We're trying to get that one shot."

The difference being, of course, that Milan High, the real-life team on which Hoosiers was based, was able to earn its chance to play for a championship, thanks to something called a playoff. What a concept, huh?

Big-time college football is a world-class beauty with a wart on her forehead. That blemish is the sport's method for determining a national champion. The NCAA crowns 88 champions in 23 sports. The only champion it does not crown is in Division I-A football, which, in its wisdom, has delegated the task of determining which two teams will contend for its title to a series of mathematically unsound computer formulas and often confused and ill-informed poll voters.

As with many seemingly intractable problems, there is a commonsense solution to this one: a playoff, in which such matters are settled on the field (and as has been done for decades in Divisions I-AA, II and III). And as with most unimplemented common-sense solutions, there is a group of people who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are because they are profiting from the problem.

Hancock, the congenial executive director of the BCS, takes exception to that characterization. "Every conference has bowl agreements, and the commissioners can only act after taking the temperature of their schools," he says. "And if the schools didn't want to be part of the bowl system, there wouldn't be a bowl system." Critics, Hancock contends, "are fixated on the [potential] money. We prefer to do what's best for the student-athletes. And we hear them saying they prefer the bowl system." He must not be listening to the thousands of student-athletes whose sports have been cut by cash-starved athletic departments, even as the lack of a playoff deprives universities of hundreds of millions of dollars every year and enrages fans.

Today's exercise is not to advocate for a playoff (although we do present a perfectly good one above). Rather, let us shine a light on the people blocking reform—the smiling, backslapping, money-making traditionalists heavily invested in the status quo.

Representing this cartel at Saturday's game in Salt Lake City, and rocking a migraine-inducing array of strident blazers, were 10 bowl representatives, who took up most of row 3 in the press box at Rice-Eccles Stadium. They were chipper, and why not? Working for bowls is a great gig, if you can get it. You're not exactly planning a moon shot. You're putting on one game a year. Yet the money is excellent, even for such inconsequential games as the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, whose executive director, Gary Cavalli, is unlikely to go hungry, having pocketed $377,475 in 2009. Cavalli, of course, is a bargain compared with Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan, who made $607,500 in fiscal 2007. Coming in just behind Hoolahan is John Junker, who is president and CEO of the Fiesta and bowls. Junker's salary is nearly $600,000; in addition, three times he's taken out zero-interest loans from the Fiesta Bowl, which he has since repaid.

Not to worry about the bowls, they can afford to pay those salaries and perks. The Sugar Bowl finished 2007 with $37 million in assets and turned an $11.6 million profit. What's more, the Sugar Bowl accepted $3 million from the Louisiana state government—this a year before it was announced that the state was running a $341 million shortfall in its budget.

Yes, the bowls are doing very well, thank you. Though the majority of bowl games enjoy tax-free, not-for-profit status with the IRS, it's a misleading designation. There is plenty of profit involved. Cash-rich bowl execs spend lavishly on travel, parties, political consultants and, of course, their own salaries.

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