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August 16, 2011
The unsatisfying (and deeply troubled) BCS system is a boon to few, while a 16-team elimination bracket could lift all of college football—all season long
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August 16, 2011

Why There Needs To Be A Playoff

The unsatisfying (and deeply troubled) BCS system is a boon to few, while a 16-team elimination bracket could lift all of college football—all season long

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Tall Tale number 4: "Under the BCS, the entire regular season is a playoff." In fact, Fishel writes, "if the regular season was truly a playoff, no undefeated team would ever be denied a national championship, yet this happens with regularity under the BCS."

Number 5: "A playoff would destroy the regular season." Actually, Fishel rebuts, "a playoff would greatly enhance the regular season"—considering that, as described earlier, hundreds more games would have national-championship implications.

Number 7 warns that a playoff would spell the doom of the bowl system. That's speculation, not fact. The bowls will survive, albeit in the shadow of the playoff. The major ones would no longer have their pick of the elite teams, and the minor ones would have more trouble finding 6--6 squads. The bowls won't go away. They may even provide some entertaining games. Hancock has talked about how bowls provide players "a multiday experience, usually in a different culture," such as when Tulsa players visited the USS Arizona Memorial while the team was in Honolulu for the Hawaii Bowl. That can still be true. Exposed, at last, to free-market forces, the bowls would simply be demoted to the status of the NIT.

"GOODNESS GRACIOUS," HANCOCK PROCLAIMED, ABOUT two months before his date with the Department of Justice, "with national and state budgets being what they are, it seems like a waste of taxpayers' money to have the government looking into how college football games are played."

Of course if Hancock were genuinely concerned about wasting taxpayer money, he would repent his involvement with the BCS and start advocating for a playoff. Of the 120 athletic departments that play FBS football, 106 lost money in 2009, according to an NCAA report. All over the country schools are cutting entire sports programs while turning to student fees, academic funds and taxpayer support to balance the books of athletic departments. Meanwhile the presidents are missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars by outsourcing postseason football. Bowl organizers have taken them to the cleaners by such methods as the now infamous "ticket commitment." A school playing in a bowl is required to purchase a set number of tickets. When the university is unable to resell those (often wildly overpriced) tickets, it takes a bath. Forced to purchase $3,349,835 worth of tickets, Connecticut lost $2,673,587 at last January's Fiesta Bowl on admission sales alone. (And yes, Mr. Hancock, that was taxpayer money.)

For a long time university presidents were credulous consumers of the BCS's so-called tall tales. Now many are wavering in their support of the BCS. At the request of Oliver Luck, West Virginia's athletic director, the Big East's annual spring meetings included what Luck hoped would be "a legitimate and intellectually honest discussion about bowl finances." Luck has also called on the NCAA to look at the issue and has decried what he perceived as "a knee-jerk reaction to defend the system without engaging in a reasonable dialogue."

Wetzel, also a Yahoo! columnist, has written of "exhaustion" among commissioners and administrators who are weary of advocating for a system they no longer believe in. If they're sick of it now, imagine how they'll feel should a Department of Justice investigation kick in and the discovery process start. Imagine if they have to deliver reams of documents they would just as soon never saw the light of day.

It only gets uglier from here on out, and if the presidents at whose pleasure Hancock serves decide to cut their losses, the result could be a compromise: a plus-one. That is, two finalists for a national title game would emerge from the traditional bowl season—regardless of conference. That would fall far short of what playoff advocates are asking for. And cash-strapped schools would still be handing over more than 50% of their profits to the bowl bandits. But it would be a start.

Decades hence sports historians may look back on this as the year the BCS lost its grip on the postseason. For Hancock & Co. these are turbulent, troubling times. For the majority of college football fans, it may turn out that 2011 was a very good year.

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