Halftime of Monday Night Football on Election Day Eve, 2008:
Chris Berman: "If there was one thing you could change in sports, what would it be?"
Barak Obama: "I think it's about time we had playoffs in College Football"
Yes, that's right, love him or hate him, Barak Obama threw fuel on the fire of the long running debate in College Football about whether the BCS should move to a playoff system. I'm going to go out on a limb here and stipulate that a majority of our TSF readers would like to see some sort of playoff system in place of what the BCS has now. Maybe some think it should have two rounds, maybe others say three, dare I say some think four? Whatever the case, the seemingly routine debate that surfaces every season has an extra dimension this year. The President Elect of the country has made it known that he wants to see a playoff system.
So will the Obama endorsement provide the extra umph needed to eventually make this happen, or will the BCS committee quash it as it routinely has in the past? On Monday of this week, Obama did an interview on 60 Minutes where he stated that he will use his influence ("throw my weight around") as President to push for an eight team playoff. He said, "If you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear, decisive winner." If Obama really wants to turn the heat p on the NCAA, there are several measures he could take to escalate his influence. He could attempt to impose an executive order on the NCAA. He could also use the Department of Justice to investigate whether the BCS violates ani-trust law. Ultimately, however, the NCAA as a private enterprise would rightfully win those battles, but it would do so at a potential price. That price could consist of public opinion growing and developing stronger feelings about the matter, maybe to the extent where the BCS committee would have no choice but to do something. But Obama has his most potent weapon in influencing the BCS in something far more simplistic: the Bully Pulpit. He currently has a great deal of popularity, and he can use his voice to motivate the masses of College Football fans to put pressure on the committee. He also has a class warfare style argument he can make to get public opinion to rally behind his cause. ESPN has recently outbid Fox for coverage of the all the major bowls. That means eventually those games will only appear on pay-for cable rather than on freely available broadcast. This no doubt upsets many consumers who don't think viewers should have to foot the bill for cable just to watch major sporting events. Overall, Obama has a few avenues he can travel to twist some BCS arms.
Now, let's move on to the other side of the issue. The BCS officials have congratulated Obama on his victory and followed that directly up with an assertion that College Football has the most compelling regular season in sports and that the BCS system does produce a national champion. Agree with it or not, the committee's has made that statement. Who makes up the BCS committee, anyways? It consists of commissioners of each of the major conferences and and organizers of the Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Orange Bowl. And of course the commission has the primary responsibility of turning the best profit possible for the BCS. Strange as it may seem, the NCAA doesn't control the BCS. Obama's informal proposal suggests shortening the regular season, something against which the NCAA would protest because that means less revenue for the schools that don't qualify for the eight team playoff than those teams would get under the current system.
Several seasons ago, back when TSF only existed as a newsletter sent over email to a listserve, Mad Jay and I both laid out each of our separate ideas for how to fix the BCS. (Maybe I'll dig that up from the old TSF archives and post that article as a supplement just for old time's sake.) In my humble opinion, both of us proposed good solutions that fans would like and from which the BCS would benefit financially. Those aside, I think the current system isn't tooooooo bad, and that the BCS could fix it with one minor change: put the top four teams into a two round playoff.
As an avid follower of politics and College Football, this debate will make an interesting saga for me to watch over the course of the next few seasons. Realistically, the only way I see this happening is consumers threatening the bottom line of the BCS. That means fans get so angry about the system that they begin to look elsewhere to invest their time, attention, and energy into other sorts, which hits the BCS where it hurts, their wallets. If the BCS get's the feeling that will happen, we'll assuredly see a College Football playoff system.