Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Bully Pulpit - Can it deliver BCS playoffs?

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.


Brian "Where's The Ice?" said...

As I stated in the article, here's the excerpt from the old TSF newsletter, VOLUME 005 ISSUE 013

TSF Wants to Fix the BCS (No, we're not joking)!

"Mad" Jay's Fix

BCS - Bigger Cash Series

The BCS is broken. There is no rational argument against that statement. This year, with two extremely good and undefeated teams left standing at the end, was yet another in a litany of disasters that show the BCS fails more often than it works. College football fans have ranted about this joke of a system for years and like the oil crisis, it will only change when the financial motivation for those in charge induces them to do so. I am simply proposing a way that results in that solution. There are others out there I'm sure. I like this one best.

First of all, you cut the number of minor bowls in half. There will be discussion about which ones, but in general we all know the good entertaining ones, and the ones that stink on a regular basis. Playing in the post season should be a reward left for the most deserving teams. When almost 50% of the Division 1-A teams play in a bowl, it is not much of a reward. With the bowls reduced it will do two things - first, the teams will revere a bowl trip that much more and second, it will free up these sponsors for the better bowl games. But more on that later...

Now you need 6 Major Bowls. I suggest Cotton, Gator, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose and Orange Bowl. Every year, three of those bowls will host the REAL Bowl Championship Series and it rotates.

In two of the three bowl games hosting the BCS in a given year you start by playing the top 4 teams from the BCS standings regardless of conference affiliation against each other. By the way I still think you use BCS Standings. They would consist of the ESPN Coaches Poll (1/3), the average of 6 computer rankings tossing the highest and lowest ranking (1/3) and the score assigned by a BCS selection committee (1/3). They would rank down to the top 16 just like they do now.Anyhow after these first two bowls, the winners would play in the national title game. Voila, you now have the game decided on the field and the arguments can center around who should get into spot #4, but there will be very little argument about who the national champ is. Additionally, the huge sponsorship money for these three bowl games gets split amongst the participating BCS conferences. Meanwhile the other 3 Major Bowls will get to go through a selection process determined by their respective selection committees.

Based on the results of their selections, sponsors can bid on different sponsorship packages on these games (primary, secondary, etc.) As in NASCAR, particular sponsors will want particular games based on expected fan turn-out and demographics as well as local/regional considerations (i.e. farmer co-op sponsorship of the Cotton Bowl due to being located in Texas, and so forth.). Additionally the entire 6 Bowl Series, now that it works can have a series primary sponsor and associate sponsors. The money generated by the Series can pay administrative expenses like the selection committee, pay for TV advertising for the NCAA and the rest can be split up by the conferences.

For the 3 major bowls not hosting the series in a given year, their selection committees will be very motivated committees to choose good matchups to get the biggest sponsorship dollars. The money generated from the sponsors left out because we cut the crappy bowls in half should end up being MORE than what is generated now because there are fewer games hence a larger TV audience for those games. I mean just how much business do you think the Fort Worth Bowl between Cincinnati and Marshall actually drummed up? And how many viewers watched that game?

This business model only lengthens the season by one game for two teams. All the bogus arguments about exams, and caring for the student-athletes can now be dropped by the school presidents and ADs because we've gotten them a package that will bring in more money.

The general public may or may not like to hear it, but college football is big business, and that has to be accepted so that a solution like mine or something similar can be implemented and we, as fans can appreciate and crown a true national champion.

"Where's the Ice?"'s Fix

Generally, I have a very simple approach to this. First, the BCS can't go away. The sponsors want the money. The college athletes need a season short enough not to reap havoc on their academics. So they need the BCS rankings for that. Second, the fans want a playoff system, so give it to them.

With these principles in mind, I've bullet listed the changes College Football should adopt. They involve sacrifices on all sides of what the fans want, the academics want, and the moneymakers want. But it will draw more fans out of a desire to watch what they will more likely perceive as a true championship.

(1) The top eight BCS ranked champions of the Division IA conferences get an automatic bid for a BCS playoff. This playoff includes a tournament bracket of 7 bowl games resulting in a single champion. The BCS rankings serve as seeds in the tournament.

(2) Division IAA does the same with their own tournament bowl system.

(3) All teams not receiving an automatic bid to the BCS championship tournament will play in some lesser bowl.

(4) All Division IA conferences eliminate conference championship games and move to a ten game season. Seven games consist of intra-conference play while the other three consist of inter-conference play.

(5) All conference standings' tiebreakers do not incorporate the BCS, but use some statistic internal to conference play instead.

(6) When the offense takes a knee behind the line of scrimmage to end the down, the clock stops automatically -- I've wanted this since childhood.

Yes, this means that programs such as Notre Dame will have to join a conference (Boo hoo, get over it, you should have done it a long time ago!). Yes, the conferences will whine about a shortened season and no revenue from conference championships. Relax, you'll make up for it with the money of a national championship tournament. Yes, the most games any team can play still remains hard capped at thirteen, and the minimum remains at eleven. Yes, this does give College Football fans a tournament and unquestioned champion. And yes, this will increase College Football's fan base.

Anand "EhhTee" Trivedi said...

Nicely done Ice. Nicely done.