Saturday, December 4, 2004
The organizers of college football's Bowl Championship Series should scrap their broken system in favor of the kind of playoff used at every other level of collegiate sports.
Unfortunately, there is almost no chance that will happen before 2010. In signing a $320 million agreement last month to televise the BCS from 2007 through 2010, Fox Sports reported it would accept the system as it is.
That's a shame, not only because the current system is illogical and unfair, but also because it is costing universities millions of sorely needed dollars.
The Bowl Championship Series uses a complicated formula involving computer and other human rankings to determine the top two teams in college football and match them in a single bowl game to determine the national champion. In theory, the system is designed to avoid situations like the one in 1990, when the University of Colorado and Georgia Tech shared the title.
But the system is enormously flawed and often doesn't work, as was the case last year when Southern California and Louisiana State split the title.
This year, five teams -- Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Auburn, Utah and Boise State -- entered Saturday's games with perfect records. But only two will get to play in the FedEx Orange Bowl, this year's national championship game. There is the distinct possibility that four of the five undefeated schools could win their bowl games. It's hard to see how the BCS clarifies anything in such a scenario.
The biggest beef in all this? Boise State. The Broncos, owners of the nation's longest winning streak at 22 games, get rewarded with a trip to Memphis for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and a $1.35 million payday. That's nice, but it's merely a fraction of the $14 million to $17 million each the other undefeateds -- and a couple of teams with three or four losses -- will get for appearing in BCS games.
Boise State is getting the shaft because the BCS has no interest in schools such as Boise State. Rather, the focus of the BCS is on protecting the interests of Notre Dame and the 63 schools in the six major conferences. Those conferences are guaranteed seven of the eight spots in the four BCS bowl games, and they usually get all eight. That means anywhere from $99 million to $136 million will be divided among all of the major conference teams every year.
Meanwhile, the other 53 teams in Division 1 are left to scrounge for one spot in the BCS. Until Utah did so this year, no school from outside the BCS conferences had ever made it to a BCS game.
Such a system ensures that the rich get richer. For example, the University of Colorado, a member of the Big 12, is guaranteed to share in BCS money every year, whether or not the Buffs go to a BCS game. On the other hand, Colorado State and Air Force, members of the Mountain West, have never seen a dime of BCS money.
Ironically, the TV networks often are blamed for the BCS mess. But the networks aren't enamored of the system. ABC, which got the original BCS contract, reduced its bid from $25 million per game to $17 million per game for the 2007 to 2010 contract. Fox upped the ante, but is still only $20 million per game.
Compare that with the $3 billion a Swiss company offered to pay during eight years for the rights to a 16-team college football playoff. And that offer is 5 years old.
The truth is, a playoff would generate significantly more revenue for all 117 teams playing major college football and would give smaller schools an equal chance to compete. Finally, it would guarantee what the BCS promised but can't deliver -- an undisputed national champion.