It's All About the Benjamins
by Jim Alderson
TSL Extra, Issue #21

Changes in how the BCS will determine the two teams that play for the National Championship have again been announced. The BCS continues to tweak its amalgamation of polls, computer rankings and guesses due to its tendency to shoot itself in the foot the last couple of years in coming up with participants in last year’s Rose Bowl and the Orange the year before that. This has led to continued and repeated calls for some sort of playoff to determine a true national champion for the sport.

How to determine teams for said playoff run the gamut from a full-blown sixteen-team postseason extravaganza based on the model provided by the hugely-successful NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to a more modest eight-team affair to a four-team one determined by re-seeding the winners following the four BCS bowls. Everybody has a notion of how a playoff should be run.

One Possible Format

The format seen often, especially by sportswriters, is the egalitarian sixteen-team playoff, in which all conference champions are invited. Looking at how this would have played out last season, one can start with the final [pre-bowl] BCS standings for a rough idea:

1. Miami
2. Nebraska
3. Colorado
4. Oregon
5. Florida
6. Tennessee
7. Texas
8. Illinois
9. Stanford
10. Maryland
11. Oklahoma
12. Washington St
13. LSU
14. South Carolina
15. Washington

That’s a good start, but, of course, we have to include the champions of the non-BCS conferences, none of whom were within shouting distance of the BCS standings. These would have been:

  • CUSA: Louisville
  • MAC: Toledo
  • Mountain West: BYU
  • WAC: Louisiana Tech
  • Sun Belt: North Texas State.

This would require the bumping of some teams from the BCS standings, starting with those below LSU, the lowest-rated BCS conference champion, South Carolina and Washington, then the next lowest of the non-champions, Oklahoma. We would arrive at a sixteen-team playoff of:

1. Miami
2. Nebraska
3. Colorado
4. Oregon
5. Florida
6. Tennessee
7. Texas
8. Illinois
9. Stanford
10. Maryland
11. LSU
12. Louisville
13. Toledo
14. BYU
15. Louisiana Tech
16. North Texas

First round games would obviously have to be held at the stadiums of the higher-ranked seeds, since, apart from the question of the fans of advancing teams traveling week after week to various sites, the neutral bowl site that got stuck with the North Texas-Miami clunker of a game would immediately opt out of the playoff, probably before the game was even played.

Going on the assumption that the higher-seeded team would win at home, a very reasonable one considering the first-round match-ups, even LSU at Tennessee -- the Tigers, in a second game in a row against the Vols, this time at Neyland Stadium, would not be catching an emotionally spent UT team a week after its draining win over Florida, but instead a fired-up and angry group of Vols looking for payback.

Taking all of the higher seeds gives us a second round of:


Continuing on would give us a potential Football Final Four of Miami, Nebraska, Colorado and Oregon. Where these three games would be held (at the sites of the existing bowls as generally advocated by playoff proponents) is the topic for another discussion.

We probably would have seen Miami emerge as champion (they were, after all, the best team around last year). The Canes would have earned their coronation as college football’s best on the field in a democratic playoff featuring teams from all Division I-A conferences. It would be hailed as a triumph of sports, equal to or eclipsing the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball Tournament. It would be a terrific situation, claim its proponents, and, according to some, "will happen," except for the fact that it won’t, and the reason is money.

Divvying Up the Dollars … Or Not

Chances are the monies to be realized from the sale of the television rights to a sixteen-team playoff would be enormous, much greater than the $90 million ABC is shelling out each year for the rights to the four-game BCS. The question is to whom that money will be paid.

Proponents of a playoff point to the staggering $545 million CBS is shelling out each year for the rights to the hugely successful NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. But of that CBS money, only $70 million is distributed to the thirty Division I conferences the NCAA lists as having received a share from the 2000-01 season.

Of ABC’s BCS money, the same $70 million is distributed, with virtually all going not across the board, but to the six BCS conferences. Each of the six BCS conferences is guaranteed almost $12 million in BCS monies each year, with an additional $6 million going to conferences that produce a second BCS team (the math doesn’t add up because the Big Ten and Pac 10 have separate deals with the Rose Bowl).

This resulted, in 2000-01, of the $12 million received by the BCS conferences being well above what the SEC [$7.7M], ACC [$7M], or even the Big East, a conference whose roots are in basketball [$6.8M], received for the NCAA Men's Tournament. For the six BCS conferences, the really big bucks are in football.

The NCAA has used revenue from the Men’s Basketball Tournament to run a huge welfare system. The teams and conferences that contend for the titles receive relatively little of the money, instead paying exorbitant taxes to finance, among other things, the astonishing $271 million NCAA budget, and to cover losses of $9.2 million conducting Division III championships, $7.9 million conducting Division II championships, and $17.8 million conducting those of Division I, including $6 million lost on the women’s tournament.

Throw in Pell Grants and other loans and monies made available to NCAA members, and there is not a lot left over to award the teams actually playing in the tournament.

The loudest proponents of a welfare system are always those receiving the monies and those charged with collecting and then handing them out. It should come as no surprise that the strongest voices in favor of a playoff system, other than sportswriters with a limited knowledge of economics or the workings of a market economy [it is why they are sportswriters], are the NCAA bureaucracy and those conferences not part of the BCS. They want another handout, one that would come from the NCAA running a Division I-A football playoff, and seizing the monies. It is not likely to happen. The BCS was expressly created to keep that money away from the NCAA, and it will not be given up without a fight.

Marking Territory

Following the 2000 football season, Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, irate at Miami being jobbed out of the Orange Bowl MNC game, called for a playoff. In 2002, Big East Commissioner and Bowl Championship Series Chairman Mike Tranghese, in a recent story in the Louisville Courier-Journal, called any proposal that would transfer football postseason income from the six BCS conferences to the NCAA "socialistic." Paul had only a slightly larger revelation on the road to Damascus.

This is from a commissioner who has often been criticized for favoring the basketball-only members of his conference. Tranghese showed a remarkable grasp of college athletics’ new economy when, in language that left little room for interpretation, he told the paper, "We [the BCS] don’t want the NCAA to run college football." That is about as clear as it gets.

Tranghese went even further. BCS founder and retired SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer, whenever the subject of a Division I-A football playoff was broached in his presence, routinely threatened to pull the BCS conferences out of the NCAA. Tranghese echoed that thinking when he said the only way the BCS schools would leave was if "the NCAA made a move to control postseason revenue." That can be regarded as a threat along the lines of "Leave our money alone or else," and considering the amount of money involved, not an empty one. This money is going to stay with the BCS conferences.

What will be the response of the NCAA? When one considers that over the last ten years thirty-seven of the forty participants in the Final Four have been BCS football schools, and the most recent non-BCS champion, Connecticut in 1999, is on its way to BCS inclusion, the answer is: not much. The NCAA and its membership cannot afford to jeopardize that fat CBS basketball contract, which is what would happen if the BCS conferences walked and took most of the basketball powers with them; it will cave in.

The sacrificing of the MAC, CUSA, WAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt will, in the end, be considered a small price to pay for the maintaining of the basketball tournament revenues. The BCS will get what it wants, which can be summed up in two words: Super Conference.

The BCS conferences want their own football division controlling their own purse strings, and chances are they will get it. The weeding out of Division I-A has already begun with new rules that will eliminate a number of non-BCS entities. There are rumblings of newer, even tougher rules that would apply to whole conferences instead of individual teams. An interesting ‘Catch 22’ of a rule for inclusion in the new ‘BCS’ Division would be one that demands that a conference have already played in a BCS game. It might not be quite that brazen, but expect something similar.

The Shakeup is Underway

The weeding out process has also begun within the BCS conferences, too. Temple is history, replaced by a Connecticut that will meet the new guidelines, and programs at Baylor, Duke and Wake Forest are also drawing long looks. I imagine the Big XII would love to replace Baylor with BYU, and while Wake Forest is still Weak Forest, Duke is making a serious financial commitment to football, although it remains to be seen if it will have much of an effect. I see sixty-four teams in the new BCS Division. BYU might replace Baylor, but Louisville is the only other non-BCS program that has the financial budgetary muscle to perhaps shoulder its way in.

There will be much outrage and complaining on the part of the non-BCS schools and conferences left out of the new BCS Division, which has already started among non-BCS Athletic Directors such as Rick Bay of San Diego State, who sees the writing on the wall. There will be the inevitable call for lawsuits, but, quite frankly, if lawyers for the non-BCS conferences could find that the Constitution contained a clause allowing the Mountain West or MAC to participate at the top level of college football [and collect a cut], we would have already seen it. There were similar calls for legal action twenty years ago, the last time a major cut was made in the top ranks, relegating the weaker programs to Division I-AA, and they amounted to nothing. This next round should also pass legal muster.

There are some who wonder whether a tightening of Division I-A rules that lead to a BCS Division and perhaps major conference realignment would leave Virginia Tech on the outside looking in. My feeling is that if anyone in the Tech administration thought for one second that Virginia Tech would not be a part of the new football order, we would not be seeing the completion of the South end zone expansion to Lane Stadium with another major expenditure to add to the West stands.

Tech will do fine, and so will the Big East. Connecticut would not be spending the millions necessary to make the move to the top football echelon if they thought for an instant their conference would suddenly be pulled out from under them. UConn AD Lew Perkins can be classified as a visionary for seeing this coming over a decade ago, when the Big East added football, and leading the charge to have the Huskies move up. Also, Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, often derided as a tool of his conference’s basketball interests, also has shown that he has a firm understanding of what is coming in football, which is the super conference, or BCS Division.

The Commissioners of the six BCS conferences will meet July 29 to discuss the state of their sport. It will be interesting to read what comes out of their meetings. As for a playoff, I have always felt that when a playoff becomes more profitable than the current arrangement, we will see a playoff. When the BCS conferences formally control their own postseason destiny and, more importantly, postseason money, without interference from the NCAA or the non-BCS leagues, it will be.



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