Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

BCS Keeps Generating Profits Despite Its Flaws

In this the summer of our discontent there are certainly a lot of issues facing Congress. Between the health care and climate change debates, the continuation of two wars and the state of the economy, it seems that the agenda is pretty booked on Capitol Hill.

Yet, with all this, both the House and the Senate took time out to talk about the BCS.

In fact, the much maligned Bowl Championship Series seems to be the only issue that can garner bipartisan support in our nation’s capital anymore.

President Obama made the adoption of a college football playoff in the Bowl Subdivision a staple of his sports talking points last fall. He advocated it on a pre-election “Monday Night Football” appearance and later in the month on “60 Minutes.”

Then this summer came time for the BCS to march up to Capitol Hill.

First was the House Energy and Commerce Committee in June: Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) put on his best Joe McCarthy and described the BCS as “communist.” In July, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) – whose home state ‘Utes were kept out of the BCS title game despite an undefeated record – and the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened action by the Justice Department on antitrust violations by the BCS because of its exclusionary nature.

While Barton’s exaggeration is laughable, Hatch has a point to his argument. BCS bids, in which preference goes to the six major conferences and Notre Dame, come with $18 million payouts for the participants. But Utah received the same payout as Florida for its BCS Championship appearance and with the addition of that BCS Championship game, 10 teams get BCS bids per year, doubling the at-large bids from the original format. The BCS is exclusive when it comes to who can vie for a championship, but financially there are still four at-large spots, and non-BCS conference champions get an automatic bid if they are in the top 12. With four at-large spots, there is ample opportunity for a deserving non-BCS program to cash in on the big payday.

Ironically, the NCAA was brought up on antitrust violations in 1984 and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of what we will call BCS programs, ushering in the era of big money and greed that has defined college football in the 25 years since. Up until that point, negotiating rights for television contracts were decided by the NCAA, not the individual schools, meaning that the least significant program was earning comparable profits to the Oklahomas of the world. The Sooners and the rest of the big dogs, who had formed the College Football Association, were none too pleased, so they took it to the courts. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma that the NCAA was wrong to prevent those teams from making bigger profits.

While it’s unfortunate that Utah and Boise State don’t have the same opportunity to reach the BCS Championship as Florida or Texas, would a playoff system really be the solution for college football? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.

A playoff would clearly provide the most equitable solution to deciding a national champion, but it’s hardly without its drawbacks. In an eight-team playoff, two top-10 teams will find themselves on the outside looking in. The NCAA will still run into the problem of excluding nation title contenders, and generally those would-be contenders will come from a Mountain West-type conference, which won’t have the strength of schedule of a BCS conference team. Plus, the more teams that get into the playoffs, the more room for error there is during the regular season, thereby lessening the importance of the regular season, which has often served as college football’s own playoff system.

Besides the BCS or the playoff format, the other option is to revert back to the pre-BCS system of naming the champion based on the polls. This system, which seems so archaic, could be a path to recapture the purity of college football of yesteryear – SMU of the 1980s aside. This system made the regular season of college football something unparalleled in major sports. Two losses can guarantee that a team will not be national champion, making that week two matchup against USC a must-win game, not a learning experience.

For all its pitfalls, the bowl system – and the BCS for that matter – rewards excellence over the long course of the season. It’s a 13 week playoff, and at the end of the day, is having the polls pick the top team in the nation any more arbitrary than having them pick the top two or having a committee pick the top eight?

Then there are the bowls themselves. A playoff system would finish what the BCS has started, the reduction of the bowls’ importance and all the tradition that comes with them. The BCS stole bowls from New Year’s Day and lessened the significance of any bowl that isn’t prefaced with Orange, Rose, Sugar, or Fiesta. The Gator Bowl is still fun and the Holiday Bowl has managed to provide one of the better games of the bowl season every year, but what about 1984, when BYU’s 24-17 victory over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl decided the national championship? The bowl games have become increasingly irrelevant because of the BCS, but a playoff system would doom them.

It’s unlikely that the BCS is going anywhere anytime soon. For all the talk of bowl tradition or the best regular season in sports, the BCS is here to stay because of money. There is just too much money involved for the Mountain West or even Sen. Hatch to change things. The bowl system may not be what it was, but even the small bowls can still be a boon to the local economies of the cities that host them, which is why you have the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl. Most importantly, unless a playoff system can guarantee $18 million paydays for the participants, the powers that be will refuse to allow such a move.

At a time when the President has declared the country “broke,” the BCS is anything but that. This season marks the end of its television contract with Fox, and ESPN will begin carrying the load along with the hefty price tag of $125 million per year starting next season.

The BCS may not be perfect, but neither is a playoff system. While politicians bring up antitrust issues and go on communist inquisitions, the only thing that matters is simple arithmetic. Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, there’s no spinning the fact that as long as the BCS is bringing in big profits, it’ll be a part of college football.

Even if the President and Congress disagree.

Ryan Travers is a junior in the College. He can be reached at Illegal Procedure appears in every other Friday issue of HOYA SPORTS.

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