CRAWFORD: A playoff is born, but the BCS isn't dead yet
LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Reports of the BCS' death are greatly exaggerated.
Yes, let's celebrate that two years from now the top division of college football will, for the first time, crown its champion with a four-team playoff. But let's also recognize it for what it is -- or at least should be: A first step, not some kind of arrival.
And let's not mistake it for what it is not -- the death of the Bowl Championship Series.
The BCS, you must understand, was more than a postseason bowl arrangement. It was a business. It was a partnership. It was, in the appropriate phrasing of that seminal work, "Death to the BCS" by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan, a cartel.
Tuesday, when a group of university presidents (named, let's not forget, the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee) ratified a four-team playoff to begin in 2014, the postseason structure of those BCS bowls and their convoluted championship began their death rattle.
The Cartel, however, lives on.
This runs counter to much of the public commentary. The announcement was not even cold before many rushed to shovel dirt on the BCS. ESPN's website Grantland gave us, "The BCS Funeral," which provided a number of salient points on changes the BCS made -- for the better -- in the college football landscape, but also failed to note that many of its more troublesome tenets will live on.
In "Death to the BCS," the authors enumerated many problems with the system as we know it (at least until 2014).
They outlined the excesses of the current bowl system. Those are unchanged by a playoff. In fact, the stakes are rising with the creation of a super-Bowl (pardon the term) championship game. In fact, two new bowls are added to the mix. Now, instead of gaudy-blazered bowl committees wining and dining and spending their way to preferred status, you'll have entire cities bidding on games.
In a chapter entitled "Presidential Problem," the authors bemoan the leadership of academic officials who don't understand the business of sports, and their role in propping up the BCS Cartel. Yet it was those same presidents who today approved this limited playoff, with many of the same negative elements of the old Cartel still in place. Even more objectionable, they did it behind closed doors, with no discussion of how the financial model will work, though it stretches the bounds of believability that any of these parties would enter into an agreement without at least a working understanding of the revenue sharing.
Bottom line: They have an idea, but they're not telling. Why is this important? One negative legacy of the BCS was that it widened the gap between the haves and have-nots in college sports. Here's a bet -- the new revenue split will widen it further.
If the current BCS bowl payout structure goes away, you can argue that the new system is actually more exclusive, and more of a Cartel, than the old.
In a chapter titled, "Cowardice and Cupcakes," the book explains that the old system gave no incentive for teams to schedule legitimate non-conference opponents. Now there actually may be incentive not to schedule legitimate non-power conference teams. If it's even theoretically possible for a Boise State to crash the four-team dance with a strength of schedule difficult enough, why would any decent team in a power conference schedule the Broncos? The best way to defeat them is not to play them at all. Some might argue that the selection committee could give preference to a team that played a better non-conference schedule. That could be a balance. But that's anything but a safe assumption at this point, and would be counter to anything college football has demonstrated recently.
Look, I understand the significance of the day. But enough people are popping champagne. What the Cartel is betting is that everyone is so happy about this limited playoff that they won't look behind the curtain and notice that they have tightened their financial stranglehold on the sport, excluded even more schools from a legitimate shot at the championship process, and in fact, further entrenched some of the most important issues facing the sport, and all of college sports.
The playoff is a shiny bow. But open the box and you'll still find many of the same things. The letters "BCS" may go away, but the faces remain the same.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, after years of saying a playoff would wreck the regular season, today said, "We've got a great regular season. I think it'll be more exciting than it has been. It's hard to believe that, but I don't think it hurts that one bit."
There was Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS. Nobody has fought a playoff more energetically. Nobody has worked harder to knock down the notion. But here he was, smiling, calling it, "a great day for college football."
So what was it? They were lying all these years? Or didn't understand? Or at last, given overwhelming public sentiment, saw the light?
"As soon as the commissioners realized they could do this and protect the regular season," Hancock said, "the light went on for everybody.''
Please. The only light these people have seen is the light bulb of an idea on how to put together a limited playoff while hanging on to as big a percentage of the profits -- if not larger -- than they had under the old system.
It is the only reason to limit the playoff to four teams. Put eight in and there's more risk one of them might fall outside the big-money power leagues, which means more sharing. Four was the perfect number to keep the dollars from circulating too widely.
But enough raining on the parade. It is, even with all this, an exciting day. I'm not even discouraged by the notion of a 12-year TV deal for this four-team arrangement. That's because 12 college football years equals about four human years. The SEC signed a 15-year agreement with ESPN in 2008, and is re-doing it this year.
Things change. And today was an important change. But the faces remain the same. Long live the playoff. But the BCS Cartel is anything but dead.
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