CRAWFORD: Orange Bowl-ACC deal a lemon for college football
Want to see what's wrong with the upcoming college football postseason model? Look at what happened today with the Orange Bowl, which signed a 12-year deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference.
I'm already on record as saying the new college football playoff is little more than a tightening of financial screws by the old BCS power structure. I mean, look at the BCS official web site. It's trumpeting the new playoff. If the BCS is dead, how can it dance on its own grave?
Compared with the BCS, we're getting a better C -- champion, because of the playoff. But the other two letters are changing very little. This whole deal is the same faces, minus a few. Actually, as it turns out, it's the same faces, minus the Big East.
That's no surprise. The Big East hasn't had anybody besides West Virginia in a position of consistent relevance for the past seven years, and it's losing West Virginia. That math is not hard to do. Simple subtraction.
But here's what doesn't add up: How in the name of all that is Holtz does the ACC merit special inclusion in a premium bowl?
The answer is elementary. It doesn't merit inclusion. It negotiated inclusion. It can afford inclusion. Along with the announcement that it will be aligned with the Orange Bowl, the ACC also told ESPN that it now controls the broadcast rights to the bowl, meaning that it will be taking bids on who broadcasts it, and will be taking at least 50 percent of those broadcast rights for itself.
This is a major change from the BCS era, and signals this: Outside the playoff, it really is every man (and conference, and bowl) for himself. And outside of the playoff, on-the-field merit means about as much as it ever did in the bowl system.
A refresher. When we last left the Orange Bowl, West Virginia was doubled over in laughter at the ACC's latest BCS entrant, Clemson. The Mountaineers had 49 points at halftime, and 63 at the end of the third quarter. It was a farce. Just like any series of major bowls that includes the ACC as an automatic participant.
In the past seven years, the ACC has lost seven BCS bowl games. Its only win was a 20-7 Virginia Tech win over Cincinnati in 2009.
It was given two BCS chances last season and lost them both, running its losing streak in BCS games to four. The average margin of defeat in those, 19.5 points.
This isn't even, "If you can't beat them, join them." This is if you can't win them, see if you can negotiate the broadcast rights from them.
I don't care what rationale you want to use. I don't want to hear that a conference's quality can't be measured by one bowl game. This whole thing is about one bowl game.
Here's what has happened. You have this four-team playoff at the top, representing a quest for the best team in college football.
And right under that, you have the money grab. The Rose Bowl as it always has been with the Pac-12 and Big Ten. This new Champions Bowl between the SEC and Big 12. Those are fine. Nobody's arguing that those conferences can do what they want.
But this Orange Bowl agreement with a conference clearly not of the caliber of the power group and whose champion more often than not in recent history has not even been up to the caliber of the Mountain West or even Big East champion, perfectly illustrates a new post-BCS reality. The premium bowls no longer are operating under some kind of umbrella (like the BCS), but instead are on their own, signing contracts with conferences as free agents, just as other bowls do.
The added wrinkle that the ACC has negotiated the broadcast rights just gives more power and money to a conference based on negotiation, not merit. And while that may be an improvement on bowl officials having that power and money, it still doesn't mean it's deserved or even what's best for college football.
With the framework of the college football playoff worked out, the details figured to be the things that truly revealed whether college football leadership was opening its mind to a more sensible postseason process.
This ACC deal is an add-on that doesn't fit. Don't expect, say, ESPN to point this out, given that ESPN has a TV contract to broadcast ACC football, and it having an automatic entry to the Orange Bowl every year is only protecting its investment. Shoot, the ACC going out to negotiate the bowl broadcast only gives ESPN an out to let it go, given that the bowl has been pulling single-digit ratings with the ACC as its only common denominator the past six years.
This is a clear case of an unmerited place for a conference that has been worse than mediocre at the BCS level in the past seven years. And while BCS performance isn't the only indicator of a conference's worth, it is the best indicator of its worthiness to regularly supply teams to top-level bowls.
The argument here isn't that some other conference should get an automatic tie-in with the Orange Bowl. The argument is that if you're going to have premium bowls, you shouldn't promise (or sell) one of the spots to a non-premium team. Every time you do that, you risk excluding a more deserving team. With the stakes this high, that shouldn't happen.
So while this Orange Bowl deal might be golden for the ACC, it's a lemon for the rest of college football.
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