The League

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

BCS too greedy


If the NCAA were looking for a postseason format that generated fan excitement and high TV ratings, it might look to the NFL playoffs. Or it could as easily look to its own basketball tournament if it were interested in producing some January Madness.

The choice is not the NCAA's; it belongs to the six conferences that run the BCS and have a sweet deal that they are not about to give up. The BCS conferences routinely take in 85-95 percent of bowl revenue (the take will be a little lower this year, with two non-BCS schools breaking through). In a 16-team playoff format, allotting a slot to each of the five non-BCS conferences would cut too deeply into the BCS share.

Whether the 15 games for a 16-team tournament would generate more revenue than the current 30-odd bowl games, I don't know, but I'm guessing that the higher TV ratings would in fact lead to much more total revenue. In recent years, the NFL playoffs have earned higher TV ratings than national championship games. The NFL is simply more popular than college football; it's also truly national, while college teams have predominantly regional followings. But a playoff format (like March Madness) might build a broader audience. The problem for the BCS is that the revenue would also be distributed more broadly.

The argument against a playoff in defense of "tradition" is bogus. I used to oppose a playoff on these grounds myself. I grew up with New Years Day as the culmination of the college football season, an all-day TV marathon starting with the Cotton and Sugar bowls in the morning, followed by the Rose Bowl and then the Orange Bowl. I watched with my Dad and my older brother, and we ate potato chips with onion dip. (This was a big deal.) The Rose Bowl always pitted the Big Ten against the previous incarnations of the Pac-10; the Southwest Conference in the Cotton Bowl, the SEC in the Sugar Bowl, and the Big Eight in the Orange Bowl took on some outsider. After four champions emerged from the major bowls, the arguments began about which one was really the best of them all. Even as I grew older, I liked the inconclusiveness, along with the intersectional rivalries and the fact that four teams finished on top of their own worlds.

The BCS has destroyed these traditions. January 1 is just one of several bowl days; the so-called National Championship game has diminished the four other major bowls, which no longer have any sectional or conference moorings. A playoff would do no damage to football "traditions." It also would do no more damage to the academic well-being of "student-athletes" than is currently done. (Once upon a time, this actually was a matter of concern.) There is no longer any good reason not to have a college football playoff -- except that the BCS conferences get rich on the current system.

So, however compelling a model the NFL playoffs might provide, it just does not matter.

By Michael Oriard  |  January 6, 2010; 3:17 PM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I’m not sure which BCS games Mr. Oriard’s been watching, but this year’s BCS games have been big hits and have enjoyed stronger ratings than last year. That’s because college football is more popular than ever. BCS television ratings regularly surpass the NCAA basketball finals, the NBA playoffs and the World Series. In 2009, 26.8 million viewers watched college football’s title game between Oklahoma and Florida; 17.6 million watched the 2009 NCAA basketball championship game. An average of 19.3 million viewers watched each game of the 2009 Yankees-Phillies World Series. In the NBA, an average of 14 million people watched each game of the 2009 championships between the LA Lakers and the Orlando Magic.
Second, the BCS structure itself provided the route which Boise State and Texas Christian University took to that great national spotlight on Monday at the Fiesta Bowl; and the chance to share in additional BCS revenues. Those programs didn’t “break through” -- they earned their way into the Fiesta Bowl by terrific performances in the regular season.
Third, the BCS has preserved the great tradition of the bowls. This year’s Rose Bowl between the PAC 10 Champs and the Big Ten Champs was the way it was before the BCS was even created. And the conferences still maintain strong ties to their traditional bowls (the SEC in the Sugar, the ACC in the Orange, and the Big XII with the Fiesta).
It’s interesting that the writer suggests the reason to shift to a playoff would be to increase revenues, but then accuses the BCS of being greedy. If the BCS was really “too greedy,” as the writer alleges, wouldn’t it shift to a structure which promised more revenues? It hasn’t, which shows that there is much more at stake here than revenues.
The single best reason against a playoff is that it would tarnish the crown jewel of college football: the most enjoyable, competitive and dramatic regular season in sports. Ask Indianapolis Colts fans what the playoffs did to their dream season.
The point is, the NFL and college football are different in lots of ways, and the popularity of both is driven to a great degree by those differences. Those are worth protecting.
Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the BCS

Posted by: BillHancockBCS | January 6, 2010 6:01 PM

Yes Bill Hancock, BCS football bowls and figure skating judging.

The pride of sport through out the land.

Posted by: SEADOGMB | January 7, 2010 2:15 PM

It's clear that Mr. Bill Hancock is a toady for the BCS. The BCS is a fraud and indefensible.

The regular season is not a "playoff"; it's the regular season. Playoffs use objective criteria and an independently established process to arrive at a winner. In the regular season, college teams make up their own schedules; most BCS schools pad their schedules against easy teams to boost their records. In genuine playoffs, teams don't choose who they play; they're assigned.

The weekly rankings are also not a good enough criteria to differentiate among teams because the regular season is so short and not enough games are on TV; hence, teams that start higher in the rankings have a much greater advantage than teams which start lower. An 8- or 16-team playoff doesn't eliminate that problem, but it ameliorates it sufficiently so that poll voters don't play the dominant role they now have.

BCS: Backward Corrupt System. America can do better.

Posted by: kennedys | January 7, 2010 3:04 PM

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