Every April the major players that make up the Bowl Championship Series meet in the city that will host their next national championship game. The commissioners of the 11 Division I-A conferences (plus the Notre Dame athletics director), representatives of the four participating bowls (Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Rose), and the television partners (FOX, ABC, ESPN) hold a series of meetings to determine how the BCS is doing and what, if any changes, need to be considered for the future.
While I didn’t make it to Pasadena for this year’s meetings, which started yesterday, I’ve been to most of them. So I pretty much know how it went on Tuesday when Commissioner Craig Thompson of the Mountain West Conference made his proposal for an eight-team playoff.
At the behest of his presidents, Thompson has been pushing the issue since Utah went 12-0 last season but was not selected to play in the BCS championship game. Oklahoma and Florida, each of whom had a loss, were selected. Thompson has gone to the nation’s capital to lobby lawmakers, and he’s found a sympathetic ear or two, especially Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. No surprise there.
Congressman Joe Barton of Texas says he’s going to have hearings on the BCS. Barton also said in a recent radio interview that if he can get a bill passed to dismantle the BCS and replace it with a playoff President Obama has promised, on more than one occasion, to sign it.
With that as a backdrop, Thompson presented his plan to the other BCS commissioners. It would select 10 teams to participate, which is the case now. It would do away with the BCS formula and use a selection committee to pick the 10 teams and seed them. The bottom two teams would be placed in a BCS level bowl (with BCS level money) and the other eight teams would participate in a three-week tournament to decide the national championship.
Not surprisingly, Thompson’s proposal would call for a restructuring of how the revenue of the BCS revenue is distributed. The six original conferences in the BCS (ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10) are guaranteed a spot in a BCS championship game and the $18 million payout that goes with it. The five Coalition conferences (C-USA, MAC, WAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West) collectively are guaranteed about $9 million each year with another $9 million if one of the teams qualifies for a BCS game. In four of the past five seasons, a Coalition team has made the BCS and picked up the additional check.
Remember that at last year’s meetings down in South Florida the commissioners heard a proposal backed by the SEC and ACC that would have called for a “Plus-One” model, which is essentially a four-team playoff. The response then and the response to Thompson’s proposal on Tuesday was the same. They listened politely, had a thorough discussion and then said, in so many words: “Thanks for dropping by. We’ll take it under advisement.”
I know Craig Thompson. He’s a smart guy and has done a lot to raise the profile of the Mountain West. He knows this is an uphill climb. Change in something as big and rich as the BCS does not happen because there is a new resident in the White House or because a couple of politicians wanted to do a little chest thumping.
But like SEC Commissioner Mike Slive did a year ago, Thompson put something on the table yesterday to get the conversation going. So with five years left on the contracts for the current model (one with FOX and the next four with ESPN), a four-team playoff and an eight-team playoff have now been put into play. The commissioners promised Thompson that they would take his idea to their annual spring meetings in order to get comments from their members and their presidents.
If the past is a guide, there will be very little support from the Big Six presidents. Georgia’s Michael Adams and Florida’s Bernie Machen have publicly supported such a playoff. Florida State’s T.K. Wetherell has been in that camp for a while. But that’s about it in the South. The Big Ten and Pac-10 don’t even want to discuss it. They have threatened to walk away from the BCS if such a thing is forced upon them. They are making a ton of money from the Rose Bowl and want you to believe they could survive just fine without the BCS.
When I sat down with ACC commissioner John Swofford, the current BCS coordinator, he said that making significant changes in the BCS is like turning around a battle ship. It comes very, very slowly.
So was Thompson’s sales pitch and exercise in futility? Not really. Getting these ideas out for public discussion is always good.
Is the BCS going to switch to a playoff anytime soon? Nope. The current contracts are in place through the 2013 regular season.
Remember that President Obama told Congressman Barton that he would sign the bill IF IT GOT THROUGH CONGRESS and gets to his desk.
Based on what I’ve seen out of Congress lately, they couldn’t organize a one-man parade. I doubt they could get this one right.