It’s time to be honest about the BCS


Today at 2:30 p.m. a Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hold a hearing entitled: “The Bowl Championship Series: Is it Fair and in Compliance with Antitrust Law?”

 Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah),  you’ll  be shocked to hear, believes that the 12-0 (which later became 13-0) team from Utah was denied the opportunity to play for the national championship by the BCS system, which picks two teams to play for the title after the regular season. In a Sports Illustrated story last week, Hatch called the BCS “biased” and claimed that it “probably” violates antitrust laws.

This is the second time this year representatives of college athletics have been hauled before Congress for a dog and pony show to score cheap political points with the folks back home. Earlier it was Rep. Joe Barton of Texas (sense a trend here?), who called the BCS “communist.”


Here is the problem I have with this entire exercise. If you want to have four-team, eight-team or 16-team playoff to decide college football’s national championship, then let’s have that argument. I, for one, would like to see a four-team playoff where the teams are seeded 1-4. And if the Rose Bowl is willing to play ball (and that’s a big IF), there is a possibility that gets done when the new BCS contract begins in the 2014 season.


What I don’t like is that in criticizing the BCS, and there is a lot to legitimately criticize, those who want change show that they have not done their homework. In the interest of creating a memorable sound bite or quote, the critics show an incredible amount of intellectual dishonesty, or total lack of knowledge, about what the BCS is and is not and what it has done and hasn’t done for post-season college football.


Again, I’m not a blind supporter of the BCS. There is change that I want. But here are a few facts:


Fact: Utah was not DENIED a chance to play for the BCS national championship. Utah had as much a chance to play for the BCS title as any other school. But 175 people voted in the Harris Interactive and coaches polls, two of the three components in the BCS formula. The 114 people in the Harris poll voted Utah seventh. The 61 coaches in the USA Today poll also voted Utah seventh and no coach—NONE—voted Utah higher than No. 5. Of the 114 people who voted in the Harris Poll only five voted Utah No. 5 or better.

Fact: Even the coaches in Utah’s league, the Mountain West, did not step up for the Utes when it counted. Joe Glenn of Wyoming had Utah at No. 5. Rocky Long of New Mexico and Gary Patterson of TCU had them at No. 7. Kyle Whittingham, Utah’s own coach, had his team at No. 5.

So where was all the love for Utah BEFORE they played Alabama in the Sugar Bowl? The fact is that while Utah deserved to win because the Utes flat outplayed the Crimson Tide (who didn’t want to be there), it wasn’t until AFTER the Sugar Bowl that Utah became this incredible juggernaut which should have been given the chance to play for it all.


Fact: For all of the flaws of the BCS, the fact is that it has provided bowl opportunities that the supposedly aggrieved schools had never had in the past. How many times had Utah played in the Sugar Bowl before the BCS? How many times had Hawaii played in the Sugar Bowl before the BCS? How many times had Boise State played in a New Year’s Day bowl before the BCS? If you answered zero to all three questions you’d be right. “The fact of the matter is that the BCS has given access to those conference that they never had before,” said former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer, considered to be the godfather of the BCS. “Look at the history of the major bowls. They had almost never invited one of those teams before the BCS.”


Fact: The original BCS agreement that was put together back in 1998 never would have happened unless the champions of those six “equity” conferences (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10) had been promised automatic slots.

“Those conferences already had automatic bowl bids. We (in the SEC) had a long standing agreement with the Sugar Bowl,” said Kramer. “There is no way that those conferences were going to give that up without a guaranteed slot. And remember that we were working with four bowls and those were the conferences they were used to dealing with.”

The fact is that the free marketplace determined that those six conferences would get automatic bids and there were at-large spots made available to teams that could play their way in. Maybe you believe that market forces have no place in college athletics, but that is how it happened. It wasn’t a conspiracy to keep the other teams out. It was the only way to get the deal done.


Fact: While the six equity conferences do get an automatic bid and the $18 million payday that comes with it, the five Coalition Conferences (Conference USA, MAC, WAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) have placed a team in the BCS in four of the past five seasons. Those five conferences get an automatic $9.5 million for participating and another $9.5 million when they place a team in a BCS game. So over the past five seasons the BCS has pumped about $80 million into those five Coalition conferences.

 That’s a lot of money that did not even exist before the advent of the BCS. Should the Coalition Conferences get more? Yes, and I believe they will. I also believe that in the future the conferences will be able to get more than one team in the BCS if they have two teams in the Top 10.

All of this leads us to a final fact about the BCS:

Fact: The BCS does not violate antitrust law and this Senate committee knows it.  I’ve spoken to a number of top antitrust lawyers, including Tom Rhodes of Smith, Gambrell & Russell here in Atlanta. They all agreed that the BCS may not be popular with some college football fans but it does not violate the law—at least as the law is currently written and interpreted by the courts.

“The original agreement was put together by a group of antitrust lawyers and has been reviewed several times since,” said Kramer. “Now there are some political problems that the BCS must deal with but when it comes to the law, unless it gets interpreted in a totally different way, the BCS should be on solid ground.”

The fact of the matter is that whether or not you like the BCS, and a lot of folks don’t, it created something that didn’t exist before: A mechanism to match the No. 1 and the No. 2 team for the national championship. It also increased bowl revenues exponentially because it created something of value to the television networks. It also has access points for the teams in the Coalition Conferences. All they have to do is finish in the Top 12 of the final BCS standings.

Again, if you want a playoff, then let’s have that discussion. But bashing the BCS is like bashing the IRS. It’s easy. The fact is that with all of its flaws, it’s better than what we used to have. I remember Georgia Tech having to play in the Citrus Bowl in 1990 to win its national championship. I remember No. 2 Penn State not getting a shot at No. 1 Nebraska in 1994. I remember No. 2 Texas not getting a shot at No. 1 Nebraska in 1983.

The system is going to change because the marketplace is going to eventually demand it, not because Congress is going to push to make its constituents happy. And that’s a fact.


270 comments Add your comment

GT fan ...

July 8th, 2009
10:12 am

Tony’s quotes:
“But 175 people voted in the Harris Interactive and coaches polls, two of the three components in the BCS formula.”

“The fact is that while Utah deserved to win because the Utes flat outplayed the Crimson Tide (who didn’t want to be there),”

There’s the problem with D-1 football, and determining a TRUE Champion ….. it’s NOT decided on the field!
175 PEOPLE (and their opinions) decided who would play in the NC game. But when Utah took it to the field TB and so many others make excuses for Alabama – “they didn’t want to be there”. Well, they were there, and if they were sooo much better than Utah then “not wanting to be there” wouldn’t have made a difference.

As long as PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT WEARING THE UNI are choosing who plays for the NC instead of the players themselves, the NC of D-1 football will be flawed.

I can only imagine who these “voters” would have put in the Super Bowl last year (arguably the greatest ever) had the teams not played it out on the field. I don’t think to many “experts” picked the Cardinals to even get past the Falcons.


July 8th, 2009
11:52 am

lotsa idiots in here today. Go back and read what Tony wrote before you blast him saying NCAA Football is the only one without a true champion and TB’s an idiot for defending the BCS. NOT WHAT HE SAID STUPIDS!!!!!! He said the congressman from Utah was stupid (paraphrasing) and barking up the wrong tree. He said Utah wasn’t “wronged” or denied anything when in fact THEIR OWN COACH VOTED THEM 5th!!! Guess what idiots, 5th don’t get you in the big dance, only 1st and 2nd do. He agrees that there is an argument for a playoff, just not on the basis that anti-trust laws are being broken because Utah wasn’t in the NC game… read the article goofballs!!!


July 8th, 2009
12:34 pm

I haven’t read everyone’s comments so this may have already have been mentioned: The BCS does suck, but you guys have to remember what it is- it is college football’s attempt to come up with the best system possible without a playoff. The presidents won’t go for a playoff (and Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney is the biggest obstacle), so the BCS has to do the best it can without a playoff. It is much better than the old bowl system.


July 8th, 2009
2:15 pm

BYU won a national championship without the BCS. Since the BCS, undefeated Boise State and Utah (twice) have been left out of the national championship discussion b/c they didn’t get invited into the so-called Championship game. BYU/Utah/Boise St. type teams have no shot at a natinoal title now. How again are the non-BCS conference teams better off?


July 8th, 2009
2:25 pm

Bubba said:The BCS . . . produces more consistently a deserving national championship than a playoff does. The NBA has a playoff, and two years ago the Hawks made it in at seven games under .500 while teams with winning records sat at home. What a great system that is!

Bubba, that was plain dumb. There are always a few top football teams able to beat each other. One year we had 3 undefeated teams, so Auburn got pushed out. Another year, a 2 loss team (losing to unranked Ark and barely ranked UK) gets invited over a host of 1 loss teams. Undefeated teams get pushed out by 1 loss teams several times in last few years. That is not a better system than a playoff.

The NBA playoff system argument is equally stupid. Hawks made playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference and lost in Round 1 as expected. The “winning record teams” sitting at home were in the Western division where more than 8 teams had winning records. That was a product of “division” play where one division was much stronger than the other. The weaker east still had the best team however – the Celts won it all. The playoffs worked.


July 8th, 2009
2:32 pm

This is why the anti-playoff people are full of it. It used to be teams played 10 or 11 games, then a bowl game if they were good enough. People said we can’t do a playoff b/c it would increase the number of games, and Div 1 FB players can’t handle that type of schedule physically and still be “students.” Now, we play 12 games, and the top teams play a conference championship then a bowl game. So we used to play 10 games, but could not add a 3 (8 teams) or 4 (16 teams) playoff on that b/c the season would be too long 13-15 games for the top 2 teams only depending on # in playoffs). So instead, we have a system where the Nat Champ plus a host of other schools play 14 games most years.

Funny, but if we went back to 10 games, played a conference champ game, then had a 8 team playoff (or 11, conf champ, and 4 team playoff), only the top 2 teams would still only play 14 games.


July 8th, 2009
4:08 pm

listen guys there are plenty ways to implement a playoff. Several different versions what would all be fairly reasonable in determining a “true” champion if that’s what you want to call it. But let’s not be stupid about this thing either.

Any man who’s a college football fan and watches any amount of NCAA Div 1 ball is NOT stupid enough to say that Utah, Boise State or any other “pick your fad team” can compete with the elite of Division 1. The real problem is, Utah, Boise and others shouldn’t be in D1. Look Utah is a darn good team and yes they played over their heads and beat Bama but please please please don’t fool yourselves and surely don’t think I’m foolish enough to think they could have ran an SEC schedule with more than 6 wins, not a chance. Frankly, ‘Bama let us down. Look at UGA v/s the Boise States and Hawaii’s of the world. World beaters, folks even said Boise was gonna come to Athens and teach the DAWGS something. They left with a 30 point beatdown as did Hawaii.

It is in now way a dis to their respective programs, but they absolutely are not capable to compete on an SEC er National Championship stage day in and day out. A blind squirrel will certainly stumble across an acorn once in a while. Remember a few years ago in the NFL a winless Miami beat the 1 loss Patriots in I believe the final game of the season. The Pats went on to win the Super Bowl if I’m not mistaken (don’t really follow the NFL), so applying the “we beat them in one game on one day” logic… was Miami DENIED a chance at the Super Bowl?

There are fewer then 10 teams right now, with NC caliber teams top to bottom, and Utah or BS are not on that list… period.


July 8th, 2009
4:50 pm

3 points:
Div 1-A football is the only NCAA sport without a playoff. Div 1-A football has, by far, the most exciting and critical regular season of any NCAA sport. The two are not mutually exclusive.

If Utah State wants to play for the BCS Championship, play a championship schedule. Play and beat Bama, USC, Texas or other big boys in the regular season along with your conf wins and you will find yourself playing for #1!

Div 1-A football already has playoffs – they start Labor Day weekend.


July 8th, 2009
5:01 pm

Scott… you are exactly right. Not sure if you’re a Bulldog or what but I can’t imagine sitting in the stands at the UGA/UF game and there really being little or no consequence. Would my heart be in my chest all day? Doubt it. Would I have been near tears when ‘Bama beat us last year, nope we’d still have had a chance.

Ponder this guys if you will. D1 college football is indeed the only one without a playoff. It has by far the most relevant regular season and is by 100 miles the ONE sport that we all stay enamored with 365 days a year. Would we really prefer it be more like NCAA basketball where no one cares until March and no one cares in April? Not me, I’ll take it like I got it thanks!


July 8th, 2009
5:16 pm

Why don’t the non BCS conferences do like high school sports. You can call the BCS schools Five A and call the non BCS schools Four A. They
can each have their national championship game. The BCS schools have the bowls and the money, BUT with schools like Utah, BYU, TCU, Boise State, and other up and coming schools you have some attractive teams and with a playoff format you could really create some excitment and the TV networks would come around. Marketing could schedule the games in large markets as the smaller schools are in or near a lot of major markets. Go after the Cotton Bowl in the Cowboys new stadium for the championship game. The Four A guys could have some better match ups for their games than the big boys and the TV people would come around.
The little guys would not generate the revenue the big guys produce but
it could be more money than they currently get from the scraps that fall off the BCS table.

aj arizona

July 8th, 2009
5:35 pm

The argument is not over a playoff, the BCS bowls etc. This is Roy Kramers long established red herring. It absolutey does violate anti-trurst laws. 5 conferences share 18 million. 54 teams or so. While 6 conferences are guaranteed 18 million “per conference”, 120 million every year. That means a BYU, Utah, TCU compete and share 9 million with 56 other teams, while the Dukes, Vanderbilts, Baylors, Rutgers, UConn (Div. 2 just 5 yeas ago) Iowa St. Northwestern, Wash. State’s etc. are guaranteed betweeen 2 and 4 million every year regardless of their records. This is indeed collusion and violation of anti-trust laws. You just try to set up a cartel like this in the business world and people are going to prison. Once just one school gets fed up enough to put this in the courts this will be shot down. The old system was better, yes conferences had tie ins but the market determined who wopuld play as at large teams. The BCS controls college football from top to bottom including all of the bowls with congerence tie ins. This has created a caste system in College Football, not based on merit, Duke, Baylor etc. but on Conference affiliation. It’s about the money stupid. Playoff no playoff it does not matter, This is not the issue. It’s about collusion, exclusion and illegal contracts. The market does not dictate here, the cartel does. Don’t sit there any of you with a straight face and tell us that a 1-11 Duke or a 3-8 Baylor is entitled to 2-4 million every year and a number 7 ranked TCU and a #4 Utah get squat. Bring on the lawyers and throw the crooks in jail.

[...] financially obligated to take care of the remaining conferences?  (Never mind the fact that, as Barnhart pointed out the other day, the mid-majors have fared far better both money-wise and exposure-wise [...]

[...] Berry Tremmel, The Oklahoman: Being from Oklahoma Berry is quite objective, which is fresh when reading others work from people who write about BCS leagues or in that region. [...]


July 9th, 2009
11:22 am

For the tech geek who think he’s got a cute online name, “do you want fries”, etc. answer me this? How is it that UGA has 15,000 folks who are in a financial postition to shell out thousands each season for the opportunity to spend hundreds more on season tickets? Tech fans on the other hand obviously can’t afford to buy a single game ticket, even when given free hotdogs and cokes for your dinner. That’s what’s laughable. It doesn’t sound like it’s the UGA folks working at Micky D’s does it? Explain that one Tech Geek!


July 9th, 2009
2:45 pm

its a few more than 15,000 folks paying the GEEF bro, closer to 100,000…. several thousand get their money back each year once the allotment is out


July 9th, 2009
10:56 pm

I think they will gradually get to an 8-team playoff, but I think the Plus One will precede it.

I’m just hoping they settle on a Plus One that takes the Top 4 Conference Champions (regardless of conference) or ND if the Irish should finish ahead of 8 or more conference champions. I think they could justify it on the basis that if you can’t win your own conference, you shouldn’t be playing for an NC.

Looking back over the past 8 years this is how it would have shaken out in terms of this Final Four for Football:

SEC Champ – 7 times
Pac-10 Champ – 7 times
Big 12 Champ – 6 times
Big Ten Champ – 5 times
BE Champ – 3 times (Miami twice and Louisville)
MW Champ – 2 times (Utah both times)
ACC Champ – once (VT)
ND – once


July 14th, 2009
1:00 am

Since the BCS is so good, let’s take their computer rankings and selection committees to eliminate playoffs in high school football, NFL, MLB, NBA and Little League baseball. Everyone knows (BCS lovers tell us) that playoffs are detrimental to academic performance and are too grueling for college athletes. Imagine what negative impact playoffs have on the well being of high school and elementary students. Clever businessmen, eager for money, could use pro teams to stage postseason exhibition games in an effort to draw visitors to warm weather cities. BCS lovers should lobby Congress to pass anti-playoff legislation.

Scott Weeks

July 18th, 2009
7:57 pm

The Big Ten and Notre Dame will never allow a playoff format because the chances of either playing in a playoff championship game would be slim to none.

[...] that explains why Kyle Whittingham voted his own team fifth in the final regular season poll.  Funny thing is, though, the computers agreed with [...]