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Friday, May 01, 2009

BCS Eviscerated in Congress

Sports Illustrated:
The bloodbath Friday at the Rayburn House Office Building offered a faint glimmer of hope for everyone who wants to see a college football playoff. Maybe nothing will come out of the public evisceration of BCS coordinator John Swofford and Alamo Bowl president Derrick Fox by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) in a House subcommittee meeting. Maybe the BCS will continue to frustrate college football fans for decades. Or maybe, just maybe, the wheels have begun to turn toward a more satisfying postseason.

Either way, it sure was fun to watch the BCS supporters squirm Friday.
The current postseason setup is not beneficial to college sports not because it is bowl-based rather than playoff-based, but because the finances involved are not centrally controlled by the NCAA.

The BCS system unfairly includes and excludes, yadda yadda yadda. What I want to know is how does it benefit a college to go to a BCS game and still be so broke they've got to de-fund three sports? That's what just happened at Cincinnati. Maybe the AD is playing fast and loose with the numbers, or maybe there's a problem inherent in the system. Because if you look at track teams that got cut, many came on the heels of a bowl game (Ohio U is a good example).

Why on earth would Cincy go to a BCS game and lose money? Because they were given a block of tickets and couldn't sell them all so they had to eat the rest. This is startlingly common among the college football programs that aren't "top tier". There are many reasons for this; lower-profile programs don't have a national following and can't fill up the stadium with locals, for one. But there are too many bowls as well. Even the lowly MAC gets four bowl bids these days. The result is that fans aren't willing to travel to see a game with no tradition in a nodescript city that their team could get into seemingly anytime.

Compare this to the NCAA basketball tournament. The early rounds are sold out long before anyone knows who is playing where. No one is put into financial hardship through the sin of being good. And less than 20% of D-I teams qualify for March Madness--a rate which, if applied to D-1A football, would mean about twelve bowl games. It's meaningful to get to the tourney, especially for a mid-major or minor program. Not so much with bowl games.

The NCAA knows the bowl system is financially hurtful to minor programs and does nothing--because the NCAA is self-ruled, and the big programs manage to convince everyone else to go along with what benefits them through the mistaken belief that they can become a big program too. Cincinnati is never, ever going to be Ohio State, no matter what they do, and believing they can tap into the big pile of football money that's always just over the horizon is pure idiocy. Other similar schools that see the Big Ten as something to emulate instead of something to battle are just as self-deluded.

When questioned by Congress today, John Swofford, the coordinator of the BCS, said it would threaten the existence of celebrated bowl games. The money flowing to bowls through TV and sponsorships would go to the playoff and "it will be very difficult for any survive," Swofford said.

God, I hope so. If it had happened a decade ago the MAC would still have double digits of men's track programs.

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