Believe it or not, I'm a BCS guy. There don't seem to be too many of us around.... or at least too many who'll admit it or aren't being paid good money for their stance.
Mike, he's a playoff guy.
Each of us has our reasons, so Mike and I decided to have a debate to discover why each other feels the way they do about the current state of college football.
I'll be blunt. I'm a playoff guy, because the bowl system really only serves warm-weather destinations and ESPN. Remember how awesome New Years Day used to be? Nine or ten bowl games with multiple games on simultaneously; it was a feast of college football. Most bowls didn't have tie-ins to conferences except for the conference champions, so while we didn't usually get a #1 vs. #2 matchup, we usually got several matchups between Top Ten teams.
But that was then. Now every bowl has predefined matchups, and somehow the Big East champion now is an automatic qualifier for one of the big bowls. Instead of one blowout day of football, the games are now spread over the first week of January. They're all broadcast single-file so if a game is a stinker, you can't switch to the other game. And every game seems to be broadcast like a pregame show for the BCS title game. Every other college sport, every other football league manages to handle a playoff system. No reason why college football can't have a playoff.
I am going to present an argument on behalf of the BCS. It's not because I believe the BCS does everything right, but because I believe the BCS is a better option than a college football playoff system. Most pundits (i.e., Dan Wetzel's "Death to the BCS") are so biased towards a playoff that they ignore the idea that sticking with the current system may be better than what they are advocating.
So why do you think think the current system is better than a playoff?
I'm going with the premise that if there's a real playoff system, the bowls are dead. There are plenty of playoff proposals that incorporate the major bowls, but that system would be more of a joke than people understand. Can you imagine a Northern team having to win a playoff system incorporating the bowls when they have to play consecutive weeks on the road?
With regards to the minor bowls, they reward student athletes for their hard work at the end of a season. ESPN The Magazine's poll in August clearly showed that athletes preferred the bowl system over a playoff.
You could argue there are too many, but that's like saying you'd like to see less college football. Who wants that?
Why, when it doesn't benefit the majority of student athlete football players, would fans want a playoff other than to satisfy themselves? Sounds rather selfish to me.
Trying to incorporate the existing bowls inside a playoff structure is a blueprint for financial disaster. But the existing bowls could still exist outside the playoff system for teams that didn't qualify for the playoffs. They have bowls in Division II, such as the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Think of like the NIT in college basketball.
Reread that ESPN the Magazine poll. 62% of college players want a playoff system. So it's not as clear as you think as to the players.
But do you realize that most schools LOSE money going to bowl games? Even Ohio State lost money going to the Rose Bowl last season. Flying hundreds of people across the country and housing them in hotels is expensive, and most bowls don't pay nearly enough to cover the expenses. And don't get me started about the costs to fans.
The poll clearly shows that players prefer the current system (by a wide margin) if the alternative is a playoff with no bowls.
The vast majority of schools lose money in their athletic departments. If they were bothered by losing money, they'd do something about the escalating cost of coaches salaries and the facilities arms race. Fans can choose as to whether or not they want to spend a holiday at a bowl games, so I don't see the point about costs as being relevant.
Your other point regarding "every other sport manages to handle a playoff system" I find irrelevant as well. From one perspective, the BCS and the existing system are unique - remember your Mom asking you "if everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?" Doesn't that apply here?
Most other sports don't have the inequity that exists in major college football. Major League Baseball doesn't share revenue between teams, while the NFL does - a major reason why the NFL is so much more popular than Major League Baseball.
Look at the Big 12. As of 2005, Iowa State's athletic department budget was around $29M. Texas' budget was around $90M (nearly three times as much!), yet we're supposed to pretend that these schools can compete on the same level when they can't.
Is the BCS chaos? Yes, it is, but so is everything associated with college football. Playoff advocates would like us to pretend that they can bring order to the chaos by simply creating a playoff system. It doesn't work unless you blow up the whole system (and I mean the WHOLE system, not just bowls or the BCS, but the idea of existing conference structures), and given the differences in state laws and resources and each university's mission, that isn't possible.
Embrace the chaos, Mike!
But chaos is the ONLY thing the BCS and the bowl system has going for it. You don't give me a reason why we should retain the bowls, other than so that players can get an Xbox from the bowl committee. Just because we've always done it, and you like it that way? Is that really a reason?
Look at the bowl games we now have. They're played in half-empty baseball stadiums because nobody cares about attending most of these games. In fact, ESPN actually owns and operates many of them... why? Because it's a cheap source of holiday programming. They find an empty stadium somewhere, convince the chamber of commerce to sell a handful of tickets and sponsorships, and invite two teams to attend. The schools lose money on the deal, but can't turn down a bowl invitation.
Here's what you do: Top 8 (16 if you eliminate conference championship games) teams make the playoffs. Everybody else with a winning record gets to play in the new "bowl" system, which is kind of like the old preseason classic format. Some could be played at neutral sites, but most will be played at campus sites. Cuts down travel costs, increases ticket sales. Players still get their X-boxes and trinkets. More fans get to watch football in person. In the cold weather areas, play the games on a Saturday afternoon...or just bite the bullet, and play a big name school in a warmer climate. But let's nuke all of these ESPN-owned-and-operated "bowl games"...
You can have your cake and eat it too. Change can be good!
I don't disagree that change could be good, and other than a massive loss of tradition, I'm not sure I entirely disagree with you on changing the bowl structure. In fact, I'll even go back and say that it's entirely possible to have a playoff system while keeping much of the bowl system intact if that's the direction everything goes.
So far, I'm conceding a lot, eh, Mike?
So - what's my problem?
My problem is that the current system doesn't bother me all that much, and without me spending another 5,000 words on why it doesn't bother me, let me tell you what scares the hell out of me.
Right now, many people are hoping that the combination of Oregon, Auburn, TCU and Boise State somehow causes a rupture in the fabric of the universe, blowing up the BCS and replacing it.... but with what?
Does it get replaced with a rational solution that involves a home field advantage-based playoff system run by ever altruistic and wise administrators who always vote the correct way in polls and select the right teams for the playoffs so that no one ever gets screwed?
No, because that's not reality.
More likely a new system would be run by the NCAA who is just as likely to go back to the old bowl system including the old conference tie-ins. Or it could be run by an organization that puts together a playoff system incorporating the existing bowl system to placate playoff advocates but ignores the fact that such a system would screw every cold-weather school worse than they've been screwed over the past 100 years.
I honestly believe that the system we have isn't bad. If you want a cliche' - the evil that I know is better than the evil I don't know.
That's why I still prefer the BCS and the existing bowl system over a playoff system.
After watching some of the bowl matchups in recent years, I'd prefer to put my faith in the NCAA over the bowl system. When the matchups for March Madness comes out, there usually isn't much complaining other than from the handful of teams that missed out. But the bowl system gives us some horrible matchups at times. Remember Kansas State in 1998? When Texas A&M upset the Wildcats, K-State went from the National Championship game and fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl. This season, if Nebraska wins out and gets a Fiesta Bowl berth, it looks like Nebraska could get matched up with a four loss Pitt squad. Other than the opportunity to give Bo Pelini, Barney Cotton, and Marvin Sanders the opportunity to exact a little revenge against the man who nearly destroyed the program, that's not a good matchup.
Let's face it, the only thing the BCS did right was the original BCS formula. Take the polls, add in the computer rankings and factor in strength of schedule, and I think it did a pretty good job of giving us a relatively solid way of ranking teams. Nevermind the screwy sportswriters who screamed when the BCS formula differed with their personal rankings. Over time, their howling forced the BCS formula to evolve into something a little less effective (taking out strength of schedule, for example).
I have faith that, in the end, the money will ensure that a sensible home-field based playoff system will win out in the end. The opportunity to sell 100,000 tickets in Ann Arbor, Columbus, and Happy Valley will win out over the opportunity to sell 70,000 tickets in New Orleans. Sure, they may try the bowl sites originally to placate the bowls, but fans will vote with their feet. Most fans won't be able to travel thousands of miles week after week, and the empty seats will speak volumes.
Eventually, the untapped market for an NCAA football tournament will be tapped, and the money involved will be huge. ESPN is paying $125 million a season to televise the BCS, but CBS and Turner Sports are paying over $750 million a season to televise the NCAA basketball tournament. That's right: $11 billion over 14 years. Just imagine what an NCAA football tournament will bring in. The money will be absolutely incredible.