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BCS Under Discussion, Again, By Conference Commissioners, But No Decisions Just Yet

The process may be moving as slow as snail mail, but the fact that conference commissioners are more open than ever before to the possibility of a playoff format to decide a college football champion is a big step for sports fans.

Bowl Championship Series
Bowl Championship Series

The BCS selection formula chose LSU and Alabama, both from the powerhouse Southeastern Conference, as the pairing for the 2012 national championship game. Based on a second straight year of low TV ratings for the game that is supposed to be between the best two teams in college football for that season, it appears that the BCS selection process is at odds with the people's choice.

The rematch between formerly No. 1 LSU and new No. 1 Alabama in Monday's national championship game earned a 14.0 TV rating, the third lowest viewer rating for a national title game in the 14-year history of the BCS. Last year's championship game matching national champion Auburn and Oregon had a higher rating, but only by eight percent. ESPN's ratings for the five BCS games (Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl and BCS Championship) were down 12 percent this year from previous years.

The BCS system was put in place beginning with the 1998 season to alleviate the arbitrary and highly subjective nature of determining the national champion in NCAA Division I college football. Prior to installing the BCS process as the way of determining which teams should play in a given year for the opportunity to finish on top of the college football world, it was very possible to have a split champion because of the way the two major national polls turned out, one being a vote of head coaches (USA Today) and the other voted on by the working sports media (Associated Press).

A complex formula that incorporated computer analyses and human voting (the polls) took some of the subjectivity out of the process, but has done nothing to eliminate the controversy over whether the two teams that come out on top based on the BCS calculation are truly the most deserving teams to play for the national crown.

The argument isn't so much over who sits No. 1 in the final BCS standings, which come out the day after the major conference championships are decided, the first weekend in December, but rather whether the third- or even the fourth-place team is more deserving than No. 2. For example: Florida State over Miami in 2000; Oklahoma over Auburn in 2003, even after then-No. 1 Oklahoma was beaten badly by Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship; and this past season, with Alabama getting the nod over Oklahoma State.

For years now, support has been mounting for college football to go to a playoff system, similar to what is in place in all other major college sports, to determine the best team in the land for that season. When the conference presidents and commissioners have discussed this subject among themselves in the past, there has been a wide chasm between those in favor, or at least leaning in the direction of a playoff format, and those adamantly opposed.

The principle reasons given for not adopting some kind of a playoff system have ranged from the college season already being too long as it is, requiring too much time out of school for the student athletes, to the negative impact it would potentially have on the major bowls like the Rose Bowl, Sugar bowl, etc., to the cost of having to play extra games.

With all this as backdrop, commissioners from eleven conferences, including the Big 12, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick met in New Orleans on Tuesday to talk about possible changes to the BCS system, the leading candidate of which would be, at least based on the popular view of the fans, who pay the way, to go to a plus-one, or four-team playoff.

BCS executive director Bill Hancock said the group talked about everything related to this situation, but talk is all that took place, he emphasized. "Most of it at 30,000 feet," he said, "and that was the intent of the meeting. Hancock, who lives in the Kansas City area, on the Kansas side in Prairie Village, said, "There is a general feeling that to make it the best it can be, that probably some changes need to be made."

What kind of changes or how far the conference commissioners would be willing to go, no one really knows, Hancock said, but "there's a long way to go in this process," he said.

Hancock said as many as 50 or 60 different concepts were discussed. The Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference came out in favor of a playoff format four years ago. SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the group had a productive discussion on Tuesday, but declined to say much more than that. Jim Delaney of the Big Ten said he was open to discussing the potential of going to a playoff system, which is a departure from where he was on the subject several years ago.

The potential solution with the most traction at this point in time appears to be the four-team playoff model, with the idea being for the BCS to get out of the major bowl business and have a rating formula or selection committee narrow the contenders down to four teams. The four teams would then engage in two semifinal games over one weekend, to be played at two of the current BCS bowl venues. The winners of those two games would then meet in the championship game the following weekend. This same idea also has been talked about involving eight teams and using the four BCS bowls (Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange) as the quarterfinal sites.

As Hancock suggested, there are still many details that would need to be ironed out, assuming that an agreement could be reached on what tournament-like model to put in place. The general feeling here is: If anything is to be done at all, it needs to be transformational and not incremental in nature, and it must have the full support and participation of everyone involved in the decision. Otherwise, we as fans, and the players and schools themselves, are destined to plod along with the same controversies and criticisms of the process used to crown a national football champion.

I mean, come on, they're able to do it in college basketball and baseball. Why not football? It's true that college football pays the freight for every other program in college athletics, but if football is the showcase of the college athletic season, isn't it about time we found a way to make the championship selection process less subjective and let the best teams go up against each other and decide it all between the white lines.

We are told that any changes to the BCS format would not be implemented before the 2014 season. The chief reason being that the BCS' television agreement with ESPN (reported to be worth $125 million) and other TV contracts do not expire until the end of the 2013 season.

The fact that the commissioners came together at all this week to talk about this - forget the fact that the BCS Championship afforded a convenient and timely opportunity for them to do so - is welcome progress and a positive sign that we may be closer to a possible solution to the time-worn problems, perpetuated by the BCS process, associated with determining a national football champion.

For more information:

Big 12 Conference official website

Bowl Championship Series