The BCS Presidential Oversight Committee Meeting: Questions Presidents Must Ask

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

Today, the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee is meeting in Washington, D.C.  At the meeting, FBS conference commissioners will present the new post-season model, which they endorsed last week, to 12 university presidents.  The BCS has acknowledged that the proposal involves a four-team seeded playoff.  Other reports indicate that the four teams would be selected by a committee and would face-off in already existing bowl games.  Additional reports indicate that the site of the national championship game would be determined by a bidding system.  While the commissioner’s proposed new post-season model marks clear differences from the current BCS system, university presidents should ask the following questions and require sufficient answers before signing off on the plan. 

1.  Term of the Agreement

The first question presidents must ask, is how long of an agreement must they enter into if they approve the proposed plan?  The current BCS system has been in place since 1998.  While it was adopted to thwart previous criticism of the NCAA football post-season model, the current BCS system has attracted a large amount of criticism. 

Recognizing the amount of criticism that seems to befall any college football post-season model, university presidents should suggest that the term of this agreement be long enough to work any kinks out of the system, but not so long that changes cannot be made if it turns out to be an imperfect system.  In that regard, a five to six-year agreement would likely be the most beneficial term.

The elephant in the room when it comes to the length of the term, is arguably television contracts.  The expiration of the BCS’s current agreement coincides with the expiration of its television agreements.  Thus, there is the possibility that the BCS and conference commissioners believe that a lengthier agreement will benefit network negotiations.   Arguably, the longer that the BCS and conference commissioners can say that the new deal is in place, the more that networks will be willing to spend on deals. 

However, by shortening the term, the conferences and universities take away some of the negotiating power from the networks.  Shortening the term essentially requires networks to re-negotiate their television contracts at the end of the term.  Understandably, this opens up the possibility of conferences and universities obtaining more money from multiple television contracts.

2.  The Selection Committee

As noted above, it appears that conference commissioners propose that the teams that participate in the four-team playoff be selected by a committee.  This is arguably the least controversial proposal brought by the commissioners.  Most notably, a selection committee is used to seed the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  Although it is an imperfect method, it works.  Nonetheless, the presidents should question how the committee will be made up, and what safeguards will be in place to ensure that the nation’s top-four teams play in the playoff.

3.  Costs

The biggest issue university presidents should have with the proposed system, is its cost.  For all intensive purposes, under the proposed model, a team that makes the national championship game would be playing in two bowl games.  Playing in two bowl games understandably involves significant costs.

Before approving the proposed model, university presidents must rest assured that they understand the extent of these costs and who they will be borne by.  Under the current BCS model, teams playing in BCS bowl games are required to purchase a certain amount of tickets.  If they do not sell these tickets, they eat their cost.  This can cost a school hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Additionally, there are large travel costs associated with playing in bowl games.  Under the proposed model, these costs will now have to be borne twice.  This is because teams will have to travel to a bowl site to play in the playoff and then again to whichever city bid the highest to host the national championship game.

For contractual reasons, it is unlikely that the commissioners will sway away from hosting the playoff at a bowl site.  Thus, university presidents must request that the BCS or conferences pay some portion of their travel costs, in order to make this an economically feasible solution.

Overall, in presenting this proposal, the conference commissioners have answered many questions and addressed many of the criticisms of the current BCS model.  However, it is clear that issues remain that must be addressed before it is adopted as the new college football post-season model.

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  • Bill in Montgomery
    June 26, 2012

    Two bowl games = extra expenses for fan base. You will really have three playoff trips if you count the conference title games (which will become defunct in time). Players will not be able to enjoy these trips either. It will be all business. These are a few costs/sad realities of playoff movement.

    Of course, 16-team playoff is just a matter of time. Conference expansion started all of this. There will be many more cons than pros in long run. Idea that each school will reap revenues that are significantly higher than status quo (due to larger TV contracts or playoff revenue sharing) is dubious in my view. In SEC, each team will soon play 9 conference regular season games. This will negatively impact ticket revenues every other year (teams will not be able to schedule “money” games against Sunbelt-type teams). Also, high-interest intersectional games will become even rarer. Bowls will soon die. Power conferences will want/demand that at least four of their teams to have a chance to make the post-season – this will require the 16-team format. Soon, fans will have to get used to losing the final game of regular season, a major downer – or, not making the 16-team playoff, another downer. College football, circa 1979, will actually be looked back on as a system that cultivated more sustained interest and explained the sport’s enduring popularity – than the NFL, college basketball format that is coming.

    NFL might have the TV ratings but I never hear anyone talking about NFL games. Plus, at 3 p.m. on Sunday there is only one NFL game on TV. Compare that to number of games on a college football Saturday. Also, note that college football stadiums are constantly being enlarged. In the SEC, 70,000 is an embarrassing attendance figure. In the NFL, this is a huge number. That is, there are ways to measure “popularity” other than Arbitron ratings.

    … Be careful what you wish for, fans of a “playoff” and “real on-the field champion” – you ARE going to get it.

  • Joey John Alexander
    June 26, 2012

    Ultimately, 120 teams in ten 12 team conferences accompanied by 6 at large bids. The deal will be how it should be.: win your division, and you have a shot on the field. That is all any team in fbs can ask for.

  • Dennis Tracz
    June 27, 2012

    Do you have any financial information on FCB football like the CAA?

  • Jeff Roy
    June 27, 2012

    As someone who misses the chaos and significance of the New Years Day bowls that once decided the champion of college football, I am placing my bias against any BCS playoff upfront.

    Since a return to that format is doubtful, I would argue against it on the basis of costs. Given Alicia states it as the most critical issue, it is also the one with the most unknowns. The greatest of them is the cost of travel. Anyone who has booked an airline flight recently must have noticed industry consolidation and fuel factors have increased the cost of a ticket by 30% or more in the last 3 years. Projecting these costs forward is near impossible, so any assurances of profitability are open to question.

    Regular followers of this site have seen the difficulties of athletic departments to make ends meet when the bowls come calling. Yes, BCS participants typically reap a windfall for their conferences given most have fans bases that travel well. But they only have to travel once. Can they effectively support another game with the economy uncertain, student debt our single largest personal liability, and a job market that can’t absorb today’s graduates? A “playoff” may satisfy the fantasy of most FCB fans, but not all fantasies should come true.