Column: A real chance for change in the BCS
LSU fans had all but disappeared into the New Orleans night by the final minutes of last month's dreary BCS title game, leaving en masse when they figured out a team that couldn't get past the 50-yard-line wasn't going to magically find a way to cross the goal line. They weren't alone, with people across the nation abandoning their TVs in hope of finding something even remotely more interesting.
The cartel that runs the BCS got what it deserved in a rematch no one outside of Alabama wanted. A lopsided game with horrible television ratings seemed an appropriate way to cap an awful bowl season that generated less buzz than rapper M.I.A.'s extended middle finger at the Super Bowl.
How bad was it? So bad that it woke up some people who matter.
College football may finally get a playoff system of sorts, if the rumblings out of the Big Ten this week are any indication of the current thought process. The conference that helped spike the idea of teams actually earning their spots in the national title game when it was proposed four years ago, seems to be warming up to it now.
The four-team playoff proposal isn't perfect, and will invariably still leave some qualified teams out. But it's the first real step toward reform since the major conferences first banded together to anoint their national champion 14 years ago.
Back then it was all about money and television ratings. Still is, because the more the ratings go south the better a playoff looks.
"The reason for the sagging ratings is the fans are recognizing what these games actually are," said Matthew Sanderson, co-founder of Playoff PAC, a Washington, D.C., organization in favor of playoffs in college football. "They realize that these aren't anything other than glorified exhibition games that have little legitimacy."
BCS officials would surely disagree. They like to think they've gotten it right every year, using computer programs no one can explain and polls that defy explanation to pick the two most worthy teams in the country to play for the title.
It's a system laden with so many flaws that it can't be trusted. Even when the BCS does get it right, there's always a school that feels its been wronged.
The four-team playoff wouldn't eliminate that totally. But it's a lot easier to pick four qualified teams than just two, even if No. 5 if left fuming on the sidelines.
The format isn't terribly complicated. The No. 1 team in the rankings would play at home against the No. 4 team. The No. 2 team would host the No. 3 team, and the winners would meet, say, two weeks later on a neutral site.
Had the system been in place this past season, LSU would have hosted Stanford and Oklahoma State would have traveled to Alabama for a semifinal game. Those games would not only have sparked more interest in the title game, but could have changed the complexion of it entirely.
BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said Tuesday there will be meetings later this month on a possible format change, with a goal of a final decision by summer, when negotiations are expected to begin on a new television deal with ESPN to replace the current one that runs through the 2013 season.
"The tricky part is our 11 conference commissioners and the Notre Dame AD may have 12 different opinions about the direction we should go over the next six to eight months," Hancock said.
Complicating the issue is how to deal with the major bowls, which now host the title game on a rotating basis. Other than the Rose Bowl, though, they've been so co-opted by corporate greed and the demands of television that they've become increasingly marginalized. Does the Orange Bowl really deserve the BCS title game next year after the West Virginia blowout of Clemson was the least-watched Orange Bowl in nearly two decades?
Sanderson said he is skeptical the BCS will follow through and actually implement a playoff system. If it does, he said, it likely will be a hybrid of the existing system, and not something that brings meaningful reform to the postseason.
"I'm not encouraged by talk, though I would be encouraged by them actually following through," he said. "For umpteen reasons, I doubt their motives for even engaging in this discussion."
With good reason, because the BCS was never about giving fans something they wanted. It was — and still is — all about big schools maintaining control of college football and reaping the profits that come with it.
That's worked well over the years for members of the cartel. They foisted a system on college football that no fan likes, excluded schools they didn't like and happily collected hundreds of millions of dollars from the TV networks.
Until they actually do change the model, it really is nothing more than talk.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg