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Your Take: ‘Replacing the BCS’

by: Dan Wetzel
National Columnist, Yahoo! Sports
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Upon his hiring as a media consultant for the Bowl Championship Series, Ari Fleischer declared that “playoff advocates have had an easy ride” by not having to explain a clear alternative. Fleischer had it backward. It’s the BCS that’s had simple sailing by not having to defend against a specific plan. The disorganization of the playoff crowd created the gridlock the status quo desired.

In the upcoming book I helped write (“Death to the BCS,” due out in October by Gotham), we don’t just lay bare this ridiculous way of crowning a champion, the finances, mathematics, biases, waste and scams. We offer a clear, common sense-rich and wildly profitable alternative.

It’s not like we’re playoff-design geniuses. What follows is essentially the model the NCAA uses to run football championships in its lower divisions.

A proper playoff should feature 16-teams, featuring automatic bids for all 11 conference champions and five at-large slots. Yes, all 11 conference champions, determined through traditional means: either the regular season or conference-title games, which would continue unabated. While no one would argue that the Sun Belt champion is one of the top 16 teams in the country, its presence is paramount to maintaining the integrity and relevancy of the regular season.

This playoff allows the best teams to earn the highest seeds, then rewards those teams with home games until the neutral site championship game. That creates incentive for regular-season success, and the home-field advantage prevents teams from letting up when they know they’ve clinched a playoff spot.

By playing games on campus, the tournament also would include what is perhaps the best part of college football: its historic stadiums and game-day environments. There’s no good reason to conduct playoff games in sterile, often under-capacity crowds at municipal stadiums in far-off cities instead of the incomparable feeling of The Swamp, The Horseshoe or the Coliseum.

Devotees would pack their home stadiums, and television viewers could witness the Cinderellas college football so sorely lacks. In football, an early-round upset portends magic. The men’s basketball tournament is successful because its two-pronged ability to offer early games in which little schools dare to dream, and then the Final Four for heavyweight programs to determine who is best. That combination creates incredible drama, draws in casual fans and delivers the television ratings that generate billions of dollars.

A small selection committee, such as the one used for the men’s basketball tournament, would determine the five at-large bids. Dealing with set and specific criteria, the committee would make informed decisions and eliminate confused poll voters and mathematically dubious computer formulas. Arguments over the final spots and seeding would happen just as they do with berths to BCS bowls, only controversy would center on which two-loss team was left out, not which unbeaten school missed its shot at the championship.

Competition for the five at-large spots would make the final month of the regular season a circus of action, playoff chances coming and going with each touchdown. It would compel Pac-10 fans to follow the Big East, SEC fans to pay attention to the Mountain West, ACC fans to study up on the WAC. TV ratings would jump. The Internet would buckle from excitement. Any team, big or small, independent or affiliated, would be eligible for an at-large bid. Notre Dame and the service academies could gain entry with one of the five extra slots.

The entire playoff would be conducted over four weekends, the same time frame in which the current bowl schedule operates. The playoff would allow a two- to three-week break for final exams for student-athletes, then kick off the weekend before Christmas and conclude the second Monday of January. In 2011, that’s the same date as the BCS title game. At most, two teams would play 17 games, which is one game more than some high school state champions’.
Bowls would go nowhere – and certainly not out of business, as the BCS suits wrongly claim. Most bowl games exist due to a willingness of schools and conferences to subsidize them. That wouldn’t change when the sport is flush with playoff money. Bowls would have no role in the playoff but continue to provide non-playoff teams a chance for a postseason game.
Taking bowl games out of the playoff system would put an end to the most illogical business arrangement in all of sports: outsourcing its most profitable product, in this case postseason football. The bowl system, a consolidation of private businesses with no official ties to universities, sucks tens of millions of dollars in profit from schools. With on-campus games, the money stays within college athletics.

And the money. Oh, the money. The playoff plan is a legal bank heist, a design that would endow the schools rather than burgle them. It would make the BCS payouts look like a pittance, each game earning more than a current BCS bowl.
The current bowl system pays college football about $220 million in gross revenue per year, and, after the schools pick up the cost of travel, tickets and coaches’ bonuses, they walk with $140 million in profit.

For the book, we commissioned a panel of television executives, marketing professionals, sports leaders and so on to estimate the value of a 16-team playoff. We settled on a conservative gross of $750 million in revenue, enough to dramatically close the funding imbalance of college athletics that currently falls to student fees and taxpayer-aided general university funds.

Best of all, college football would have a postseason worthy of its pageantry, a thrill-a-minute month of football nirvana that would grow the sport at all levels and a conclusion that serves not hired-gun spinmasters but the game’s players and coaches who covet the challenge.

Dan Wetzel is a columnist for Yahoo! Sports. He can be reached at


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