Back in June, the Bowl Championship Series announced it was switching formats beginning in 2014 to a seeded, four-team playoff with participating teams picked by a committee a la the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. This was great news for everyone who hated the current BCS format and thought a playoff should have been created from the outset. Some still had reservations, but the reaction overall was very positive.
Several months later, more details of the playoff system have emerged and the decrease in enthusiasm is palpable.
The first issues came when the major conferences immediately began aligning themselves with BCS bowls so that their conference champions will always play in the same bowl. That meant, of course, that the same exclusionary atmosphere in the current BCS was most likely going to get carried over into the new format as well.
A potentially unranked conference champion from, say, the Pac-12, would still play in the Rose Bowl regardless of any circumstances. Actually, in this way, the new system is more like the pre-BCS system in which conferences always sent their teams to the same bowls nearly every year regardless of matchup.
The biggest problem, however, is the fact that the contracts between the newly-named “access bowls” (the games from which the selection committee would choose the four playoff teams) meant that there were limited spots for non-BCS conference teams. After all, these are still bowl games that want to make money first, so they look down their noses at teams deemed to not travel well.
The six current access bowls are the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Champions Bowl, Chick-fil-a Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl. This means there would be twelve teams with a shot at getting into the four-team playoff, six of which would be the BCS conference champions.
The other six spots would be given to the highest-ranked teams that weren’t conference champions. While this could absolutely include one or more non-BCS conference teams, those conferences were not guaranteed a spot, even for the highest-ranked champion among them.
This is obviously insanely unfair, and the BCS recognized it immediately, because the only reason the bowl contracts exist between the bowls and conferences is because of another money grab. Hell, the Champions Bowl was created specifically for this format because the SEC and Big XII (the contracted participants) knew it would be worth a ton of money. Turns out they were right. The Champions Bowl is estimated to be worth $80 million, making it as rich as the Rose Bowl.
As a result, the idea of a seventh access bowl was floated around for a while following the June announcement of a BCS playoff. The proposed bowl would include an at-large team from a BCS conference (most likely the Pac-12 or Big XII) and the highest-ranked conference champion from the non-power conferences (Big East, Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American, and Sun Belt). If nothing else, at least the have-nots would be guaranteed a shot at participating in the playoff.
Alas, the seventh access bowl may be a dead issue amid concerns such as: money, money, money, and also money.
For example, all these teams could be denied a guaranteed spot because the movers and shakers are concerned that the seventh bowl wouldn’t be “worth” as much. The Rose and Champions bowls are estimated to be worth around $80 million. The Orange Bowl is worth $60 million, and the seventh bowl would supposedly be worth around $25 million.
Of course this would matter to bowl organizers more than equal access to the playoff system. Even if that non-BCS team was never, ever chosen, at least the spot was guaranteed so they had a shot. Hence all the automatic bids for every conference champion in the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
The basketball tournaments, however, are run by the NCAA, which has absolutely no influence over the BCS. Why, you might ask? Because the big football schools don’t want to share their revenue from football with the NCAA, hence the continued existence of bowls despite the obvious need for a playoff. This is also why the Pac-12 and Big Ten are so obsessed with the Rose Bowl. It has nothing to do with tradition, the word they cynically bandy about every January, but rather a piece of that $80 million to supplement their athletic departments.
There are also concerns that fans of the non-BCS conference champion may not travel well, meaning the bowl game doesn’t make as much money. This is, of course, redundant since these faceless people already dismiss $25 million as mere pocket change, and the seventh bowl would include a major-conference team as well, which one assumes would bring a fair number of fans with it.
It still isn’t clear whether this seventh access bowl will exist or not, but the stink of the old BCS, the money-over-fairness ethos that so damaged the credibility of college football for the last decade-plus, still remains even in the “new” BCS.