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Mountain West Conference takes a radical tack

Conference proposes a major change to BCS system that would replace polls and computers with a committee. It has little chance of passing, but league's commissioner sees it as a conversation starter.

April 22, 2009|Chris Dufresne

The Mountain West Conference proposed Tuesday to radically change college football's postseason structure.

Craig Thompson, the Mountain West's commissioner, made his case at a fancy Pasadena hotel during the annual spring meetings of Bowl Championship Series commissioners.

The Mountain West wants to replace the polls and computers used in the BCS standings formula with a 12-person committee. This committee would select the top 25 teams, and conduct an eight-team playoff using the four major bowls.

The Mountain West plan would also revamp the "automatic qualifier" rule that guarantees six conference champions a berth in a BCS bowl.

Chances of this plan's being enacted?

Not good.

The BCS commissioners, as a courtesy, listened to Thompson and discussed the issue for 90 minutes before punting the proposal to June, when the BCS will hold meetings in Colorado.

That gives school presidents two months to consider the matter.

"Any time one of our member conferences has a significant change that it is interested in . . . it is important for us to give it the appropriate consideration that it deserves," John Swofford, BCS coordinator and Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner, said after daylong meetings.

The Mountain West proposal, in fact, has less than a longshot's chance to succeed.

Thompson even conceded his proposal was more of a conversation starter.

"I don't necessarily disagree that it's an uphill challenge," Thompson said. "Our position is 'Let's start talking.'

"Change isn't going to come quickly."

Change, in fact, may still take years.

The BCS recently agreed to a four-year, $500-million contract with ESPN to televise BCS bowl games starting in January 2011. ESPN negotiated with the understanding the present format would not change, and officials have said publicly they would not try to force a playoff.

The Mountain West is seeking change in part because one of its member schools, Utah, finished 13-0 last season but did not qualify for the BCS title game.

Utah finished No. 6 in the final BCS standings and watched No. 2 Florida defeat No. 1 Oklahoma to win the BCS championship at Dolphin Stadium. The Utes defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and ended up No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll.

The BCS is composed of 11 conferences and independent Notre Dame. The six conferences with automatic qualifier status are the Pacific 10, Southeastern, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East.

In 2004, after the threat of an antitrust lawsuit, the five other major conferences -- Mountain West, Western Athletic, Mid-American, Conference USA and Sun Belt -- were brought under the BCS umbrella and given additional revenue and improved access to BCS games.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), in the wake of Utah's controversial season, has said he would hold congressional hearings on the BCS next fall.

The Mountain West, technically, is a member of the BCS and Thompson said he was trying to promote change within the system.

"I don't think there's a probable antitrust component with this," he said.

Swofford maintains in-house attorneys have assured commissioners that the BCS is not a monopoly.

"If we thought otherwise, we'd be adjusting it accordingly," Swofford said.

The Mountain West, Thompson said, has until April 2010 to sign the new four-year contract with ESPN.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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