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The more they stay the same in the BCS

A four-year contract with ESPN extends the status quo through the 2014 bowl games. As much as the public clamors for change, the power conferences find strange sense of stability in insanity.

April 23, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Important decisions were made this week in collegiate athletics -- none involving football.

An NCAA panel, for example, declared beach volleyball an official women's sport beginning in 2010-11.

The NCAA will call it "sand" volleyball, apparently out of respect for landlocked universities.

It will debut the same year the Bowl Championship Series unveils its same old thing: a four-year contract with ESPN extending the status quo through the 2014 bowl games.

Change, to the BCS, is something you find beneath couch cushions.

The Mountain West Conference, still bent Utah went 13-0 last year and couldn't play for a national title, made a kitchen-sink presentation to scrap the BCS and replace it with an eight-team playoff assembled by a 12-person committee.

It landed with a thud.

Other BCS commissioners listened respectfully and, as far as we know, none laughed out loud.

The commissioners will revisit the Mountain West's proposal in June after it has been properly vetted (translation: rejected) by college presidents.

When the gavel sounds to end this week's annual BCS meetings in Pasadena -- held here because the Rose Bowl is playing host to next season's national title game -- the exit lyric could be Billy Joel's "I love you just the way you are."

As much as the public clamors for it, change is the last thing the power (conference) brokers want.

College football has never been more popular or controversial -- a double-barreled dose of insanity and, weirdly, stability.

"It will always have some controversy," John Swofford, BCS coordinator and Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner, said Wednesday. "I don't know of a system that wouldn't have some controversy."

Other than the occasional Mountain West dust-up -- this, too, shall fail -- the BCS has never been more resolute.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has vowed to hold fall hearings on the legality of the BCS (note the correlation between his state and the school that got "jobbed" last year).

It was hot in Pasadena this week, but I didn't see a drop of sweat dripping from any commissioner's forehead.

The BCS survived congressional threats long before Hatch ever thought Utah football might go 13-0.

It was the congressional threat of 2004 that quelled the antitrust argument.

With Tulane President Scott Cowen manning the megaphone for the five "have-not" major conferences, including his Conference USA, the BCS absorbed the five leagues and everyone walked away happy.

"We should no longer talk about two sides," Cowen said after BCS peace was made. "We are one side."

There's a simple reason the six power conferences earn a disproportionate share of television revenue: Networks would rather air Ohio State-Michigan than Akron-Bowling Green.

Thanks to Cowen's fight, the BCS cut the little guys in. It added a fifth game to open two more at-large access spots. It assured a major bowl bid to any school from outside the Big Six conferences if it finished ranked in the top 12.

Four times since 2004 a "mid-major" has advanced to a BCS game: Utah (twice), Boise State and Hawaii.

The Mountain West and others have willingly waded in the BCS revenue stream.

Utah is in the BCS, and has two $4-million-plus checks to prove it.

The 12-year-old system that chooses the national title-game participants by using a standings formula has had some hilarious hiccups.

Since 2005, however, when the Harris Index replaced the Associated Press poll, the BCS standings formula has not been tweaked.

"That has added to the stability," Swofford said. "That's what you like to see with a relatively new entity."


ESPN just agreed to pay the BCS $500 million, starting in 2011, not to change.

Utah did get a raw deal last year, but it was ransacked by an indiscriminate and flawed formula that allows only two schools to ever finish ranked No. 1 and No. 2.

Utah, you could argue, was not undone by a cartel.

In 2004, Auburn finished undefeated and had to watch USC and Oklahoma play for the BCS title. Auburn toils in the beastly Southeastern Conference, which has produced four BCS champions since 2003.

That was unfair too, but probably not illegal.

If you're not a fan of the BCS, no news this week was not good news.

The BCS, gulp: it may outlive you.


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