Utah, the BCS, Congress, and Playing Fair

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Utah, the BCS, Congress, and Playing Fair
(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Since this past January, the whole BCS system has come under scrutiny like never before. From Barack Obama promising a play-off system to Boise State claiming they were left out of the BCS picture.  

From Ohio State and the Big 10 looking like they are not the elite conference that they used to be, to Utah not getting a chance to participate in the national championship race despite a humiliating defeat of Alabama and the mighty SEC.  And last but not least, Utah's Attorney General taking the role of yet another politician attempting to make a name for himself by claiming the BCS violates anti-trust laws.

Now on the surface, I can honestly see Utah's gripe, and the truth is I favor at least a "plus-one" model in terms of a play-off.  However, Utah and the other conferences have very little leg to stand on when you take off college footballs version of "affirmative action glasses."

When broken down to its most bare essence, the real root of the problem is that Utah and every other school that doesn't reside in an automatic BCS bid conference is just as greedy as those they accuse of same said greed. They just won't admit it.

For starters, the non-automatic BCS qualifying conferences—otherwise known as the Mid-Major conferences—constantly complain about lack of access to the BCS. Initially they had no real shot at access to any of the BCS bowls.

That created a bit of unrest among a few vocal individuals, and after a verbal threat from our congressional body, the BCS soon had rules making access for Mid-Major conferences easier.  That all seemed to be working famously when we all fell in love with Boise State for one night with their thrilling upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  Everyone seemed to be happy.

After a while, that apparently wasn't enough, and the Mid-Major conferences came back for more—hand held out like Oliver asking, "Please Sir, may I have some more."

So the BCS did what all horrible people coming under scrutiny do... they created a 5th Bowl Championship Series game that would rotate annually among the four existing BCS bowls—thus providing even more opportunity for non-automatic qualifying conferences to get a seat at the table—and lowered requirements once again for Mid-Majors to have a shot at BCS participation.

Now for many that would have been enough, but not the Mid-Majors. They wanted equal footing with the existing BCS conferences. At this point Utah and the Boys must be thinking, "Hey we have gotten this far, let's keep pushing for more."

Now in a fair and just world we would all join together in glorious fete trumpeting brotherhood for all of humanity, and we would literally beat ourselves to death patting each other on the back for even the most mediocre of tasks. But this isn't that world, it is the real world and the bottom line is the non-BCS conferences don't merit automatic inclusion in the BCS for one major reason: M-O-N-E-Y.

Let's get something straight: The BCS has never been about fair play.  Money is what the BCS has been about from day one, and it is what it will continue to be about until some politician who obviously has nothing more important to worry about—such as economic issues or wars—finally has the entire BCS shut down.  I am sure that will solve everything.

HAWAII VERSUS IDAHO JUST DOESN'T EQUATE TO "MUST SEE TV."

The main problem most have with the mid-major conferences complaining about the BCS not being fair has to do with BCS bowl participation in the first place. Before the BCS came along, none of the current bowls hosting BCS games would have ever considered inviting Boise State or Hawaii regardless of how highly ranked they were at the end of the regular season.

Neither of those schools produce any real television appeal outside of the occasional "feel-good-story-of-the-year" type. Sure, the hardcore message board fan, the type that actually watches the Tuesday night Mid American Conference football "clashes" on ESPN would watch. 

But the casual fans (the ones who might know there is a game but couldn't tell you who is playing in it, or the kind that just use the "big game" as an excuse to have friends over so they can try out a new salsa recipe) aren't tuning in to see Boise State or Hawaii. They didn't go to school there so why should it matter to them.

Now if Ohio State faces off against Alabama, fans in the east know all about those brand names.  They know those brands will be played in prime time television slots and those games usually have big implications on the national scene.

They know a game of that magnitude will generate interest and have a large regional appeal, if not national.  That in turn makes advertisers want to buy television time to showcase their wares to the viewing audience, generating revenue for ESPN/ABC, CBS or whomever and subsequently ends up trickling down to the conferences themselves that house those bigger, more appealing teams.

If there is no television appeal, the BCS bowls would not of their own accord agree to take Boise State versus anyone. Sure, it may be a great game, but does anyone believe that the Boise State-Oklahoma contest would have ever occurred prior to the BCS?

If you do, you need to see Betty Ford, pronto.  You have a problem. 

WHAT'S WITH ALL THE COMPLAINING?

For all the complaining the Mid-Majors have done about exclusion, if anything, the BCS has actually provided inclusion for teams that otherwise would never have gotten it. The next time you think a team from a non-automatic BCS qualifying conference is being slighted when they "only" get invited to the Sugar Bowl, ask yourself if Hawaii would have been playing there against anyone prior to the BCS. If you still think they would have, see my previous statement about the Betty Ford.

What those outside of Bowl Championship Series circles do not seem to grasp is that the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange bowls want to make money.  And not just break even money, but windfall, treasure bath, amounts of money.

Inviting anyone other than a household name just doesn't guarantee anything other than a game wil be played.  For the money being paid out, those involved with the "Big Four" bowls need the promise of more than that.

As we have stated, the BCS is first and foremost about money. Is is also secondly, thirdly and lastly about money.

Despite what those that don't comprehend what is painfully obvious to everyone else (hello Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff), crowning a national champion is secondary to the BCS. Sure, that is what it is set up to do as an end result, but the bottom line is and always will be MAKING MONEY.

Before the BCS, I seriously doubt any of the "Big Four" bowls paid out any stipends to conferences like the MAC or WAC. They didn't need to, they didn't want to and they didn't have to. 

Now, however, they do pay out money to the non-automatic bid conferences. This year, those conferences stand to make over 10 million dollars divided among them as a payment from the BCS, not including the payout for Utah's participation in a BCS game. That payment never occured before the BCS existed.

Despite getting free money they never earned, the Mid-Majors complain that they are somehow being shafted. Never mind the fact that any one of those conferences, if they were one of the BCS automatic-bid leagues, would be doing the exact same thing they claim to be the greatest crime against humanity since Vanilla Ice attempted to remake "Ice Ice Baby" into a thrash metal song.

My advice: Take the hand out and keep quiet. If you push it far enough, you won't even be getting that. 

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

It has always baffled me how some that have nothing feel it is the obligation of those that have something to give them a share of what they earned.  When it comes to the BCS, it is not an officially NCAA sanctioned championship.  

Essentially the six highest revenue producing conferences along with Notre Dame struck a deal with four bowl games to call one of their partner institutions a national champion, stage that championship in one of their partner bowls, and make a boat load of money along the way.

By contrast, at any time the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), Conference USA (CUSA), the Mountain West Conference (MWC), the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) could band together with a group of bowls and pull off a similar deal declaring one of their own a national champion.  Nothing is stopping them. 

They are convinced of their equal footing with the BCS conferences and bowls in terms of money generating potential.  Why not offer up some real competition? 

Better yet, why not stage their own play-off using their conference's aligned bowls as play-off sites?  For example, the champion of the WAC faces the champion of the Sun Belt in a first round play-off game staged at the Las Vegas Bowl.

Unfortunately, instead of being proactive, the Utah's of the world will be reactive and will complain that they haven't been given a fair deal.  They are content to sit back and let things shake out around them until it directly affects them, only then getting "all up in arms" over the situation. 

I have the feeling that demanding equal access to something that they contribute very little to financially will end up hurting the Mid-Major schools more than it helps them.  The conferences and bowls that make up the BCS all came about the deals and partnerships legally.  I fail to see where Congress or the courts can justifiably force change.

One can not help but think of the Southeastern Conference's (SEC) most recently announced television contract measuring in the billions (that's billions with a "B") when discussing the BCS.  Essentially, if those that are crying foul play are successful in court, there is nothing to stop a conference (like the Big East for example) from suing to get a share of the SEC's television deal. 

I mean, college football is all about fair play, right?  If the deals between the BCS and the so-called BCS conferences aren't legal, then how can the television deals be any different?

While we are at it, why not have East Carolina University sue for a piece of Notre Dame's NBC contract?  Same premise, right? 

One entity makes a deal with another, and a third party enters the picture demanding a fair share even though they had nothing to do with the deal being brokered in the first place.  You really have to love the American legal system. 

Any verdict is possible.  Now if we can just get Rutgers to agree to sue the SEC and ABC...

WHAT CAUSED THIS DEMAND FOR COLLEGIATE PIGSKIN?

Another major point missed by our political geniuses has to do with the BCS controversy itself. Fifteen years ago college football was largely a niche sport.

It had a strong following in that niche, and it was a sizable niche at that, but it fell behind the NFL, NBA, MLB and even the Olympics in terms of importance. It was NASCAR before NASCAR became what it is today.

In the time since the BCS was created, college football has exploded in terms of popularity. Demand for televised games has never been higher.

Attendance has never been higher. Fan interest in general has never been higher, and thus revenue... you guessed it... has never been higher.

When you have conferences like the SEC making more money in a year than some third world countries, you know you are on to a cash cow.  Why not ride it for all it is worth? 

All of this new found popularity for college football can be directly attributed to one thing: the BCS.  The BCS and the annual controversy over who should should play for the national championship has created more buzz for college football than we have ever seen in the past.

Oh sure, there has always been some controversy at the end of the season.  For example, the times undefeated Penn State or Auburn teams were left out of the national title picture.  

Or, when BYU was named national champion.  Even when an undefeated West Virginia was passed over for a one-loss Florida State team in 1993 to face Nebraska for all the marbles.

None of that, however, caused the stir nationally to the casual sports fan that the BCS does. In years past, college graduates were the fans of college football for the most part.

Now, just like sports teams represent cities like Cincinnati or Philadelphia, college teams have been adopted by entire state populations of fans. Major college football has become a sport of national interest, and that is directly attributed to the BCS. 

The controversy has always been around, but now it has a name. Once you have a name for an issue, everyone can recognize it and argue it ad nauseum.

The BCS has become its own brand, and that brand isn't going to change without some Scooby Doo-like meddling kids from Washington D.C. coming along and messing it up. Come the first week of January each year, the main topic of conversation is the BCS and who should be in or out.  If this were 1989 instead of 2009, Utah would probably still be out of the picture and very few would care outside Provo or Salt Lake City.

If I were current BCS President Jim Swofford, I would send a great big "You're welcome!" banner to the Utah Utes Athletic Department offices. Utah could not buy all the publicity it is getting for free right now by being "left out" of the national championship picture. How much money is that going to end up being worth to them in the future?

So to all those crying about being left out of the picture, you should probably be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

Then the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta Bowls won't have to invite you at all and you can settle for playing in the Frigid Bowl in Siberia. Good luck with that.  I am sure it will pay you millions.

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