Georgia head football coach Mark Richt was once asked why he supported the Bowl Championship Series instead of a playoff. "I think college football has the most exciting regular season of any sport because there is not a playoff system," he answered. "The whole season is a playoff system."
Perhaps the best reason for supporting the BCS can be summed up in three words: every game counts. Since teams know they will have to fight during the regular season for a spot in a bowl game, there are no games off. One loss and a team's post-season chances are diminished. Every play and every game count every year.
As a result of this emphasis on the regular season, college football is more exciting, more popular, and more successful than ever before.
Since the BCS began in 1998, attendance at college football games has increased 35%--from 27.6 million to 37.4 million last year. But not only are more people watching from the stands, more people are watching at home, too. In 2009, for example, 26.8 million viewers saw college football's title game between Oklahoma and Florida. How does that compare with other televised sporting events? The 2009 NCAA men's basketball championship game was watched by 17.6 million. The 2009 World Series between the Phillies and the Yankees averaged 19.3 million viewers per game.
Not only are more fans getting involved, but more schools are, too. Every conference has an opportunity to earn annual automatic qualification into the BCS. At the beginning of the season, every team has a chance to earn a spot in a BCS game, including the National Championship Game. Indeed, TCU came extremely close to playing for the championship this year. Teams from conferences without annual automatic qualification have played in the BCS in four of the last five years.
More schools are reaping the financial benefits, as well. Before the BCS's creation in 1998, only the teams and their conferences that participated in the major bowl games received revenue from those games. In the first 11 years of the BCS, more than $120 million was distributed to conferences that do not have annual automatic berths in the BCS bowls. The gross revenue for each conference that sends one team to the BCS is approximately $18.5 million. Each conference divides the money according to its own formula.
Part of what has made college football so exciting and popular in the BCS era is that the tradition and heritage of the bowl games have been preserved. The bowl experience is enjoyed by 68 universities each year with more than 7,000 student athletes and 10,000 other students participating as band members, spirit squad members, etc. No other sport has anything like the bowls. Many bowl games have their own parades and all bowl games have their own ceremonies and festivities. The chance for a student-athlete to play in a bowl game--and the chance for a fan to travel to one--is a memory that will last a lifetime.
In the end, the BCS should be judged like a football team: by its record. And the BCS record is outstanding.
This year, college football once again gave fans a dramatic regular season filled with meaningful games throughout the fall--who will ever forget Alabama surviving Tennessee with a blocked field goal in October or Texas edging out Texas A&M in a shootout in November? Plus, the BCS has once again produced a compelling lineup of five bowl games featuring the top ten teams, including two non-automatic qualifying schools squaring off in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. In addition, it will all be topped off on January 7 by a national championship matchup of the two teams that are number one and number two in all major polls: Alabama and Texas.
Does the BCS strengthen the regular season by making every game count? Yes it does.
Will the BCS be able to continue protecting the heritage of the various bowls? Yes it will.
Does the BCS do the best job of matching the top two teams in the nation? Yes it does.
Coach Mark Richt is right. With the creation of the BCS, the whole season is now a playoff. Today, college football is more exciting, more popular, and more successful than ever before.