The forthcoming book Death to the BCS is testament to the deep morass in which college football is now stuck. Consider that it took three authors and a two-year investigation just to explain the numerous and considerable flaws with the BCS. (Has there ever been a two-year investigation into any postseason system in any other sport?)
The system is almost universally hated. Even the President of the United States has felt compelled to express his contempt for the way college football chooses its champion. And let's be clear -- it chooses a champion.
Using a combination of flawed polls and even more absurd computer models -- all of which the book's authors Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan lay waste to -- the BCS singles out two teams to compete in one game that takes place a month after the regular season ends. It is during this month that the authors propose -- in chorus with many others -- a 16-team postseason playoff that would build off the momentum of the regular season.
Of course, the problem with proposing a playoff alternative to the BCS is that the debate often shifts away from the serious problems with the BCS itself and onto whether the playoff plan is feasible.
In truth, anything is better than the BCS.
But the plan put forward by Wetzel, Peter and Passan is certainly the strongest BCS-alternative to date. In sum, they propose a 16-team playoff that would give all 11 conferences an automatic qualifier and add five at-large teams. Higher-seeded teams would get to host playoff games, giving them a reason to compete all season and the race for the five at-large berths would create even more drama. The final game would take place in the Rose Bowl every year, thus embracing the tradition of "The Granddaddy of Them All" and creating an equivalent to college baseball's annual trip to Omaha.
The authors are adamant that not only could bowl games continue to co-exist with a playoff, they argue that a playoff is actually necessary in order to save the bowl games. Because right now the bowl games are bankrupting college football. Wetzel and crew write: "Bowl directors estimate that only fourteen of the thirty-five games generate a legitimate profit for the participating teams." And that profit is often peanuts compared to the profits the bowl organizations take home. Even college football's most elite programs don't make that much off the bowls. According to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report, for winning the 2009 national title, Florida made just $47,000 after coaches' bonuses, required ticket purchases, travel costs and other expenses were figured in.
But the more serious problem is that the bowl game system takes in public money while privatizing the profits. Here's Wetzel, Peter and Passan:
The twenty-three [bowl] games with records publicly available received $7.5 million in direct government handouts, according to their federal tax filings. That's straight cash. It doesn't factor in the estimated millions from police and fire department detail work, traffic control, clean up, and other public services donated to the games by local governments that assume the overtime costs.
Meanwhile, and perhaps the author's most damning example, the Sugar Bowl in fiscal year 2007 brought in $34.1 million in revenue while spending only $22.5 million. So it made $11.6 million tax-free and finished the year with $37 million in assets. This would be problematic enough, but consider that, according to the authors, the "non-profit" Sugar Bowl took $3 million in direct funding from the Louisiana state government and "gave nothing" back that year. "Not a buck to the Hurricane Katrina reconstruction effort. Not a dime to a New Orleans afterschool program. Not a penny to Habitat for Humanity."
The authors certainly demonstrate that a playoff will be more profitable. Drawing upon a team of experts, the authors conclude that a postseason playoff alone would gross $750 million a year compared to the current bowl system's $220 million per year. And the authors make the case that the bowls could still make about half of that much even with a playoff. So that's $860 million in total.
Their strongest argument -- and one which deserves greater depth, both in the book and elsewhere -- is that the amount of money that could be generated from a college playoff would help schools around the country who are in dire financial straits.
While sports fans are often hesitant to call for the government's involvement in sports, there are legitimate public policy concerns here. Just last week, Playoff PAC, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., lobbying for a college playoff, filed a 27-page complaint with the IRS that flushes out many of the most damning elements of Death to the BCS. Playoff PAC writes that "the BCS Bowls' use of charitable funds to give Bowl executives excessive compensation, pay registered lobbyists without disclosure, intervene in political campaigns, and heap frivolous benefits on Bowl insiders raises significant concerns under federal tax laws."
It is imperative that other sports journalists, college administrators and football fans read Death to the BCS. The authors have passionately -- and successfully -- debunked all the claims made by BCS apologists and offered a perfectly rational solution. It's now up to sports fans around the country to spread the word and finally organize into one collective voice in favor of a college football playoff.
Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and lives in Washington, D.C. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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