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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

January 9, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Change in the wind for the BCS system?

The headline on an on-line piece by Associated Press sportswriter Ralph Russo will be good news for those who love to bag on the BCS: “The BCS As We Know It Is Going Away.”

There’s nothing substantive, mind you, just an ever-growing tide of sentiment that the system that Monday night brought us LSU-Alabama is about to undergo some heavy scrutiny, if not an overhaul of some magnitude.

BCS executive director Bill Hancock addressed the Football Writers Assn. of America Monday in conjunction with the title game and told them, in reference to a Tuesday meeting of conference commissioners, “Everything you can imagine will be discussed. Everything from format, who plays who, to where they play, to the business aspect of it. It’s all going to be on the table.”

Here’s the timeline: The current contract with ESPN for the BCS games runs out in January of 2014. Much discussion will take place, including Tuesday in New Orleans, about possible tweaks to the system, and by late this summer, the BCS may be ready to propose a new deal — including potential change — to the networks for consideration beyond 2014.

Clearly, there’s movement toward some change — or at least less sentiment that the current system is satisfactory. Whether that results in any change to the system in place is debatable.

Last summer, the Times wrote that Pac-12 and Big Ten athletic directors had reached consensus that a viable alternative to the current system would be a “plus-one” option, a variation on a commonly proposed theme. In their vision, there would be an added BCS bowl — the Cotton has recently been seen as the likely suspect — and there would be semifinals in two BCS bowls (so designated on a rotating basis). The Rose would sit out as a semifinal host, allowing it to retain the annual Big Ten-Pac-12 tieup and every five years, Pasadena would host the title game.
There was blowback from both Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott on the story, and indeed, nothing may come of it. (For one, the ADs only offer advisory votes, nothing binding.) It could be that even though there’s dissent on the current system, there may be no consensus among all the leagues on how to go about change (forget any kind of major multi-team playoff; ain’t gonna happen). But it’s clear that there’s now more sentiment than ever that the time is coming for at least a tweak, such as a plus-one format.
In that story, I quoted a Pac-12 administrator as saying, “There’s an enormous amount of pressure (nationally) right now to do something a little different. And a plus-one might be a type of compromise.”
In 2008, SEC commissioner Mike Slive pushed the plus-one format, but it fell flat. He says he won’t be the advocate this time around, but some other league is sure to take up the cause, and there will be some ardent listeners.
Bowl attendance is down this year by about three percent, and BCS-bowl TV ratings are also off. The Orange Bowl last week pulled a dreary 4.5 rating, and you know those numbers won’t be lost on the commissioners. Point of reference? In the NFL, Saturday evening’s New Orleans-Detroit game drew a 19.3 rating, and the earlier Cincinnati-Houston game did a 15.3.
It will be interesting to see where Scott falls in this debate. He’s obviously been a bold thinker in marketing matters in his two-years-plus with the Pac-12. But the league is still philosophically and practically tied to the Big Ten, and Delany has been staunchly opposed to anything resembling a playoff. Recently, recall, the two leagues strengthened their alliance by announcing plans to schedule each other regularly in sports across the board.



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