Don’t be deceived, BCS move to playoff system all about dollars and not the fans

“They are listening to the fans,” Bill Hancock, executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, said of the 11 commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick in the New York Times, SI & other publications. “They get it. People would like to do something different.”

When a politician tells you that he is going to help you—hold onto your wallet.

It isn’t much different with university presidents and conference commissioners.

The spirit of cooperation emerging as the BCS rushes toward a playoff is all about money and power.

A new playoff could bring in $170 million, according to TCS College Football Insider Teddy Greenstein. (Read more about Greenstein’s view on the BCS in this post.)

That is more than a few extra rewards for university presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners, football coaches, lawyers, auditors, and every other form of bureaucrat involved in college football.

This is about power. The Big Ten’s power has declined with the rise of the SEC’s BCS dominance. Cold weather schools are passé, and the demographic problems facing Big Ten states present important challenges to growing the revenue potential of the entire Big Ten conference. The Big Ten is rich and wants to make sure it gets its fair share of the continued growth of college football.

This is what makes Jim Delany’s move to accept a four-team postseason format brilliant.

Delany will be lauded for bringing college football into the modern era and while doing so will be getting a big payday for his member institutions. His past intransigence will be forgotten as college football changes forever. Delany is pursuing the interest of his conference—a conference that needs a new postseason to regain relevance against the colossus that is SEC football.

This isn’t about acceding to the demands of fans. Fans have screamed for a better postseason since at least the 1980s. It might be even longer than that, but I don’t remember much past the election of Ronald Reagan and the advent of sports talk radio.

So, with so many seasons of fans crying for a playoff have we been forced to wait this long? Delany’s Big Ten and Larry Scott’s Pac-12 were satisfied with the status quo. The money was enough.

Today the conferences aren’t satisfied with the status quo.

Why did things change?

Six straight SEC national championships is a good place to start—in other words, jealousy of the SEC’s power.

Even SI’s Stewart Mandel who presents fan demand as one of the reasons for the undoing of the BCS acknowledges that the SEC’s BCS record was one impetus to change.

“Meanwhile, don’t underestimate the on-field seeds of discontent — mainly, the SEC’s six-year reign of dominance,” Mandel writes. “The commissioners are paid handsomely to make reasoned, level-headed decisions, and wouldn’t likely blow up their sport’s postseason over one fluky occurrence. But last year’s unpopular all-SEC Alabama-LSU title matchup, on the heels of five straight SEC championships, may well have been a tipping point for some of the less prolific.”

He even provides this quote from ACC Commissioner John Swofford to buttress this point.

“I think thought process [toward a plus-one] had already begun at that point,” Swofford told SI, “and that probably moved it a bit forward to a degree.”

Don’t forget that promise of new revenue. New money makes any transition easier—in other words, the cash register rules this era of college football.

As that old proverb says, the more things change, the more things stay the same.