Now that we have a plan, BCS rights may be undervalued

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Cleaning up the third floor of the Westin Diplomat after squatting there for two days at the BCS meetings …

(It wasn't exactly camping out for Springsteen tickets but as journos We Take Care Of Our Own too)

It's clear that major-college football's first playoff has been undervalued. The original estimates were somewhere around $360 million per year, a twofold increase. The BCS distributed approximately $180 million last year.

Now, after getting more specific about a four-team model, potential bidders have a clearer picture of what they might buy. CBSSports.com has confirmed there was at least mention about the three-game package being bid out to multiple networks, same as the NFL playoffs.

Another source cautioned that any such talk may be premature and, in fact, an insult to ESPN which has an exclusive negotiating window in the fall.

Still, on Wednesday, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany reminded reporters that Fox, ESPN and NBC “perhaps others” could be interested. It's no longer an ESPN/Fox battle that has existed for the past eight years on the BCS rights. One benefit of the BCS, Delany said, was that it “injected steroids into the regular season.” That led to what he called “an unbelievable nationalization” of the game.

What does a four-team playoff do to that unprecedented interest? Potentially shoot those rights fees through the roof. NBC is known to be looking for a property or properties to pair with Notre Dame football. That most likely includes interest in the Big East rights and perhaps some combination of Conference USA and Mountain West.

Just to catch you up on that steroid nationalization: The Big 12 is set to announcement a record (for the conference) deal reported by CBSSports.com last month. Fox and ESPN went together last year on an unprecedented joint deal with the Pac-12 that will pay the conference $250 million per year. Sports Business Journal reported recently that Fox will air a series of prime-time Saturday night games for the first time in 2012. Those most likely will be Big 12 and Pac-12 games.

The commissioners are interested in at least making the championship game, some sort of Super Bowl-like event. The means a week-long celebration of the game complete with exclusive sponsors, TV opps (“Road To The Football Four”?) and at some point an overwrought media day that involves someone from the Discovery Channel asking, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

  • Now that the structure for a four-team playoff is in place, next up on the commissioners plates are access and distribution of that revenue.

While there has been much discussion about doing away with the “automatic qualifier” labels (top six conferences) and “non-automatic qualifiers” (everyone else), they are going away in name only.

That still-to-be determined revenue distribution and access points will create at least an artificial dividing line between BCS and non-BCS leagues.

“There are still going to be five conferences that are set aside,” said Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said. “I don't have a problem with that.”

That so-called Group of Five includes the Sun Belt, MAC, WAC, Conference USA and Mountain West. Those were the FBS conferences without an automatic BCS bid for their champion in the current system. If one of the five had a team in the BCS, they split 26.4 million (18 percent of the net revenue). If not, they split half of that ($13.2 million, 9 percent).

In 2011, the Group of Five did not have a team in a BCS bowl for the first time since the 2005 season. That was the last year before double hosting in 2006 that created a new BCS bowl for more access.

Benson probably doesn't have a problem because with the TV money likely to double (at least), the Group of Five will be guaranteed something like $30 million per year going forward.

If anything, access is going to <>decrease<> for those schools below the Mendoza Line. The tradeoff for having less access to those major bowls probably will be that increased revenue. Part of the charm of the new system beginning in 2014 is that major bowls not involved in the playoff in a given year don't want to be tied down to taking an 8-4 UConn (see 2010 Fiesta) because the Big East has automatic bid. That possibility is going away.

Look for a bit of a return to the old days when college football's economics decided bowl slots. There will supposedly be flexibility, for example, for a major bowl to take Notre Dame at 9-3 over, say, Boise State at 11-1. That could be ND's special access which has been slipping consistently since 1994 when the Irish got to the Fiesta Bowl at 6-4-1. Currently, it gets into the BCS if it finishes in the top eight.

"Everyone,” Benson said, “including Notre Dame, has access issues.”

Going forward it looks like this for Notre Dame/Group of Five: Finish in the top four or take your chances. Is that enough to force ND into a conference? Not likely unless the commissioners decide to take conference champions only for the playoff. That's not likely either.

“There's been no Notre Dame decision,” AD Jack Swarbrick said Thursday, “nor do I want there to be.”

Yet.

  • Jerry Palm is adamant. He says a four-team playoff solving little.

CBSSports.com BCS guru and bracketologist jumped at the chance to be my quality control guy for The Dodd Plan. But I didn't let him have full control of the ship. Palm says this a four-teamer is basically a meaningless step.

“To me, being at No. 3 and being at No. 5 is identical,” he said. “The BCS filled a void. We didn't have 1 vs. 2 [before the BCS]. People are going to find out right away there isn't a void [this time]. This is taking up space until we to 16.”

He's got a point. Commissioners who were worried about going to four, referred to so-called “bracket creep.” That's the beer-leads-to-heroin argument that once you establish a bracket, there's a slippery slope leading to full-blown 16-team playoff.

Someday, probably, but not now. But the argument between who is No. 4 (in the playoff) and No. 5 (out of the playoff) is likely to be just as loud as in any given year going forward. Don't forget that No. 3 Oklahoma State missed out on the national championship game by the slimmest margin since the formula was reconfigured in 2004.

Coming next week: Ranking the fifth-ranked teams in the BCS era had there been a Football Four in place. Who would have gotten screwed? Who didn't deserve a shot? What are the pitfalls going forward?

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