|With the SEC hogging all the hardware, there's some momentum for a Plus-One model. (US Presswire)|
NEW ORLEANS -- It's real simple for Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan. Give him his SEC and the BCS can do whatever it wants with the postseason.
"As long as I'm riding Secretariat, here it is, right here: Who cares?" Hoolahan said Tuesday morning after Mardi Gras came early to Alabama, his bowl and this city, still digging out physically and psychologically from Katrina.
Secretariat is the hoss named the Southeastern Conference. It delivered again for the bowl that is the traditional home of the SEC champion. Monday resembled an SEC title game times two, to the point that the supposedly outnumbered 'Bama fans made it a 50-50 split in the 76,500-seat Superdome. The homestanding quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, actually had trouble hearing at one end of the field.
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"This is war, that's what that was last night," Hoolahan said of Alabama's 21-0 win, "nothing short of a gang war and a mugging."
For a select audience, it turns out. SEC dominance is good for the conference, New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl, but is it good for the BCS? Monday night's game was the lowest rated championship game of the BCS era. That 13.8 rating was down 14 percent from last year's Auburn-Oregon game and down 24 percent from the Alabama-Texas game two years ago.
That would suggest that the SEC has been so dominant that the BCS is in danger of becoming a regional sport. The public, it would seem, needs a change. That's one reason why the BCS commissioners gathered here Tuesday to begin digging down deep on major changes to the system. BCS ratings are down 10 percent from last year and 21 percent from when Fox last had the contract in 2009.
At issue, basically, is a bowl system that has become bloated (35 bowls, 70 teams) and boring at times. Attendance has become an issue for the first time in a long while. Regular-season attendance declined for the second time in three years according to figures compiled by USA Today. Average bowl attendance hit a 33-year low this season.
Amidst that backdrop, the commissioners formally began to hash out what college football's postseason will be beginning in 2014. It will take an additional five-to-seven meetings and could drag on into the summer, according to BCS executive director Bill Hancock.
"From 30,000 feet [up], there was a general feeling among the commissioners to make the BCS the best it can be," Hancock said, "that some changes have to be made."
Nothing has changed in the sense that they're all looking to take care of their own turf. SEC commissioner Mike Slive wants to protect the longest run in college football history, six consecutive titles. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany doesn't want to harm the sanctity of the Rose Bowl. Conference USA and the Mountain West are deliberating whether to make a scheduling alliance, a full-on merger.
Anything to chase BCS bowl money.
"I don't know if there were two people in the same place," sharing the same opinion, said a person inside Tuesday's meetings.
So away we go with BCS reformation. More than 3 ½ years ago, only the ACC and SEC were in favor of a Plus-One (four-team playoff). Now they're all at least talking about it.
Hoolahan is among those trying to protect their franchise as the BCS seemingly heads into a new era. Unlike the other three major bowls, the Sugar is tied to a mid-sized city without heaving-hitting Fortune 500 corporate support.
Nothing much came of Tuesday, but it is clear Hoolahan are his peers are fortifying themselves. The 61-year-old former North Carolina offensive tackle spoke openly of a $40 million "war chest" that could conceivably be used to buy into the BCS going forward. There is speculation that spots in a Plus One may be open for bid. That's not unlike the current arrangement, except that the BCS has never varied from the four power bowls – Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange.
"If it comes down to the Plus-One model is something that everybody believes is the way to move, we're going to be in the flow no matter what," Hoolahan said.
What's likely is a range between the status quo, an unseeded Plus-One (two selected teams meeting after the bowls) and a four-team Plus-One. The question is whether the bowls outside of the championship loop will be under BCS jurisdiction. There is some feeling that they might like to be free to make their own matchups without having to adhere to BCS strictures.
No one has canvassed the opinion of the players on playing extra football. Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked to consider playing another game after Monday's knock-down, drag-out with LSU.
"This is the system that we have," the coach said. "Your entire mindset is to sort of succeed in that system. I can't really sort of have a feeling about what it would be like if we had to prove it all again."
Alabama's win further consolidated the SEC's stranglehold on the sport. The league has won six titles in a row. The state of Alabama has kept the national championship within its borders the last three years. Defending SEC champion LSU is a good bet to start next season No. 1.
If you can't beat 'em, change the system. Last month Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany proposed stripping the BCS to bare bones -- go with a 1 vs. 2 game and let the other bowls arrange their own games. Hoolahan considered that a step backward in the postseason.
"To me, that's the wake-up call. 'Guys let's stop all this. Let's get down to concrete discussion,'" Hoolahan said. "That was a shot across the bow."
These are heady times for Hoolahan, who said he had to talk the Sugar's board into funding the original BCS buy-in in 1998. Back then the bowl only had $1 million in the bank. Now it's part of an exclusive club that has other members wanting in. Hoolahan made reference to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones being, "a monster, a 500-pound gorilla who can bury us. [Jones] has an unlimited checkbook, a palatial facility."
There is widespread belief that Cowboys Stadium will be in the next BCS rotation. But no one knows exactly what that postseason will look like.
If the idea for the BCS is to protect the regular season, what if interest in that regular season is declining? The commissioners aren't doing themselves any favors. Tickets for the championship game cost $350. Major bowl games are being played during the work week after Jan. 1.
"Let's be honest guys. Economy is a big word," Hoolahan said. "You have to look at it that way. When you talk about playoff you better talk about what that is going to mean. How many venues can they go to before the big one?"
Hoolahan said that was he was OK hosting a national semifinal game in his bowl as long as double-hosting was kept alive. That would allow the Sugar to get its SEC team in most years it hosted a championship game. The downside of a playoff is the unanswered question of how fans would travel to multiple postseason games. As stated, the economy is already having an effect on the fans' ability to pay for the regular season.
"I can do that [host a semifinal] if there is something waiting down there," Hoolahan said. "I can't emphasize enough the relationship with the SEC." The SEC has delivered here to the point that Monday may turn out to be historic. Crowds swelled before the BCS title game, leading city officials to say it was growing to Mardi Gras-like proportions. Hoolahan said there would be a $500 million economic impact on the city, considering the Sugar Bowl game played a week ago.
"You saw the animal that we dealt with last night, not only inside [the stadium] but outside," Hoolahan said. "All that was weighing in the back of my head, that we were about to undertake something the magnitude of which would be discussed for a long time."