One more bowl, perhaps a lot less money.
That was the logical conclusion from a surprising reshuffling of college football's postseason on Sunday. A group of college presidents announced that the Bowl Championship Series would expand from four to five games beginning in 2006, providing more access to those games for the so-called "have-nots" 54 schools of Division I-A.
There also will be redistribution of the approximately $90 million in revenue produced by the BCS, 95 percent of which goes to the 63 BCS schools. But even those dramatic changes aren't final.
Still to be determined is how much money the restructured BCS is worth when commissioners go to renegotiate a new deal later this year.
The fifth bowl will be added, the presidents said, only "if the market supports it."
The presidents also were vague on how access would be improved for the disenfranchised schools from college football's lower tier. It's not even certain if the lower 54 would have a team in the lucrative bowl system each year.
The executives of the four major bowls that comprise the BCS also have to be consulted on the issue. They can't be happy, now having to wait an extra year for their turn to stage college football's national championship game.
The BCS national championship game has rotated between the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and Rose bowls every four years since 1998.
"What else does it mean for the selections?" Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker said. "What does it mean for payments? So much is unknown. I just don't know enough yet. It sounds like it's going to be a very broad set of discussion items."
Those items now look like they are being dumped in the laps of the conference commissioners. Those commissioners still have to determine what changes will be made to the selection process, which could be revamped dramatically in time for the new contract in two years. The BCS commissioners next meet April 26-27 in Phoenix.
Time is getting short, though. The Rose Bowl is still waiting for BCS finalization before beginning contract discussions with the Big Ten, Pac-10 and ABC in May. The BCS itself must begin negotiating in the fall for a new deal in 2006.
The urgency fell first to the presidents -- the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee made up of the CEOs from Oregon, Nebraska, Penn State and North Carolina State and the Presidential Coalition for Athletic Reform led by Tulane president Scott Cowen. They announced the changes Sunday in Miami Beach after their third meeting since September.
"From this day forward we should no longer talk about the two sides," Cowen said. "As far as I'm concerned we've gone out of business. Whether it's the BCS, XYZ, I don't care."
The six power conferences still control most of the money, just not as much of it. What seems a certainty is more financial equality: The 63 BCS schools will get less while the 54 below them will get more. The 63 schools take in $83.3 million of the $89 million in bowl revenue produced by the BCS.
In the past, that left $5.7 million for the "have-nots" that include Division I-AA conferences as well.
Under the current agreement, the champions of the Big East, Big 12, ACC and SEC each earn $13 million for playing in a BCS bowl. The champions of the Pac-10 and Big Ten are paid under a different contractual agreement if they play in the Rose Bowl. Second-place teams from a conference receive approximately $4.5 million.
With the addition of a fifth bowl, it's doubtful that $13 million payout will hold up when a new contract begins in 2006. Loren Matthews, ABC senior vice president for programming, recently told the Knight Commission that his network is losing money on the BCS.
In the current slumping economic climate, that is cause for a general downturn in sports rights fees. It would be a stretch to assume the BCS rights fees are going to grow significantly.
"I would agree with that unless they (BCS) consider going to two networks or unless they get somebody like Fox coming in to bid," said Chuck Neinas, a consultant for Conference USA and former Big Eight commissioner. "The coalition guys should be happy. They said they wanted access and the (non-BCS) stigma removed. Now we'll find out. I think it's a plus. On balance, it's good."
The clear winners:
- Non-BCS schools which have been clamoring for years to get into the BCS. The original rules stated any team qualified for the consideration of a BCS bowl by finishing in the top 12 of the final BCS ratings.
A top-six finish meant an automatic berth. But no non-BCS team has ever made it to the top six, leading to the current outcry. Cowen said that under the new system a team from the lower 54 would have qualified for the BCS in four of the six years.
That probably refers to Tulane in 1998, Marshall in 1999, TCU in 2000 and Miami (Ohio) in 2003. Only TCU, which finished 15th, didn't end up in the top 12. Again, the presidents weren't specific, but the cutoff for automatic BCS entry now seems to be set at between top 12 and top 15.
"It's doubling, perhaps tripling the opportunities (of those schools)," Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer said.
- Several non-BCS bowls now have a chance to bid on becoming that fifth bowl. Tom Mickle, executive director of both the Tangerine and Capital One bowls in Orlando, Fla., has been aggressively trying to get the Citrus Bowl into the BCS rotation.
"We're obviously very excited," said Mickle, a former ACC associate commissioner. "The game is afoot as Sherlock Holmes would say."
The Capital One between teams from the SEC and Big Ten is the highest-paying non-BCS bowl. It paid out $5.062 million for this year's Jan. 1 game, Mickle said. He agreed that the days of the $13 million payout might be gone in the new BCS setup.
The attraction, though, is being in the national championship rotation every five years.
"If you can get the national championship game every five years, that will drive significant dollars from the local market," he said. "You can package it as a five-year buy (for a sponsor)."
The Cotton, Alamo, Peach, Gator and Houston bowls are also expected to make aggressive bids for the fifth bowl.
- The presidents did announce that the Big East will retain its automatic BCS status. That had been in doubt after the ACC expansion raid last year. However, the Big East will be subject to the existing BCS membership requirements. A league's champion must average at least a No. 12 final ranking over a four-year period.
Subtracting Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College from the Big East over the past four years, the champion would have averaged almost a No. 21 final ranking.
- Cowen got what he wanted. It's doubtful the changes would have been made without Cowen's outspoken advocacy. He formed the coalition was in July. His own school almost dropped football in the offseason and the athletic department ran a $7 million deficit. Part of that, he said, was because of the BCS' inequity.
He got the government involved with congressional hearings that left the threat of anti-trust action if the BCS didn't change. All along, Cowen argued that with more access and a redistribution of funds, equality would be achieved. For now he has gotten his way.
- The existing BCS bowls. It's not clear which bowls will have to take any so-called "mid-majors" that qualify. For example, the Fiesta would love Ohio State and Miami but Ohio State and Miami (Ohio) is another story.
"They left out a lot of details," said BCS expert Jerry Palm. "There's a reason these (non-BCS schools) were left out in the first place. If you get TCU and Miami (Ohio), I don't care if they're top five, nobody watches. It's a real risk for the TV networks for the presidents to say, 'We might add one or two teams.' They're not going to bring fans. TCU didn't even sell out a home bowl game against Boise State."
- The Have Not conferences. The system does not guarantee inclusion into a BCS bowl every year. The highest ranked of the non-BCS schools still will have to achieve a certain ranking.
The biggest beneficiary of a BCS berth is the conference because, in general, all the bowl money is put into a pot and distributed more or less equally. That money helps fund the conference office as well as minor sports at schools.
In years when a have-not school doesn't get in, a conference windfall will be missed. The BCS conferences will still be getting that windfall every year.
- Playoff supporters. The so-called "four-plus-one" model would have earned more money all around. In other words, adding a fifth bowl to stage a championship game after the four current BCS bowls.
But the presidents didn't want to extend the season any longer. That smacks of a playoff, although a small one, something the presidents want to avoid at all costs.
"There is no sentiment of any significance for a national playoff," Frohnmayer said. "That did seem a fruitful avenue to pursue."
- The networks. As mentioned, the onus is now on ABC (or whoever gets the rights) to make the BCS a profitable entity with a diluted product. What if ABC tells the BCS the marketplace won't support a fifth bowl?
"I think we sit down and talk some more," Frohnmayer said.