SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bowl Championship Series officials have only begun to unravel what has become, for them, the equivalent of a strand of DNA.
How to add a fifth bowl that almost nobody wants? At least none of the power brokers who have made the BCS a lucrative, if controversial, property. Commissioners and bowl executives began three days of meeting here Monday trying to figure out their own double helix.
|Under a different format, Roy Williams' final game at Texas might have been in a BCS bowl. (Getty Images)|
The as yet undetermined bowl is meant to provide access and money for the six conferences, with 54 teams, previously left out of the BCS loop. But sponsors, bowl executives and BCS commissioners are already in a quandary over it even though the added bowl wouldn't debut until after the 2006 season.
"The question is, we don't know," said Neil Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and well-known sports broadcasting consultant here for the meetings. "From what I understand, ABC is not enthusiastic about a fifth bowl."
The 24 non-BCS bowls were asked last week to confirm by e-mail their interest in becoming the fifth bowl. They see, literally, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach college football's top postseason echelon.
"This process started in 1992 (with the Bowl Coalition)," Capitol One Bowl executive director Tom Mickle told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "and they may be signing a 10-year contract that will take us out to 2017. That's 25 years and perhaps only one moment in time for us to have an entry point."
The Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar have been together in the BCS since 1998, each getting the championship game once every four years. That once-every-four-years scenario has been a hard enough sell to sponsors who are uncomfortable with their product being out of the championship limelight for three years at a time.
Now bowl executives might be forced to approach their sponsors asking for an additional year of "anonymity" if a fifth bowl is wedged into the rotation.
"It's going to be sticky," said Paul Hoolahan, Sugar Bowl executive director. "We've only got two more years on our contract with Nokia. So we're going to try to negotiate with them and try to convince them that five is better than four. And guess what? They weren't happy with four."
Some sponsors have based more than half of the BCS bowl buy on the one-in-four model. Pilson said a sponsor paying $10 million could now be asked to pony up $12.25 million -- or another fourth of a share -- to accommodate a fifth bowl.
The math doesn't add up with two more slots being added to the BCS -- one at-large (supposedly a second-place team from a major conference) and one non-BCS member. If the system would have been in place last year that probably would have meant Texas and Miami (Ohio) in the mix.
Nothing wrong with Texas. But bowl directors trying to fill a 75,000-seat stadium are more than worried about the fans following small schools with small fan bases.
"It's an added game," Pilson said, "a certain amount of dilution will take place. It remains to be seen if that game is going to be economically viable."
That's one of the big rubs. BCS presidents specified that a fifth bowl will only be added if the market supports it. If not, what is the alternative? BCS commissioners could bid out their property to raise revenue. There is speculation that CBS and Fox are interested. A bidding war could produce a Super Bowl model where networks get the championship game every other year.
A lower-tier bowl could be elevated to the BCS level on the condition that it is either not in the championship rotation or only on limited basis. Once during the term of a 10-year contract has been speculated.
The four-year old Houston Bowl is a possibility in that scenario. Its bowl partners include the Big 12 and SEC. The city and Reliant Stadium have already received high marks for hosting a college bowl game, a Big 12 Championship Game (2002, Oklahoma-Colorado) and a Super Bowl. Reliant Stadium itself is under new management, SMG, which bought the rights to the Houston Bowl.
"We're certainly going to discuss that to see how important that championship game is," said Houston Bowl executive director Jerry Ippoliti. "If we weren't in the rotation we would somewhat reluctant. Talking to bowls this past week that was extremely important to them."
Can those non-BCS schools that fought so hard for inclusion get by without an extra bowl if the market doesn't support it? Non-BCS schools already are guaranteed a bigger cut of BCS revenue beginning in 2006 -- 15 percent, up from the current five percent.
"That's going to be a key issue," said Big 12 commissioner and incoming BCS chairman Kevin Weiberg. "We don't even know if there would be a bowl that would be interested in participating without being in the championship rotation. It's certainly possible a bowl might have interest without hosting a championship game."
The situation is sticky also because of the long-standing sponsor relationships. The Orange Bowl has been with FedEx since the 1980s. Tostitos has been the primary sponsor of the Fiesta Bowl since 1995. Nokia has been with the Sugar for more than a decade.
"I'd hate to lose (that relationship)," the Sugar Bowl's Hoolahan said. "Where do you start out trying to convince someone to come on board for five years?"
It's almost certain, for now, a fifth bowl in the championship rotation would decrease team payouts. Under the current agreement, the six major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10, Big Ten) are each guaranteed at least $17 million from their participation each year.
Simple BCS math says the system would have to produce 25 percent more revenue to make a fifth bowl economically viable. Last year's revenue from the four games was approximately $100 million.
It's no secret the BCS fathers acquiesced to a possible fifth bowl under threat of legal action from non-BCS schools. Although the BCS commissioners thought they could win such a battle, they concluded a protracted court fight that could reach the halls of Congress wasn't worth the time and bad publicity.
So, here in the desert, they are just coming to grips with what they have agreed to:
- A reduction in team payouts if sponsors and networks don't come across with the 25 percent increase.
- A hot potato. BCS executives are reluctant to say it out loud, but none of them want to take that non-BCS team because it has less fan and TV interest than a traditional "Big Six" team. To its credit, the Fiesta Bowl has shown legitimate interest in taking a non-BCS team in the past if it qualified. It scouted and was serious about taking TCU last year.
- Possibly damaging an existing bowl tie-in. For example, if Texas had been taken by a fifth bowl last year, that would have hurt the Holiday which picked the Longhorns to match against Washington State, under the agreement it has with the Big 12.
- Confusion about anchor bowls. With the hot potato in the mix, BCS bowls no doubt will be trying to solidify their bowl anchors. Orange (ACC), Sugar (SEC) and Fiesta (Big 12) will want to hold on to those conference champions. The Sugar Bowl, for example, knows it is going to sell out regardless because it is guaranteed the SEC champion at least three out of every four years.
"I'm sure there will be movement afoot to have anchor conferences in certain bowls," said Alamo Bowl executive director Derrick Fox, whose bowl is interested in joining the BCS.
What it means for the consumer in the short term is more waiting. Commissioners aren't expected to get heavy into the fifth-bowl issue while here. But sooner or later, college football's DNA strand will have to be dissected.