College football has been devalued.
The forced addition of a fifth bowl to the Bowl Championship Series has put the economic brakes on a sport that grew through inflation, an Arab oil embargo, junk bonds, the dot-com boom/bust and war. By sheer popularity, the sport has had sustained growth since Keith Jackson reined in his first Nellie.
|Nebraska is one school that could benefit greatly from a permanent 12th regular-season game. (Getty Images)|
It's funny/ironic/sad that a second-tier bowl that has been populated with second-place (at best) teams could slow the most resilient economy in sports. Adding a fifth game throws a stick into the spokes of a smooth-running 10-speed. It doesn't just affect the BCS, it reaches down to the secondary bowl level. It starts to rub against traditions and in the case of the Rose Bowl, a 100-year-old institution.
Adding a top-tier bowl and populating it with a non-BCS team is sure to lower the value of that game. And, by association, the BCS. And, by association, college football itself.
"It's like tossing a Rubik's Cube into a big computer," one prominent athletic director said. "There may be a solution there, but it's not obvious."
Right now, four bowls produce $100 million distributed among eight teams and their conferences. Simple math tells you that the fifth bowl, with two more participants, must be worth $25 million just to gain a push.
But experts believe the fifth bowl would be worth far less. A non-BCS entry wouldn't be nearly as attractive, from the standpoint of attendance and television ratings.
The BCS presidents have put themselves squarely on the hot seat. By approving a devalued game and stiff-arming a "plus-one" model -- a standalone national championship game after the BCS -- they have essentially told major college football to accept less money for their postseason product.
That won't happen. One interested party close to the situation says the presidents eventually will cave on their high-minded ideals. If the annual flow of money from the bowls slows even a little bit, presidents will be directly affected.
"How is that going to play with (these schools') regents?" said the source, who did not want to be identified but has been involved with major college football at the highest levels. "It's OK for people to sit in living rooms and talk about this, but even if you're talking $50,000 or $100,000, you're talking about the travel budget for the volleyball team."
All politics, the source said, are local. In other words, bad financial news always trickles down in college sports. In the macroeconomic sense, the BCS could be worth $1 billion over the course of a 10-year deal. In the micro sense, if the overall money is less, universities will be directly affected.
There are enough athletic departments that are subsidized by the university side. Those subsidies come, in some cases, directly from tuition. Tuitions keep going up. See the pyramid scheme? Any athletic department forced to ask for more university subsidies because of a football revenue shortfall is in trouble.
In short, the current BCS setup is good for the "local economy." The future could be financial ruin. That's why eventually the pious presidents will have to accept some form of these resolutions to the fifth-bowl question:
1. Institute a permanent 12th game for all Division I-A teams. One commissioner said there is "more momentum" for this model than a plus-one format. Teams already are allowed to play a 12th game in years when a 14-week calendar exists. Sort of like Halley's Comet, the next window exists in 2008. Athletic directors fell in love with the idea when 12th games were played in 2002 and 2003.
Adding a permanent 12th game solves two problems:
1) The revenue alone from an extra home game would amount to gobs more money for several teams in I-A. Nebraska grosses $6 million-$7 million from every home game. Even for teams in the WAC, MAC and Conference USA an extra home game would make up for the money lost by killing a plus-one model.
2) The NCAA is on the cusp of approving three more bowls for 2005, bringing the postseason total to 31. That's 62 of 117 teams in bowl games. Look at last year's standings. In a 12-game schedule, only 62 teams qualified for a bowl. Without a 12th game, 31 bowls cannot work.
With a 12th game, it's more financially palatable for the five bowls to rotate the championship and end college football on or around Jan. 1.
"That is probably how it ends up," the source said of the 12th game. "That's the most likely model."
2. The presidents swallow their pride and accept second-semester football ("plus-one"). Semantically, it doesn't have to be a "playoff." The five bowls will be in existence. Breaking one off to stage a stand-alone championship game later in January isn't necessarily instituting a playoff. It also doesn't wreck the student-athlete model. Ask basketball and baseball players how much class time they miss. The answer is a lot more than football which, by the way, would be playing that extra game during Christmas break.
It would, however, provide enough revenue to make five bowls work. ABC proved that last week when it made a proposal for Five-Plus-One.
3. Bid out the BCS. ABC desperately wants to keep the rights to the BCS (and a virtual monopoly on postseason football). However, the product might be worth more if the BCS went out to bid. ABC reportedly wants a 10-year deal. Some commissioners want to talk to other networks.
4. Hidden money. It's not beyond the networks, one source said, to structure an offer so that the power conferences get a few million extra that is not as obvious in the BCS split. In other words, a five-bowl structure is devalued, but the rights holder slips the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Big East and SEC a few mil extra on the side.
5. Paying off the non-BCS schools. Starting in 2006, the 54 non-BCS schools are getting a larger share of the BCS pot as well as a fifth bowl. Could those schools be "bought off" with an even bigger share and eliminate the fifth bowl? One non-BCS commissioner said it's more about playing football than getting more money.
"My sense is that it's about getting on the field," he said. "We've got to get on the field."
One variation is keeping the fifth bowl but not having it in the championship rotation or in the rotation on a limited basis (once every 10 years, for example). There are a precious few bowls that could do that. The Houston Bowl has been mentioned, but its director, Jerry Ippoliti, said his bowl would only be interested in the BCS if it were in the championship rotation.
All five of those options involve presidents adjusting the model to maximize revenue. Devaluation is something they didn't take into account when they dumped a fifth bowl in the commissioners' laps. Less money on campus is something that they cannot accept.
Another problem with a split national title
ABC's Loren Matthews reacted recently to criticism from Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan that the network undercut his game in January.
Hoolahan said he was upset about ABC analysts pumping up Southern California as the nation's best team after the Rose Bowl. He said that hurt the buildup for the Oklahoma-LSU Sugar Bowl, which was the BCS title game.
"We are the network of the BCS," said Matthews, senior vice president of programming. "We want the championship game of the BCS to be as valuable as possible. We do not tell our announcers what to say. They have and are entitled to their own opinions."
Hoolahan mentioned that he was upset at some comments made my studio analysts John Saunders and Terry Bowden.
"We promoted and considered the national championship game to be the Nokia Sugar Bowl," Matthews said. "That doesn't mean that some of our announcers can't have some journalistic integrity in terms of their views."
- Much like Tulane last year and San Jose State more recently, Rice is considering downgrading or eliminating its football program. With the athletic department reportedly $10 million in the red, much of the burden is being put on football. It's hard to take the school's plight seriously when Rice president Malcolm Gillis is planning to fight George Foreman. Gillis, 63, is going to take on Foreman, 55, for charity. Gillis might recover some of the school's dignity, and some cash, if Foreman donated some money to the athletic department -- or at least a few hamburger cookers.
- NFL scouts have told Cal coaches that junior-to-be quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be a first-round draft choice if he came out right now. Rodgers has started less than one full season, which speaks to the prowess of coach Jeff Tedford, who has tutored a few QBs in his time. (Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, Akili Smith, Trent Dilfer, all of whom are or were in the NFL).
- Joe Paterno worked on his team's conditioning during the spring. The Nittany Lions, 3-9 in 2003, trailed by seven points or fewer going into the fourth quarter of six games. They were 0-6 in them.
- Now David Pollack knows what a quarterback feels like when he sacks one -- sort of. Georgia's All-American defensive end narrowly avoided serious injury last month when he fell down a flight of stairs at a teammate's boathouse. Thirty-two stitches were required to close a head wound. Doctors told him that a few inches either way and Pollack could have severed an artery or lost an eye. He fell against a glass display case.
- Noted disciplinarian and resumé writer George O'Leary is known for making those around him ill at ease. He has gotten results on the field, but that doesn't necessarily endear him to support staff. Assistant coaches this spring at UCF weren't allowed hats or sunglasses in the Florida sun during practices. How did they cope? "Sunscreen," said one.
- Wisconsin's new quarterback, John Stocco, comes in with a reputation. For two years, he was Larry Fitzgerald's high school quarterback.