Take a good look at the new, improved BCS announced Thursday. New? Sort of, beginning in 2006. Improved? Put it this way: The cursed, confusing and confounding system has reached its breaking point.
There's no moving forward from this point without adopting a playoff of some kind. There's no more air pockets between the new double-hosting format (four bowls, five games beginning in 2006) and some sort of progression model where winning teams advance to a championship game.
Either go back to backroom deals or start ramping up for a playoff as soon as perhaps 2010 when the new contract could expire.
"It's painfully easy now to go to a playoff," said Jim Wheeler a former international marketing executive who spent part of the 80s and 90s trying to convince the NCAA to adopt a playoff. "It's already set up. I consider this a major victory for playoff proponents. It's almost a must-have interim step. In my opinion, it's more significant than bringing the Rose Bowl into the (BCS)."
Maybe, but why does the process still feel more torturous than watching Punk'd?
Starting in 2006, we're looking at a system that could match Boise State against Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Cincinnati could be out there as the Big East champion guaranteed a BCS bowl spot but where? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
If anyone thinks the BCS was repaired on Thursday, throw yourself in front of the "Salute to the Watermelon Industry" float on New Year's Day in Pasadena. This was just another slow, languid step toward sanity.
"With this long of a tradition things take a while," said Wheeler, now in charge of the business school's entrepreneurial program at his alma mater, Oklahoma. "The money they are getting is way up. It, the NFL and NSACAR are the healthiest sports. Slowly the check marks (against a playoff) are coming off."
|The championship game will be played a week after the other four bowl games.(Getty Images)|
Even with all that money, the number of profitable athletic departments could fit in a modest suburban cul-de-sac. Football is the only reason those chosen few see black ink. Major-college football is in the process of burning through the $525 million ABC paid for the BCS rights over the last seven years.
Playoff? The network needs a better product. The schools want more money for it.
It's no wonder ABC officials walked into a Scottsdale, Ariz., conference room in late April and proposed a lucrative five-plus-one model that would have made most everyone happy -- except the presidents.
One observer remarked: If only they could keep the presidents from talking to each other. But those college CEOs are worried about being able to look their peers in the eye. They are worried about a college athletics ideal that has long since sailed from port.
"It's part philosophical, part self-reinforcing," one source said of the presidents' stubbornness. "It's pretty difficult to overcome."
A new BCS was about accommodating the non-BCS schools while trying to retain the system's value. The BCS batted .500. ABC will pay later this year but only because it doesn't want the BCS to go out to bid. It's that lucrative a property that could be more lucrative if the presidents would loosen the reins just a little bit.
For years we've been told that college presidents are dead set against "second-semester football." Last season's Sugar Bowl was played on Jan. 4. In the new system, the title game will be played in the second week of January.
Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer (the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee chair) trotted out statistics Thursday that stated only 23 schools would be "affected" by a game played on Jan. 9.
So which is it, no second-semester football or only when it impacts more than 20 percent of I-A?
All this while presidents have violated lofty ideals in other areas. Some track, baseball and softball athletes are playing games so late in the spring and summer that their classes have graduated. There is even a movement within Division I baseball to extend the season into July.
Miami's Donna Shalala aggressively pursued an ACC expansion that increased missed class time for her players and added massive expenses to her athletic department.
It's a net gain for Miami, though. It takes money to make money. If only the presidents would admit that fact. Miami will profit from the move because ACC expansion includes a championship game and more bowl opportunities.
But one more game in the BCS is impossible? We're getting mixed messages here, guys.
ABC already has intimated it: A plus-one model is worth a truckload more money than double-hosting. All it required was the presidents allowing one more game, by two more teams. Four or five winners of BCS bowls would go into a pool, with two selected to play for the national championship. That's not even a full-on playoff although Frohnmayer conveniently labeled it as such.
"A playoff game as opposed to this model is just one step toward ... assuring there would be a full-fledged NFL-type playoff," Frohnmayer said, "which there is adamant opposition to."
Yeah, we've heard beer leads to heroin too.
The future suggests high-minded CEOs like Frohnmayer will be selling out in increments, instead of all at once. They will have to see the light. Postseason college football is a financial solution to a lot of problems. In basketball, the NCAA sees to it that tournament shares are split up equitably. In football, the best performers get the most money.
That's why the BCS exists. That's why commissioners will do their best to keep presidents' hands off it. But while the sport moves inexorably toward a playoff, major-college football has to pay the price of college sports' excesses.
Try to start the NCAA Tournament today. You couldn't. Not with the lengths some coaches are willing to go (see: scandals, recruiting) just to get in the field of 65. Not with a season so chock-full of practice, travel, games and tournaments that virtually no president would agree to it if it started from scratch.
All that before March Madness tips off.
Football now must bear the burden of being the politically correct sport. The presidents can't be caught approving what ABC, fans and some commissioners desperately want now.
Fair value for the product. The product being a playoff.