PHOENIX -- The Legos are in place. Or Tinker Toys. Or Lincoln Logs. Whatever you want to call the new Bowl Championship Series.
The structure is in place for a small, modest playoff in Division I-A football.
|The system was put in place to help mid-majors like Utah. (Getty Images)|
It might take that long to figure out the current BCS structure, which kicks off this season. Ask around. Here's a bet that a large chunk of coaches don't even know how things are going down this season.
And we're less than nine months away from playing the actual bowl games.
That's why we offer this tutorial from this week's BCS meetings.
What's this new "double-hosting" format?
Starting this season, there are now five BCS bowls instead of four. Because of a threat of Congressional anti-trust intervention launched by non-BCS schools, a fifth game was added for better access two years ago at these meetings.
That means the bowl that is hosting the national title game each year -- after this season it is the Fiesta Bowl -- will also host its normal bowl game more or less a week prior.
Here's how it looks this year:
- Jan. 1: Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
- Jan. 1: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
- Jan. 2: Orange Bowl in Miami
- Jan. 3: Sugar Bowl in New Orleans
- Jan. 8: BCS national title game back in Glendale, Ariz.
Give us a projected lineup in those bowls
- Fiesta Bowl: Big 12 champ vs. at-large (Oklahoma vs. West Virginia)
- Rose Bowl: Pac-10 champ vs. Big Ten champ (USC vs. Iowa)
- Orange Bowl: ACC champ vs. at-large (Florida State vs. Texas)
- Sugar Bowl: SEC champ vs. at-large (Notre Dame vs. Auburn)
- BCS national championship: No. 1 vs. No. 2 in final BCS standings (No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU, based on SportsLine.com pre-spring top 25)
How does a non-BCS school get in?
Nothing is finalized -- hey, it's only April -- but count on any team from a "coalition conference" (MAC, WAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA) automatically qualifying by finishing in the top 12 of the BCS standings.
A further entry point: If the lowest-ranked BCS conference winner (among the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC, ACC and Big East) finishes No. 16 or lower, a coalition can get in by finishing No. 15 or higher.
Does the extra BCS game make sense to you?
Yes: It gives mid majors a cut.
No: But it sets up a possible 'plus one.'
Total Votes: 3,297
That means last year No. 14 TCU, at 11-1, would have gotten in because ACC champion Florida State finished No. 22 at 8-5.
Utah is the only non-BCS program to reach a BCS bowl in the seven-year history of the system. It reached the Fiesta Bowl in 2004 under the old, more restrictive automatic qualification standards -- finishing in the top six.
What about more BCS schools getting in at-large?
On Wednesday, the BCS commissioners decided to expand the pool of eligible I-A teams from top 12 in the final BCS standings to top 14. With 10 slots to fill this year, it seemed to make sense. Remember, teams are only "eligible," not "automatic."
Last year, that would have meant Alabama would have been eligible. In 2004, both Michigan and Miami would have been eligible.
So where's the non-BCS team in your projections?
I don't see one automatically qualifying. Utah is a shadow of his former self in its second year after Urban Meyer. TCU has too tough a road to climb to repeat 11-1. Conference USA is down slightly this season. The MAC is struggling mightily.
For a team to qualify, it most likely is going to have to start ranked and beat a BCS-conference school or two to establish its poll credibility. TCU is the only candidate right now but plays at Baylor (don't laugh) and Texas Tech in the first month.
|Don't worry, Charlie, the Golden Domers will get their money. (Getty Images)|
Notre Dame must finish with at least nine wins and in the top eight to automatically qualify.
However, its payout is changed. It is guaranteed $1 million each year from the BCS in years it does not qualify. In years that it does reach the BCS, it will receive only at-large money -- approximately $4.5 million.
That means if ND goes to a BCS bowl once a decade, it will earn less in that period than it did last year playing in the Fiesta Bowl last season under the old payout schedule.
Why is there double-hosting? Why not make that fifth game a meeting of the two best remaining teams that win their bowl games?
The so-called "plus-one" was discussed. Two years ago in its negotiations with the BCS, ABC wanted that to increase the value of the package with advertisers.
BCS presidents nixed a plus-one and ABC's interest cooled. In came Fox to snatch the rights to every BCS bowl but the Rose. The BCS basically called ABC's bluff. When the network wanted back in after it found out Fox was serious, it was too late.
Doesn't this water down the product? One more game to accommodate the likes of TCU, Utah or Tulane in any given year?
Yes. After the championship game, the BCS simply isn't as compelling.
But this is where it gets in interesting. As we mentioned, the basic skeleton is now in place for a modest playoff because that fifth game has been added.
Fox knows it is in on the ground floor should the BCS at any point during the contract decide to go to a plus-one.
"If you're in the game you have a better chance of getting a hit," said Larry Jones, Fox Sports chief operating officer.
What about double-hosting morphing into a plus-one by, say, the end of this decade?
The presidents are still dead set against it, but privately some BCS officials say they sense some "melting" of that resolve.
The big hang-up seems to be with the Rose Bowl, but as long as it can get the Pac-10 and Big Ten champions each year, it doesn't care.
Currently, the presidents look hypocritical for 1) declaring no more second-semester football, then playing a game on Jan. 8; 2) adding a 12th regular-season game (beginning this year) when they are adamantly against a playoff.
So what's the best solution?
Glad you asked. First, have all the bowls go back to their natural tie-ins, no exceptions.
The Rose gets the Pac-10 and Big Ten champion each year. The Sugar gets the SEC champ. The Fiesta gets the Big 12 champ. The Orange gets the ACC and Big East champions.
Then fill in with at-large teams. After those games are played, take the two remaining highest-ranked teams in the BCS and play the national championship game a week or so later.
The bowls are happy. The teams are happy, or should be. Hypothetically, each bowl would be compelling. The BCS is happy because the value of the product goes up. There's no denying that the rights holders would be ecstatic.
"(This) could certainly serve as a structure for a different format," BCS coordinator Mike Slive said of double-hosting.
An added perk: This model eliminates having the week-by-week BCS standings that, in some years, exacerbate the criticism when things start to go wrong.
Does the BCS formula change?
No. It's going to be the Harris poll and coaches poll combined with the six computer indexes.
Things worked so well last year. Why change anything?
The changes made two years ago came when TV and bowl contracts were expiring. The BCS was coming off the split national championship of 2003 (LSU and USC). The system was under fire.
Last year, Texas and USC were clearly the two best teams. The Rose Bowl drew the highest rating for a college football game in 19 years. Each of the four BCS bowls were compelling.
This year? Stay tuned.