It’s an awesome time to be a college football fan, because today should be the beginning of the end for the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). While other cracks in the armor have come to light recently, today marks the release of “Death of the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series” a book by Yahoo Sports writers Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan.
I haven’t read the book so I won’t review it here, but all of the reviews have been consistent that the book effectively pulls back the curtain and shines a bright light on an organization, or “cartel” as they call it, that has desperately tried to remain in the shadows. The book goes into great detail on the immorality, corruption and illegality of the BCS, but for the purposes of this blog post let’s just focus on the big issue of money. Per the authors’ extensive research, replacing the BCS with a 16 game playoff would inject another $750M annually to participating Division 1-A universities.
As everyone already knew, the architects of the BCS original intent was to keep the significant bulk of the bowl revenue among a smaller subset of eligible universities. The purposeful creation of an inefficient market stunted the growth of that market. So the BCS architects did a very effective job of ensuring that they kept the biggest piece of the pie, but at the expense of growing the whole pie. And with Division 1-A football being the major revenue driver for all of college athletics, that negative impact trickled down onto the entire college sports economy.
So with these revelations becoming public and detailed, it seems difficult to imagine that the BCS can be credible or viable much longer. A few weeks after the University of Cal-Berkeley had to announce the elimination of 5 sports due to budgetary concerns (despite the fact that they’ve committed $320M to upgrade their football stadium), there’s no way that rational people can justify leaving that kind of money on the table for much longer, and that’s if everything else were equal. As Death to the BCS details so well, everything else is not equal. (Dan Wolken of the Memphis Commercial Appeal says in his review, “School presidents with a shred of integrity should be embarrassed that they have collectively kept [the BCS] in business.”)
Despite the moral objections of many university administrators everywhere, the inevitable playoff will give college athletics departments even more power and degree of importance on campus. Revenues and expenses had already been rising dramatically for many Division 1-A athletic departments. As an example, the University of Oregon athletic department budget has grown 250% over the past decade. A handful of university athletic departments have topped the $100M annual revenue benchmark and more are sure to follow. And now we find out there’s another $750M, at least, ready to be added to the pot? University administrators better understand that if you have a Division 1-A football program, your athletic department is rapidly becoming its own media company and an increasingly important strategic asset for a university. The dollars are getting too big to treat it as something else.
And there’s no way that would be the end of it. A significant reason for the NFL’s dominance over the American sports landscape can be attributed specifically to revenue sharing and other provisions to ensure an element of league parity. Each year, every fan of every NFL team knows it has a realistic shot at the Super Bowl. Well, within reason anyway. Even fans of the Detroit Lions know they have a much more realistic shot at a championship than say, a Sun Belt school. The more parity there is, the higher the NFL’s ratings climb. The BCS’s unequal distribution of wealth assured that there could be no parity in college football, and as a result, I’m guessing about 10% of the potential pool of fans believes their alma mater has a chance to win in any given year.
By bringing an element of parity to college football the market will grow faster than anyone realizes. With the element of a potential Cinderella season, a concept which has proven so successful in the college basketball playoff, fans and alumni of 100+ universities will have “a chance”. That will drive ratings and demand through the roof. I’m just guessing, but I tend to believe that $750M number will be much higher by the time this gets implemented.
By getting rid of the exclusive BCS and constructing an inclusive playoff system, the revenues and exposure and number of fans with an engaged interest will accelerate the already rapid growth of college sports. This growing dynamic will meet a quickly evolving media landscape (something we’ll cover in other posts), one which will also have a huge impact on college athletics. But the bottom line is that the death of the BCS will be the start of a new and improved day in college athletics.