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Playoffs bowled over
graphic January 1, 2002: 7:49 a.m. ET

Don't expect a college football playoff, even if BCS produces split champ.
A twice weekly column by Staff Writer Chris Isidore
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  • Sports: College teams fail Econ 101 - Nov. 13, 2001
  • CBS to ink new $6B contract for NCAA basketball - Nov. 18, 1999
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  • Business of sports column archive
  • CNNSI.com's coverage of 2001 College Bowls
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    NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - To many football fans, BCS has become a four-letter word.

    The Bowl Championship Series was created in 1998 by the commissioners of college football's top conferences to try to reach a consensus on which two teams should play for the national championship, rather than having the top teams potentially play in different bowls and leave the question of which is the nation's top team uncertain. Four of the top bowls - the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl - take turns as host of the championship game.

    But this year there is again the chance of split champions being named. The undefeated University of Miami plays Nebraska Thursday in the Rose Bowl. If 11-1 Nebraska wins, they would be named champs by the BCS system. But in that case the winner of Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl, the 11-1 Oregon Ducks, could also have a claim on being the best team. The Ducks scored a 38-16 rout of the 10-3 Colorado Buffaloes, who stomped Nebraska 62-36 in November. Both Oregon and Colorado ended the season ahead of Nebraska in AP's media poll.

    Even though Division 1-A football is the only college sport without a championship playoff system, such a system has as much shot at being approved in the current environment as George O'Leary's getting a coaching job with his tainted resume.

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    If Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch leads Nebraska over Miami in Thursday's Rose Bowl, it will increase the futile calls for a football playoff system to pick an undisputed champion.
    That's because the commissioners of the various major football conferences who created the BCS aren't about to yield control of the games, and the dollars involved. And while the additional dollars that a playoff system would bring are huge, there are enough other parties out there who fear they'll lose more than they'll win from a change.

    "The BCS conferences reap over 90 percent of bowl money," said Daniel Fulks, a professor and director of the accounting program at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., and the author of a report on revenue and expenses of intercollegiate athletics for the NCAA. "The (playoff) idea might end up making more money, but it might mean less money for the conferences. The only thing that's clear is BCS conferences would be losing control. That's what frightens them, is the unknown."

    The power of the commissioners is strong enough that the NCAA wouldn't dare to challenge them at this point. The organization which oversees championships in every other sport is engaged in a study of the economics of Division 1-A football, the grouping that includes all the top schools. But the study specifically states that it will not consider the question of a possible football playoff system, and the NCAA press office won't even entertain questions about whether there should be such a system.

    Besides the major conference commissioners, the playoff idea also probably scares the organizers of more than 20 lesser bowl games that aren't in the BCS system, as well as the schools being invited to the second-tier bowls that wouldn't make the cut of the nation's top eight teams.

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    Lesser college bowl games, such as the Humanitarian Bowl in snowy Boise, Idaho, could find themselves in trouble if there's ever a true football playoff system installed.
    Right now the three BCS bowl games that aren't billed as the championship match-up don't necessarily have that much greater of a claim on viewer's time and sponsors' and networks' dollars than some of the other non-championship bowl games, such as the Cotton Bowl or the Citrus Bowl. That wouldn't be the case if there were a series of seven playoff games which all included contenders for the national titles spread out over the course of three weekends. Those lesser bowl games could find themselves in trouble.

    In today's world, just about any major college team with a winning record can get some bowl invitation. If the number of bowl games declines, and the same eight teams fill all the spots in the top seven games, many colleges making a bowl trip today won't do so in the future.

    And the playoff would virtually end the chance of a decent payday for teams that now get those lesser bowl bids. The four BCS bowls currently pay $11 million to $13 million each, and only four others have payouts of $2 million or more. Most of the rest pay less than $1 million.

    Click here for CNNSI.com's college bowl coverage

    Television networks are probably just as happy not to have another monster sports rights package out there for a bidding war. The networks have enough trouble making money on the big ticket packages such as the World Series, Olympics or even the NCAA basketball tournament given the billions that the rights agreements entail. Getting into another bidding war wouldn't be a way of ensuring more profits, even if it did capture more viewers.

    So if Nebraska wins Thursday, you can expect complaints and debates about who should be considered the true champions of college football. But most of the fans will get the wrong answer, no matter who they pick. Because the true champions of college football this year, and every year, are the major conferences. graphic

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      RELATED STORIES

    Sports: College teams fail Econ 101 - Nov. 13, 2001

    CBS to ink new $6B contract for NCAA basketball - Nov. 18, 1999

      RELATED LINKS

    Business of sports column archive

    CNNSI.com's coverage of 2001 College Bowls





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