The Delany Party Like It’s 1997 BCS Bowl Proposal: Why It’s a Brilliant Chess Move (Unless You Want a Playoff)

As I was sitting in a post-Thanksgiving coma simultaneously enjoying The Sequel (let me pour one out in honor of the multiple first half 2-point conversion attempts over the years) and being mortified of the start of the Caleb Hanie Era in Chicago (*pounding head against the wall*), I started thinking about the last post that I wrote regarding the potential of a new BCS system that would only run the #1 vs. #2 national title game with all other bowls going back to their traditional tie-ins.  Effectively, it would be a reversion to the old Bowl Alliance system with the exception that the Big Ten and Pac-12 would send #1 or #2 ranked teams to the national championship game.  (Note that even though the Rose Bowl/Big Ten/Pac-12 triumvirate was technically not a part of the Bowl Alliance, the Big Ten still benefited by sending teams to Bowl Alliance bowls in 2 of the 3 years of the system’s existence.) It was subsequently reported that the genesis of such proposal was from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.  This is not surprising when you recall these quotes from last year about defending the BCS system:

“The notion,” Delany said, “that over time by putting political pressure on, it’s just going to get greater access, more financial reward and more access to the Rose Bowl, I think you’re really testing. I think people who have contributed a lot have, what I call, ‘BCS defense fatigue.’

“If you think you (WAC Commissioner Karl Benson) can continue to push for more money, more access to the Rose Bowl, or Sugar Bowl. I have tremendous respect for Boise and TCU. … I think they are tremendous teams that can beat any team in the country on a given day. I think the only question is, ‘Does one team’s 12-0 and another team’s 12-0 equate?’ And that’s where the discussion plays out, not whether or not they’re elite teams or deserving access to the bowl system.

“I’m not sure how much more give there is in the system.”

* * * * * *

“I think the system does provide access and opportunity for a team like Boise State or TCU to play in the championship game,” Benson said. “But we’ve also proven that it’s a lot easier to get to No. 4 than it is to get to No. 2.”

Benson said he supports the BCS, but wants even more access and more revenue. This is not a popular subject with Delany.

“We gave up the Rose Bowl, the SEC gave up access to the Sugar Bowl, others were included but they never had access to any of this before,” Delany said. “You have to understand who brought what to the table. Who’s continuing to give and who’s continuing to get.”

Delany, then, not so subtly drew a line in the sand.

“The only thing I would say, if you think you (the non-automatic qualifying leagues) can continue to pressure the system and we’ll just naturally provide more and more and more,” Delany said. “I don’t think that’s an assumption that our presidents, athletic directors, football coaches and commissioners necessarily agree with.

“Karl (Benson) says we like this contract and we want more. Well, we’ve got fatigue for defending a system that’s under a lot of pressure. The pressure is for more. It’s never enough.”

As you can see, the last thing that Jim Delany and the Big Ten want to do is provide more access to the non-automatic qualifier programs.  Ever since the formation of the BCS, the non-AQ conferences have been relentless in seeking more access, trying to drum up political opposition and pushing for a playoff.  While plenty of AQ fans want to see a playoff, it’s the non-AQ crowd that have always garnered the most hatred toward the BCS.

So, here’s what’s brilliant about Delany proposing to revert to an old school bowl format: the non-AQ conferences are now defending the current BCS system.  The debate has been completely changed from providing more spots to non-AQ schools or a playoff to whether the current access to top bowls for non-AQ programs will be maintained.  Delany and the Big Ten presidents may or may not be truly pushing this proposal, but in either event it’s an incredible tactical maneuver to deflect the constant pressure on changes to the BCS overall.  What’s scary to the non-AQ schools is that this is pretty legitimate threat since the bowls, TV networks and AQ conferences (except for maybe the Big East) would all certainly prefer the Delany Proposal.  Therefore, the non-AQs are now having to fight for the status quo as opposed to trying to get anything more.  Delany completed turned the BCS access issue on its head.

Whether you hate the BCS or not (and I’ve certainly had many proposals to change it over the years here, here, here and here), the fact of the matter is that the Boise States and TCUs (pre-joining-the-Big-East-then-the-Big 12) of the world would’ve never had access to the top bowl games without the BCS system in place.  The irony is that the AQ conferences may be the ones that ultimately dismantle the BCS and it would be the worst thing that could ever happen to the non-AQ leagues.  The Delany Proposal would result in multiple direct tie-ins for the power conferences without any slots for any non-marquee names.  As they say, be careful for what you wish for if you want to see the BCS get killed off.  You might just end up getting it and won’t like the results.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Orlando Sentinel)


BCS System Rumblings: Radical Change or Just Different Labels?

Let me state upfront that there hasn’t been anything on my mind lately other than the horrific scandal at Penn State that has led to the ouster of Joe Paterno, among others. Conference realignment and the football games on the field feel pretty inconsequential compared to the allegations facing Jerry Sandusky. However, for my own sanity, I’ll try to provide a brief respite from the dark news that seems to come daily with some thoughts on the latest BCS meetings along with some new proposals being kicked around. Realignment news has gone down to a trickle lately outside of some reports this week of BYU heavily entertaining a football-only invite to the Big East, so this is a good time to take some stock of big-picture college football postseason issues.

One of constants many people have been hearing is that the BCS may eliminate auto-qualifier status for conferences in its next TV contract cycle (which would being in 2014). Stewart Mandel of said that a “high-ranking BCS source told [him] ‘almost everyone’ wants to do away with AQ bids, but they’ve yet to focus in on a specific alternative”. Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas also indicated that he sensed support for the removal of AQ status.

Of course, there are many different interpretations of what “removing AQ status” actually means. A pure removal of AQ status would be a proposal that Dennis Dodd mentioned in the Neinas article linked above of simply having the top 10 teams in the BCS rankings get slotted into the various BCS bowls. That’s certainly the most egalitarian way of approaching things. Call me skeptical on this approach ever getting passed, though. A quick look at the latest BCS rankings show that the Big Ten’s highest-ranked team is at #15 and I can guarantee you that there will be a 3-week blizzard in hell before the Big Ten (or Pac-12, for that matter) gives up a Rose Bowl slot based on some top 10 ranking qualification. Every current AQ conference except for the Big 12 has had at least one champion ranked lower than #10 during the BCS era (yes, even the almighty and all powerful SEC) and more leagues adding conference championship games make that prospect even more likely in the future. Call me crazy, but I don’t see conferences that have 100% guarantees today giving them up (even if there’s a 90% chance that they wouldn’t be hurt in practice). The Big Ten would rather take a guaranteed Rose Bowl slot in 2011 than risk giving that up in order to shoot the moon to get 3 BCS bowl slots in 2010 (which would’ve happened under a top 10 rule).

This gets back to the question of what is actually meant by “AQ status”. One person that I’ve talked to with strong non-AQ conference ties (so there’s a measure of an admission against one’s self-interest here) said that another proposal under consideration by the college football commissioners is almost the flip side of the top 10 rule, where the BCS would exist only to create a #1 vs. #2 national championship game and the 4 current BCS bowls would be released to enter into whatever individual deals that they would like with various conferences and teams. In that scenario, there would technically no longer be AQ status, although in practice, the individual bowls would provide elevated status to the handful of chosen conferences that they agree to have tie-ins with (most prominently, the Rose Bowl with the Big Ten and Pac-12). Indeed, look at this quote from BCS executive director Bill Hancock following the BCS meetings on Monday:

“The BCS is so misunderstood,” he said. “It was created to match up No. 1 vs. No. 2. And because of the way the critics have reacted to it, it has become more than that. It was never intended to be anything more than that.”

From a 10,000-foot knee-jerk legal viewpoint, this might actually be a great move by the power conferences to institute this proposed change. The main thrust of the antitrust argument against the BCS (which, to be clear, I don’t agree with) is that the four BCS bowls and six AQ conferences have collectively created a cartel that has pricing power that excludes competition and subverts the free market. Letting each of the BCS bowls negotiate their deals individually, though, seriously undermines the cartel argument, as entering into such individual deals is the very essence of free market capitalism.* In essence, those bowls and conferences could actually become more exclusive than they are today under the current BCS system (as nothing would stop them from directly entering into contracts for multiple SEC and Big Ten schools while ignoring the current non-AQ schools completely) and remove a major legal issue from the table at the very same time. I could certainly see the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 signing up for this ASAP (as they all would be protected by bowl tie-ins), while I have no idea why the Big East and the non-AQ conferences would allow this to happen. The irony is that the BCS institutionalized a divide between AQ and non-AQ conferences, yet those non-AQ conferences got better access to top tier bowls as a result of that institution. Meanwhile, if the concepts of “AQ” and “non-AQ” go away, the non-AQ conferences may end up being worse off with the top bowls shutting them out in their own individual deals.

(* Note that American antitrust law is focused on protecting consumers, whereas European antitrust law is about preserving competition in and of itself. They’re related, but not really the same thing, as there are instances where a relative lack of competition could arguably be beneficial to consumers. A classic example is the rise of big box stores, where a handful of large stores have the ability to negotiate better prices with suppliers and those savings are passed onto consumers. There might be more competition on paper if you have dozens of small stores competing against each other, but consumers may get better prices if there are just three or four large stores in an area. European antitrust law cares about the former, while U.S. antitrust law favors the latter. In the bowl context, what the consumers want is indicated by TV ratings and ticket sales (as opposed to opinion polls). If bowls are left to their individual devices and prefer taking a 7-5 Notre Dame team instead of an undefeated Houston squad because the Irish would garner better viewership levels and fans in the seats, then that’s perfectly fine from a legal standpoint.)

Larry Scott’s quotes in the Stewart Mandel article linked above highlight this further:

“The thinking about AQ status is pretty different for the Pac-12 and Big Ten than it is for everybody else,” said Scott. “It isn’t as relevant given our unique relationship with the Rose Bowl. It doesn’t really matter for us one way or the other whether there’s AQ status or not.”

So, at least from the Pac-12 perspective, the Rose Bowl tie-in is completely separate from the concept of AQ status (even though in practicality, a guaranteed bowl-tie in exactly what AQ status is all about). It seems to me that it’s a matter of semantics. At the same time, if the Big Ten and Pac-12 still keep guaranteed tie-ins with the Rose Bowl, then the SEC is going to want its guaranteed tie-in with the Sugar Bowl, the Big 12 will want it with the Fiesta Bowl and the ACC will demand it with the Orange Bowl. The term “AQ status” might go away, but tie-ins would be here to stay. It would be the entities that don’t have tie-ins, such as the Big East, the current non-AQ conferences and even (gasp) Notre Dame that are at risk.

There could still be workarounds for the Big East in this scenario. For instance, if it came down to having to deal with individual bowls without an overarching BCS system, the Big East could link in Notre Dame in the manner that it has done with other bowl tie-ins (such as the Champs Sports Bowl). While that might not guarantee that the Big East champ goes to a top tier bowl every single year, linking in the Irish would make the league much more attractive in a pure bowl free market system.

Still, I’m sure that the Big East would much rather keep the current BCS system in place. In a weird twist, the non-AQ conferences may feel the same way. When the power conferences are the ones suggesting changes to the BCS system, rest assured that it’s not going to be done to help out the little guy.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from Wikipedia)

Show Me the SEC and Lawsuits

After almost two months of a public kabuki dance marked by Board of Regents meetings, authorizations authorizing prior authorizations and accidental web postings of press releases, Missouri has finally been officially invited to be the third group of Tigers in the SEC.  Most people that have followed college conference changes closely over the past year (like most of the readers here) understand that it was pretty much a no-brainer move for Missouri.  When I first started writing about conference realignment in connection with Big Ten expansion, I urged people to “Think like a university president and not like a sports fan.”  In many ways, Missouri moving to the SEC is the ultimate example of this way of thinking (and why, as Andy Staples aptly points out in, a lot of fans not attuned to the business issues at hand have a hard time understanding it).  Missouri is giving up several rivalries that have lasted over 100 years (including its most important one with Kansas), a Midwestern culture that most of the state’s population is a part of (even if certain parts such as Branson, AKA “Vegas for people without teeth”, might be more southern in nature) and Texas recruiting grounds all the while joining a meat grinder of a football conference.  To many sports fans, this is insanity for Missouri to leave for the SEC.  To university presidents that are looking for financial stability over everything else, though, the only insane choice would’ve been for Missouri to stay in the Big 12.  It comes down to this: if you had to wager your life savings on whether the SEC or the Big 12 would be around in 10 years, which would you choose?  Seeing how many times the Big 12 was placed on its deathbed over the last 18 months, it’s pretty simple to see that Missouri had to take a lifeline to head south.

In tandem with the Missouri news, West Virginia and the Big East are slapping each other with lawsuits with respect to the Mountaineers’ move to take the Tigers’ place in the Big 12.  The core issue is the 27-month notice period that the Big East requires for schools that leave the conference.  Now, as a lawyer that has the Lt. Kaffee “So this is what a courtroom looks like?” approach to litigation, I see the word “buyout” whenever I come across any long notice period in a contract.  In practicality, most parties that intend to end a business relationship want to get it over with ASAP.  At the same time, the law generally favors the payment of monetary damages as compensation for a breach of contract instead of specific performance.  Putting aside the fact that West Virginia’s lawsuit against the Big East looks like it was written in crayon (this complaint is really about WVU trying to avoid having to pay any monetary damages at all, which won’t fly), there’s absolutely no freaking way that the school will be forced to stay for that entire 27-month period (which prevent a move to the Big 12 until the 2014 season).  The Big East has to take a hardline posture on the notice period publicly in order to preserve its leverage against West Virginia (and, for that matter, its defectors to the ACC of Syracuse and Pittsburgh), but this is exactly the type of situation that calls for a financial settlement instead of specific performance.  I could see the three Big East defectors staying for the 2012 season if the conference isn’t able to add its own expansion targets prior to that time (in which case, specific performance is necessary as a result of the Big East not having enough members to exist as a football league in 2012 if those defectors left at that time).  However, with the expectation being that the “new Big East” would be in place in 2013, there’s little reason why West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt would need to stay beyond that point provided that they pay monetary damages.  (Note that while Syracuse and Pitt seem to be publicly quiet on the notice period issue, no one should take that to mean that they accept it.  Rest assured, they’re trying to get out of the Big East with the same amount of urgency as West Virginia.)

Speaking of the Big East expansion targets, my football-only Big Country Conference dream has taken another step forward with the Idaho State Board of Education approving Boise State taking steps to join the Big East (although that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re joining as of yet).  Boise State president Bob Kustra (who was actually Lt. Governor of Illinois under the Jim Edgar administration in the 1990s) actually had to be very forthright with the Board regarding the possible domino effect of the school’s potential move as it could very well impact the University of Idaho’s home of the WAC (which the Board also oversees).  He noted that WAC members Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State could head to Conference USA while Utah State and San Jose State may end up in the Mountain West.  That would mean that Idaho would be left behind with only newly admitted members Texas State and Texas-San Antonio.  With all of the political issues with separating and/or joining schools in other states (i.e. Texas politicians forcing Baylor and Texas Tech into the Big 12, the Virginia legislature forcing UVA to get Virginia Tech into the ACC, the binding of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, etc.), it’s interesting to see that the Idaho State Board of Education is willing to send the Vandals’ entire athletic department to the intensive care unit so that Boise State can get an AQ conference football-only invite.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I actually like the Big East’s intended expansion (adding Boise State, Navy and Air Force as football-only members and Houston, SMU and Central Florida as all-sports members) as a form of AQ status triage.  If the Big East could get BYU to join as a football-only member, it would be an absolute coup.  However, one major impediment (outside of BYU catching Notre Dame-itis in its view of its self-importance as an independent) is the widely rumored belief that Comcast/NBC may go after the Big East’s TV rights next year.  (From everything that I’ve seen, this rumor is completely blog and message board speculation without any backup, so we must assume that it’s true!)  Seeing that the entire reason why BYU left the Mountain West for independence was to get away from Comcast, I have a hard time seeing BYU joining the Big East if a Comcast deal is on the horizon.  In turn, I also can’t see the Big East foreclosing any future media rights opportunities simply to add BYU.  As with the Big 12, BYU’s TV rights situation is going to be the real issue with the school being an expansion target for the Big East as opposed to the red herring of Sunday play (which wouldn’t even apply in the case of a football-only invite).

Finally, we’ve gotten to the point in conference realignment where I hear “San Diego State is a Big East candidate” and don’t even flinch.  Frankly, I like the Aztecs as much as any non-BYU western candidate for the Big East.  The Big Country Conference is destined to be born.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

(Image from In 10 Words)