Friday, January 13, 2012

Final BCS Thoughts

I couldn't resist offering some wrap-up thoughts on the BCS.  Now that the ratings are out, it's clear that the 2nd Annual 2011-2012 BCS Championship Game was easily the most watched bowl game this year (dang it!), but that's just about the only good news out there for fans of the BCS system.  Observe the brutal reality:

College football's average 2011-12 bowl rating fell to a new low in the 14-year history of the Bowl Championship Series. 
Viewership was down 8 percent from last year and dropped below 2007 for the lowest average rating since the controversial BCS began, according to an analysis by The Birmingham News of Nielsen Media Research data. The average rating declined for the second straight year and has dropped 37 percent since the BCS-era high of 1998, when there were 13 fewer bowls. 
Fewer TV viewers coincided with the average bowl attendance dipping below 51,000 for the first time since 1979. BCS leaders this week began discussing the future of the postseason format, including the possibility of a four-team playoff, which NCAA President Mark Emmert said Thursday he would support as long as the field doesn't grow. 
ESPN's broadcasts of the five BCS bowls dropped 6 percent to an average 8.9 rating -- meaning 8.9 percent of U.S. television households were watching. Alabama-LSU produced a 14.0 rating by Nielsen, the third-lowest rated BCS Championship Game ever, and the Orange Bowl became the least-watched BCS game in the BCS era. ... 
Twenty-one of 34 bowls counted by Nielsen attracted fewer viewers than a year ago, including 11 that plummeted by 20 percent or more. ... 
Six of the seven most-watched bowl games this season saw their viewership drop. ...

While the SEC didn't take nearly the hit I was hoping for (yeah, I can admit it), and actually seems to have done the best of all the leagues in terms of viewership, the bottom line is that the BCS is failing...badly.

I heard one of the local sports radio guys talk about this last week, and he raised one more really good point - the three lowest BCS bowls (in terms of viewership) all included a team that didn't even win its own conference.  This year, one of the teams didn't even play in its own conference championship game.  Ironically, that was Alabama, the 'champion'.  That's the kind of thing that may not matter at all to that particular team's fan base, but to the rest of the country, it really takes a lot of the luster out of watching, as the historically low ratings prove.

So here's the deal.  Nothing much is going to change until the current BCS contract is up (I think it's after the 2012-2013 season).  However, there is actually a lot of talk going on right now about a 'plus one' setup...and it's coming from people who haven't really gone there before.  The basic idea of the 'plus one' is that the BCS would select the top four teams rather than the top two; #1 would play #4 and #2 would play #3.  The winners would then play for the championship, thus being the 'plus one' game.  This is what fans have wanted for years, of course, so once that system goes into effect, it's only a matter of time until a full playoff will materialize.

It should be noted that there really isn't a single good reason not to have a playoff.  It wouldn't add a burdensome number of games for these players.  The regular season would still count (like it 'counted' this year *cough cough*).  Pretty much every meaningful bowl game would be able to do its thing every year just like they do now, with the single exception of the BCS games being restructured to filter the playoff teams down into the final matchup, but they'll all still be there (just take the six BCS conference champions plus the two highest ranked other teams, and you have a perfect 8-team bracket - voila!).  It would actually give fans a better chance of seeing their team over the course of a 2- or 3-game playoff run to the championship, and it would be a better incentive for hometown season ticket holders to watch more good football (like the NCAA currently provides).  Perhaps most importantly, FBS college football (formerly known as Division 1) is the only major sport in the nation not to have a playoff.  Even the lower divisions of college football have them.  It's a no brainer, and it all starts with the 'plus one'.

Here's where it gets interesting.  When the current BCS contract is up in a year or two, there is a real possibility that Fox Sports may come in and throw a pile of money at it in an effort to steal it from ABC/ESPN.  They've already made some noise about wanting the plus one scenario, so if they can pull off the steal, there's a really good chance of happening soon.  As in, just a couple years from now.  And we won't have to worry about these stupid non-conference-winning politically-driven poll-selected 'championship' games anymore.  The teams that get in all have an equal shot to win the whole thing, and it's the play on the field that determines who wins.  An actual champion...what a novel concept!  And what about everyone else?  Well, if you can't win your conference and can't get within the top 4-6 ranked spots, you probably don't have much of a claim to get into the playoff anyway.

College football fans: rejoice, the end is near!


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