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The business of the BCS

Marketplace Staff Jan 8, 2009

The business of the BCS

Marketplace Staff Jan 8, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: The college football season comes to a close tonight with the BCS championship game, Florida versus Oklahoma. Both teams are 12-1. Both have Heisman Trophy winners playing quarterback. And both schools, the University of Florida and the University of Oklahoma, are going to make a whole lot of money out of tonight’s game. That might be why the BCS is still around, despite the ten years of complaining about it since the day it started. Diana Nyad is here to weigh in. Hey, Diana.

Diana Nyad: Kai, how are you?

Ryssdal: I’m alright. A little sick, but you know, getting over it.

Nyad: I’m sorry.

Ryssdal: Let’s talk college football, and let’s just stipulate here for a second, that the BCS is ridiculously complicated, right?

Nyad: Complicated is an understatement.

Ryssdal: Alright. What are the economic incentives that keep this thing alive?

Nyad: I would call it selective greed. It would be different if it was just a huge pile of money, which it is — $96 million in revenue last year. And if that was to be split among all teams, then we could understand it, but it’s not. The ‘big boys,’ you know, which are, the Big 12 of the Big East, the SEC–

Ryssdal: The big conferences.

Nyad: The big conferences. Those are the guys who get to qualify for the big bowl games. You can qualify if you’re a smaller one, like Utah did this year, but it’s pretty tough. And in the end the ‘big boys’ — every time you make it into a BCS game, you’re going to get $17 million whether you win or lose, and that’s going to be split among just the teams in your conference. If you’re a little guy, and you did go all the way to qualify, you get the $17 million too, but it’s not only split in your conference, all the five conference split that. So it’s the ‘big boys’ get the lion’s share and the ‘little boys’ get the peanuts.

Ryssdal: What about the other sources of revenue, though? I mean, there are television deals, there’s licensing, I mean, come on.

Nyad: Yeah, but again, that’s very selective. Like the Rose Bowl, you know, does not want to enter into some non-BCS program because they’ve got a sweet TV deal that goes all the way through 2014. And they’ve got, you know, big money in the Rose Bowl parade, and all kinds of sponsorships, you know, that they have on their own, negotiated on their own. So, all of the sudden if it becomes a big equitable pie, you know, they are going to fight and scratch to make sure that doesn’t happen, as are all those ‘big boy’ conferences.

Ryssdal: Let’s remember why the BCS was established. It was, at least in name, to figure out a true legitimate national champion. Has it done that?

Nyad: Well of course it hasn’t. Look at tonight. The University of Florida and Oklahoma are going to play for what they call the national title game in Miami. When it gets over, I mean, my gosh, the attorney general of Utah is filing a suit against the BCS.

Ryssdal: An antitrust suit, right?

Nyad: An antitrust suit saying that Utah has — should have had every right to play in that national game. They’re the undefeated team of the year — 13 and 0 — whereas both teams playing tonight has loses. They’ve got a great case to make. And guess what? In the next week, if the Associated Press and coaches’ polls, which decide all these things, vote that Utah, or Southern California, or Texas, is really the national champion, tonight’s game is totally meaningless. It’s the most absurd thing that happens in sport, I’m telling you.

Ryssdal: How do you really feel about it? But here’s the thing, much as these guys are student athletes and they’re supposed to be college students, college football is an enormous moneymaker. What are the chances of real reform when you have this much money on the line?

Nyad: There have been umpteen proposals as to how to fix this. The one that I like the best is, take all 120 teams and put a real, real true scientific, computerized layout of how they do during the year, which counts, you know, all those crazy things like what was the weather that day, was it home field advantage? And then, the best eight teams at the end, by those computer rankings, go into those four big bowls — the Rose, the Sugar, the Fiesta and the Orange. And then the winners of those go into a semi-final, and then the two winners of those go into a final. It’s reform that even adds more revenue. That’s what doesn’t make sense to me, Kai. But here’s the point, as I said before, before it’s been selective greed. Now let’s get it down to just, just overall greed, and let everybody share in that pie.

Ryssdal: The business of sports, from Diana Nyad. Thanks Diana.

Nyad: Feel better Kai.

Ryssdal: Thanks.

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