I know, I know... What business do the names "Navy" and "BCS" have being mentioned together? For most Navy fans, the BCS is nothing more than some sideshow that everyone else seems to sweat about. Navy isn't in a conference to worry about being "BCS" or "non-BCS," and the chances of Navy actually getting to a BCS game are about as likely as Notre Dame joining the WAC. But as distant as the BCS seems to be, it is still the driving force behind major college football today. Like it or not, it affects us all. So when changes to the BCS are announced, it's worth taking a look at.
The "BCS" vs. "non-BCS" debate took a new form when Dr. Scott Cowen, president of Tulane University, created the Presidential Coalition for Athletics Reform to provide a means for those schools not included in the original BCS agreement to voice their concerns over the present system. Made up of presidents of universities outside the BCS (including USNA), the coalition addressed issues ranging from the structure of the postseason to I-A attendance minimums to "BCS" vs. "non-BCS" branding concerns. With the current BCS contract set to expire at the end of the 2005 season (January 2006), the time was right to tackle the problem of postseason access.
The current BCS contract only guarantees a berth for a non-BCS conference team in a BCS bowl provided that team finishes in the top 6 in the final BCS rankings. The Coalition sought to expand that access, making it easier for schools outside the six BCS conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, Pac 10) to have the opportunity to play in a major bowl game. Without revealing many details, Dr Cowen emerged from the latest meeting with his BCS school counterparts claiming a major victory for this cause.
"So as far as I'm concerned, the coalition has gone out of business today. And we are all now part of one side, whether we call it the BCS or the ABC or the XYZ, I don't care, but we're part of one system," said Cowen in the press conference announcing the agreement. Those are some pretty strong words considering the vitriol that the BCS has invoked among coalition members in the past. While the details of the agreement will not be released until it is ratified by the individual institutions, we know enough to take an educated guess at what it'll include and how it will affect Navy.
The first element of the agreement that we know is the addition of a fifth BCS game. This could be a stumbling block; the game is only to be added if the market can support it, and given the losses that ABC is apparently taking from the current BCS contract, that is not a given. Assuming that the game does get added, the Holiday, Peach, Cotton, Outback, and Gator Bowls are leading candidates to enter the BCS rotation. Even the Houston Bowl is making a bid.
At the press conference announcing the agreement, it was mentioned that under the new system, four non-BCS teams over the past six years would have qualified for a BCS bowl game. Wendell Barnhouse of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote an article in which he claimed several unnamed sources disclosed some of the details:
An automatic bid to any conference champion that is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings.
An automatic bid to any conference champion that is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS standings, if the conference champion of any of the current BCS conferences is ranked below 16.
If there are two teams from conferences not currently BCS members ranked 12 or higher, the higher-seeded team receives the automatic bid while the other team goes into the pool of teams to be considered for an at-large BCS bid.
Sources weren't named, but that arrangement sounds very plausible. Under those conditions, the four teams that would have qualified are 2003 Miami (OH), who finished 11th; 2000 TCU, who finished 14th (Big Ten champ Purdue was 17th); 1999 Marshall, undefeated and ranked 12th; and 1998 Tulane, also undefeated and ranked 10th in the final BCS standings.
Competitively, this would seem to be a reasonable compromise for now. While the ideal scenario would seem to be to scrap the BCS completely and return to the way it was before, let's face it; the TCUs and Boise States of the world weren't getting Orange Bowl invites back then, either. At least now they might. But the BCS was never really about competition, anyway; it's always been about money. It has yet to be seen how BCS money is to be divided. Under the current system, non-BCS schools split up 4% of BCS revenue. That ends up being around $100,000 per school. It is expected that under the new contract, that percentage will increase to 7.5%, with another 7.5% added on if a non-BCS team makes a BCS bowl. It is unclear how the $11-13 million payout from the game itself would be distributed. Would that just count as the extra 7.5% to be distributed amongst all the non-BCS schools? Or would that money actually go to the conference of the participating team? That kind of money would be a lifesaver to a struggling athletic department like SMU's. Can you imagine what $13 million would do for NAAA? We could hire Pat Riley to be the next basketball coach. Hey, I can dream, can't I?
But that brings up another issue; where does Navy fit in to this arrangement? These provisions were all for conference champions. What about independent Navy? Hopefully Navy would earn an automatic berth under the same criteria as other conference champions. We will have to wait for the details to be made public, which will probably be in late April or early May. And before you start laughing, yes, I know how unlikely it is for Navy to end up in a BCS game. That doesn't mean, though, that we should allow ourselves to be left out of the agreement. Should our team put together that dream season, they deserve to end it with a dream game.
Regardless of what the new BCS contract entails, there are still other problems to tackle. Believe it or not, the greatest disparity in revenue between BCS and non-BCS schools is from bowl games outside the BCS rotation. Many schools will struggle to meet the new Division I-A attendance standards. There are still branding, financial, and competitive concerns that need to be addressed. But we have what appear to be the first steps towards a truly fair system, and that's a start.