Demise of BCS, implementation of playoff system means bigger paydays for power 5 conferences
Former BCS executive director Bill Hancock tried to explain at SEC media days why Division I-A college football needs a playoff system.
Hancock, the college football playoff executive director, attempted to reassure that the new system isn't a money grab.
“Yes, everybody benefits from the revenue. There will be more money in this for everyone,” Hancock said. “But the playoff wasn't done for the money. The playoff was done because we heard the fans who wanted more football, and they wanted a bracket.”
Still, consider the financial windfall, according to estimates Hancock provided USA Today:
• The five power conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 — are expected to receive $50 million each in the first year of a 12-year contract. That's nearly double the amount each conference received in the final year of the BCS ($27.9 million).
• The other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt and American) will split about $75 million. The conferences shared about $13 million a year ago.
• Television revenue from the playoff is expected to average about $470 million annually, with another $40 million to $50 million annually from ticketing, merchandising sales and sponsorship deals.
• Conferences annually will receive $6 million for each of their teams selected as a playoff participant (not including the championship game) and $4 million for each member participating in a non-playoff bowl such as the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach. That doesn't include individual contracts that conferences have with the bowls.
• Each conference will receive $300,000 for each school that satisfies the NCAA's minimum academic progress rate to participate in a bowl game.
To be sure, the college football playoff is the gift that keeps giving.
“It's good for everybody,” Hancock said. “There's more money for everybody.”
At least for everybody but fans and the athletes starring in the games, which generate crazy revenue gleaned from corporate sponsors and advertisers that permit coaches to become millionaires and executives such as Hancock to earn six-figure salaries.
“It's just the evolution of college football. It's the evolution of sports,” said Mark May, an ESPN college football analyst and former Pitt standout. “You can call it chasing the dollar, and it is, but you have to keep up with the Joneses.”
Selecting the best
Unlike the men's college basketball tournament, which is operated by the NCAA, the college football playoff will be managed by conferences and led by a board of directors featuring university presidents and chancellors.
And unlike the NCAA basketball selection committee dropping a team one seeded position to prevent a rematch from the regular season or conference tournament, rematches can occur in the football playoff.
“More revenue,” playoff CEO Michael Kelly said. “Unlike every other sport in which the NCAA manages and maintains a championship, this championship is managed by conferences.
“The playoff system allows us to deliver that in a big way.”
The winners of the two bowl games in the four-team playoff advance to the national championship game. The Rose and Sugar Bowls will serve as semifinals for the playoffs this season. AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will host the title game. Sites for the semifinals and title game will rotate annually.
In 2015, when the Rose and Sugar Bowls aren't semifinal playoff locations, the four conferences contractually tied to those bowls — Big Ten and Pac-12, and Big 12 and SEC, respectively — would receive about $40 million from those contracts. That's above the $50 million payout from the college football playoff.
A 13-member selection committee chaired by Arkansas athletic director and former Pitt AD Jeff Long — and including West Virginia AD Oliver Luck and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — will create a Top 25 every week beginning Oct. 28 and concluding with the announcement of the four playoff teams Dec. 7.
“We've found a way to incorporate and maintain college football bowl traditions in terms of making it a part of our semifinal system and have so many more meaningful games as a part of this new arrangement,” Kelly said at Big Ten media days.
Alabama coach Nick Saban won three BCS championships with the Crimson Tide and another at LSU. He said he had no complaints with the former system and isn't upset about the new one.
Saban, however, wonders whether the new playoff system goes far enough in selecting the best teams — the same complaint the BCS faced. He also is curious how the system will affect student-athletes away from football.
“When you look at the history of the BCS, they usually got it right with their process,” Saban said at SEC media days. “The criticism always came when there were more than two teams that were deserving.
“Now the same thing is going to happen with a four-team playoff because there's always going to be a fifth team that could have been deserving that will create controversy.”
“(People say) we should increase it to eight (teams), we should increase it to 16,” he said. “Well, we haven't had a four-team playoff yet, and you are talking about increasing it. There are always going to be people who complain.”
Hancock defended the format, explaining the selection committee will rely on four criteria when determining who advances to the playoff.
“Strength of schedule, head-to-head results, results against common opponents and whether the team won the conference championship,” Hancock said.
A playoff system means more games, which also means more missed class time for athletes, some of whom already feel the pinch from a long season that becomes even longer should their team make a national championship run.
Saban, whose Alabama teams won three national championships in four years, said he believes something should be done so athletes aren't penalized for playing on winning teams.
“I think if we continue to expand,” Saban said at SEC media days, “we're sort of getting to the saturation point when it comes to how many games can a football player play without sort of overdoing it relative to the responsibilities he has academically and the other things going on in their life.”
Under the playoff system, teams advancing to the national title game would play an exhausting schedule.
Saban points out that could be too much football, considering Florida State won last year's BCS championship playing a total of 14 games.
“There's a potential for a player to play 15 games in our league (SEC), with a (conference) championship game as well as two playoff games,” Saban said.
“There's only going to be a few teams that do that, and I'm sure every coach certainly would like to be one of those teams.
“But I think we have to take the student-athlete's well-being into consideration if we continue to play more games.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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