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The BCS As Bureaucracy

Ordinarily we write in the first person plural because we're generally of the same mindset. To defend the integrity of Abram, this post presents only the opinions of Jeff. Abram was in charge of spell checking and grammar on this post though, so any mistakes in that category are his alone. --40AS--

This post is not a defense of the BCS. It is not an argument with any depth for or against any form of playoff. It is simply a defense of the complexity of the current BCS situation. Because it is a complex situation as I see it, solutions will not be easy, and change will likely be incremental. Fans are as pissed off as I can remember, hell even the President-elect is clamoring for change.

To begin, when PB writes "Why can't we have a college football playoff? Because at least by one measure -- dollars, the only one that counts to those who make the decisions -- the system ain't yet broke" I assume that he is assessing the primary reason the BCS still exists in its current form is because the NCAA only cares about the amount of money it makes? I disagree with this assertion but I should caveat my earlier comment. "It's complex" is no better of an argument than "it's all about the money". The question on everybody's mind is why has the decision not been made by the powers that be to change the current structure to a more encompassing playoff? More precisely, why hasn't the BCS changed the 2-team playoff yet?

To get to the answer as I see it, one must first think about 'what is the BCS'? Because, in reality, the BCS ain't much. Its power and its existence is tied to the conferences, and in that way it's kind of like the United Nations. The way I see it, the BCS only exists and does stuff because it's in the interest of the conferences and individual schools. Much like individual countries in the UN each team and conference has its own unique set of interests and biases concerning what is best for it in the long run. I see the BCS as a large bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are slow, inefficient and hard to maneuver in any direction because so many interests come into play on every decision. That's the way our government works and, to a much smaller degree, that's how I think the BCS works. 

I think, I suspect, but I do not know, and I'm willing to bet that you don't have any greater insight into the BCS decision making procedures and process than I do (no offense). I doubt that any fan and few insiders really truly knows how the BCS works or takes the time to think about how that might effect whether a playoff can or will be pushed through. How many times have college football analysts gotten into the weeds and focused on the 'why' of BCS big picture decisions rather than the 'what'? The answer, I suspect, is not very often.

Getting to the money, it's not about the money in my opinion so much as it's about the guaranteed money. TV and advertising money on highly-rated BCS games is all well and good, and would certainly only be increased by a playoff. But wouldn't the conference guaranteed money probably decline significantly for several of the conferences? The SEC and Big XII have much to gain by a playoff, they're pulling two BCS teams a year, but the ACC and Big East are lucky to get even one, not to even mention the non-BCS conferences. The ACC and Big East make the same amount of guaranteed money on the Orange Bowl whether it's the greatest game ever played or the 2009 Orange Bowl. 

Through this lens, I suspect this is why only two teams per conference are allowed, having more might create competitive disadvantages for the better conferences. The Big East makes a boatload off of its Orange Bowl appearance that it wouldn't get if the selection were done purely on ranking. You could have a playoff, but it would have to be expanded so far (16 teams at least, right? Maybe 8, but you're still leaving teams out because you'd have to be doing it based on a guaranteed conference slot, therefore it'd be six BCS conferences and 2 wild cards -- Texas and Bama. USC and Utah are still left out this year).

Once you get to 16 teams you are in fact degrading the regular season in my opinion. 3 and 4 loss teams should not be given a chance to win a title. Additionally, it is a valid point that many of the younger players are not built for a 17-game season at this high level of college football. It is done at lower levels, but the difference in physical intensity between D-I and D-II is pretty high. Finally, the conferences are hesitant because of the well documented traditions, and they would be forced to give those up. Big Ten and Pac Ten resistance to losing the Rose Bowl alone likely makes up a large part of the reason there is no playoff.

Getting back to the bureaucracy, each potential playoff scenario creates opportunities for resistance amongst the members of the bureaucracy. The further you expand it, the more resistance you are likely to create. There is no consensus among college football pundits for which playoff road to take, and given the assessed need for general consensus around a move to a playoff, it's not surprising we're stuck where we are.

flex system is a beautiful solution, but given the constraints involved it just seems like a fantasy. Getting the players and coaches and stadium ready would be the easy part. There's a lot of money to be lost in a 2-team playoff under the flex system, from sponsorships and advertising to the guaranteed payoffs the teams and conferences get. Considering the bureaucratic resistance to expanding by just one game, adding potential chaos to the situation by adding in an undetermined (preseason) number of playoff games seems impossible. Uncertainty and bureaucracy don't mix very well.

A Plus One isn't perfect. This year would have been Bama vs. OU and Texas vs. Florida with the winners playing (edited to reflect the real final BCS standings). Under a Plus One, however, USC in '03 wouldn't have been left out, nor Auburn in '04, or Texas in '08. But with the constraints already faced in changing the BCS, I think it fits the round peg into the square hole a lot better than what we've got now.