BCS championship ratings decline may spur welcome changes

Is it possible that the Bowl Championship Series is finally listening, that it is finally going to take the opportunity of this year’s renegotiations to improve what should be one of the greatest sports products on offer, to be responsive to the complaints of its member schools, fans and the media who want to see a more competitive and less . . . silly system?

Well, probably not. But it is possible that the lower TV ratings for Monday night’s championship game and the realization that stretching the bowl season like a well-worn pair of Spanx until the marquee game ended up in the second week of January — a.k.a. NFL playoffs territory — was a bad idea. The BCS might not listen to the collective complaints of America, but it will certainly listen to the cha-ching of the cash registers.

And when even the most resistant of conference commissioners are now pushing for a playoff system, that may be the most amazing news of all.

The commissioners from the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences met Tuesday with BCS officials, including executive director and nicest guy in the world Bill Hancock (that’s not sarcasm; Hancock actually is the nicest guy in the world).

The first order of business, of course, was for the commissioners to figure out which teams are in their conferences now, which will be in their conferences by the time they have to make a decision on any changes to the BCS format, and which teams will be in their conferences by the time any changes will be implemented. That probably took most of the morning. PowerPoint presentation? Hand puppets?

Once that was out of the way, the big surprise came when a four-team playoff was once again proposed (it had been brought up in 2008 and shot down by the Big Ten, Pacific-10, Big East, Big 12 and Notre Dame). This time, it wasn’t nixed by anyone, and not just because those conferences no longer exist in their previous forms.

“Four years ago, five of us didn’t want to have the conversation,” said Jim Delany, former Big Ten leader and now head of the Notorious B1G. “Now we all want to have the conversation.”

That’s the equivalent of a puff of white smoke from the College of Cardinals.

So a playoff is on the table, and so is a discussion of the long layoffs for the teams who qualify for the national championship game. As The Post’s Eric Prisbell pointed out, Ohio State had a 51-day break before it played Florida for the 2006 title (it lost, badly). This year, LSU had a 37-day layoff and Alabama had 44. Coaches admit they don’t know quite what to do with all that time. Nick Saban obviously came up with a better plan than did Les Miles. But it’s ridiculous to have that kind of layoff and argue there is no time for a playoff — as has been pointed out by what seems like millions of people.

We’ll know if this is all smoke and mirrors and hand puppets by this fall, because any changes in the BCS format have to be in place before it begins negotiations on a new TV contract with ESPN. Monday night’s game drew a 14.0 rating, down 8 percent from last year. The World Wide Leader nearly tore itself in two Monday, trying to hype Tim Tebow and the national championship game.

A four-team college football playoff that doesn’t conflict with the start of the NFL playoffs — wouldn’t ESPN just give the BCS its pin number? What could possibly go wrong? Don’t answer that. Let’s just enjoy the moment.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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