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BCS Has More Money Than Sense

By Sally Jenkins
Wednesday, December 29, 2004; Page D01

I was just sitting here wracking my airy little head, thinking of ways to put the legitimacy and meaning back into the college bowl season, and I've hit on just the thing. The big football schools should take all that ill-gotten Bowl Championship Series money, $14.3 million each, and send it to Phuket.

Come on guys, feed the world. Prove that the BCS is not the sewer of corruption it seems to be, a vote-swapping, kickbacking, cash-grabbing scheme devised by a bunch of guys in blazers standing around ice sculptures in the buffet line. Show us where your values really are, and demonstrate that the system has a single redeeming quality.

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It's an inspired idea, don't you think, American universities, those supposedly nonprofit entities, sending their BCS revenue to tsunami victims? Here's what made me think of it: I couldn't help noticing yesterday morning that the United States initially had pledged $15 million to the United Nations relief effort. And it struck me that the Texas Longhorns will take home almost that much just from the Rose Bowl.

In fact, the total revenue from the BCS games is projected to be $93 million. Once my queasiness at this discovery subsided, I simply put two and two together, and thought, why not put that money where it can do some good, instead of into building more trophy cabinets and indoor practice facilities for America's Kappa Alphas and Sigma Chis?

But somehow I don't think my idea will go over very big. Somehow I don't see Texas's BCS paycheck finding its way to Sumatra.

Or, as Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) said, "Unfortunately as far as I'm concerned it seems like everything in athletics is about money, and it's not always aimed at the student-athlete or what's best for the game."

Osborne, the former coach at Nebraska, thinks there should be a new round of congressional hearings into the BCS. A year ago Congress took a hard look at the subject and even threatened an anti-trust investigation if the BCS didn't quit locking smaller schools out of the big games and hoarding revenues. As Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) said, "It looks like a rigged deal." Since then the BCS school presidents -- representing the six major conferences, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, ACC and Big East, plus Notre Dame -- have made the elite tier of bowls with their massive payouts only slightly more accessible. Congress should not be soothed, or fooled. It's still a rigged deal.

The BCS remains a 28-game bowl system that rewards only half of the Division I-A teams, and delivers the biggest financial shares to a closed cadre of power broker conferences, while leaving out the other half almost entirely.

Here's how matters stand. Five teams went undefeated this season, but only two will play for the title. Auburn, Utah and Boise State were left out of the BCS title game. Meanwhile, concerns arose about whether coaches who cast ballots anonymously in the ESPN/USA Today poll were throwing their votes for financial gain. Texas leaped over Cal on the final weekend of the season -- even though the No. 4 Golden Bears were ranked ahead of Texas in the polls -- after Texas Coach Mack Brown shamelessly lobbied the media and his colleagues for votes so the team could go to the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl has a $14.3 million payout, which will be split with fellow conference teams. A non-BCS bowl pays out only $1.3 million or less.

The Associated Press was so scandalized by the goings on that it withdrew from the BCS formula, stating that the BCS damaged its "reputation for honesty and integrity."

Even Osborne, a former Big 12 loyalist, was concerned with the idea that coaches could have manipulated the BCS poll to grab revenue. "I could see where that would be a possibility," he said. "You're talking another million dollars per school if the Big 12 gets another team in [the BCS] and that's a lot of money."

Osborne certainly did his share of participating in the ailing old bowl system at one time. But regardless of what you thought of his record at Nebraska, as a legislator he makes a lot of sense on the subject. Osborne believes the best answer to this illegitimate mess is to use the bowls as a straightforward, equitable eight-team playoff. He realizes that no system is perfect, but suggests this at least would be an improvement.

"I guess the one thing I'd like to see happen is that they would take the top eight teams in terms of the final rankings, and they would play," he said. "In this business of trying to take care of various conferences, sometimes we do things for people that aren't very deserving. I realize they want to support the conferences, but if you want a competitive arrangement, you have the top [eight] teams play. . . . And then the Utahs and the Boise States aren't left out."

But BCS presidents have fought a playoff tooth and nail. Why? They claim, laughably, that it would interfere with academics. The real objection to a playoff system is that it would mean more equitable revenue sharing. Also, BCS presidents like to claim that their schools make greater investments in their programs and therefore are simply better and more deserving of greater profits.

But non-BCS schools have put the lie to that this season and embarrassed the BCS for its anticompetitive stance. Fresno State, the third-place team in the Western Athletic Conference, beat a BCS school, No. 18 Virginia, 37-34, in the MPC Computers Bowl on Monday. Among the other BCS schools Fresno State has humbled in recent seasons are Colorado, Oregon State, Wisconsin, Washington and Kansas State.

Furthermore, one of the most anticipated games of this bowl season is not even a BCS contest. It's Boise State versus Louisville in the Liberty Bowl, a matchup of the two most highly rated offenses in the country. Guess what each school will make for appearing in the Liberty? Just $1.3 million each. They will probably just break even on the trip. And frankly, if you ask me, that's as it should be.

Why should a field goal kicked by a schoolboy be worth $14 million? The only thing that keeps BCS bowl money from being taxable income is the fact that, for the moment, Congress still considers college athletics to be an educational endeavor. The day that legislators on Capitol Hill decide the BCS is a business, schools will lose their tax exemptions. "I hope very much that we don't start legislating NCAA matters," Osborne said. "But I think it's certainly appropriate to have a hearing to call attention to some of the frailties of the system."

Congress should give the BCS schools a choice: Chuck the system and set up a playoff, or get ready to fill out tax forms.

Schools looking for write-offs can send their checks to Phuket.

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