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More BCS Changes Are Likely

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page D09

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Jan. 4 -- With each college football season exposing new shortcomings in the Bowl Championship Series, tweaking the controversial formula for crowning a national champion has become a rite of spring.

But architects of the system face their most daunting task yet in light of the Associated Press's decision to withdraw its poll from the tabulations.

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In addition to revamping the standings formula that determines which teams play for the national title, the conference commissioners in charge of the BCS plan to revisit their policy on automatic berths in the most lucrative bowls. Those rules, which give preferential treatment to the six major conferences, look even more unfair given the dilution of the Big East after losing Miami and Virginia Tech.

Also on the agenda is fine-tuning plans to add a fifth major bowl, a concession granted to appease the mid-major conferences that, until this season, were shut out of the postseason largesse.

Despite continuing dissatisfaction with the system, BCS coordinator Kevin Weiberg reiterated Tuesday that a playoff isn't an option. "I have to tell you, I really do not see an NFL-style playoff coming to college football any time soon," Weiberg told members of the Football Writers Association.

By "any time soon" he means the next decade, given that ABC recently renewed its contract to broadcast the Rose Bowl through 2014, and Fox Sports followed with a pact to air the remaining BCS bowls through the 2010 season.

Opposition to a playoff is two-fold. College presidents argue that it would extend the season and exact too harsh a toll on the athletes involved. Many conference commissioners and coaches oppose it because of loyalty to the bowl system, which they view as safeguarding the significance of regular season games.

Still, Weiberg conceded it might be possible, in time, to transform the fifth BCS bowl (which will be added after the 2006 season) from simply a bowl that grants two more teams spots in a lucrative game to a so-called "plus-one" bowl that would pit the best two winners of the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls in one final championship game. TV executives have made clear they favor a "plus-one" model and would pay more for it, but college presidents are wary of anything that smacks of a playoff.

"Even in my own conference I would have presidents that would be open to thinking about it and interested in at least exploring it," said Weiberg, the Big 12's commissioner, "but that differs greatly by conference."

In the short term, retooling the standings formula is the thorniest issue. It has relied on three elements since the BCS was founded -- the coaches' poll, AP poll and various computer rankings -- and Weiberg said a third element will still be needed with the AP's withdrawal.

The most likely option is a committee, much like the one that sets at-large berths and pairings for the NCAA basketball tournament. Another option is surrendering to the growing hostility toward the BCS and reverting to the old postseason alliances, in which No. 1 Southern California, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Auburn would have each played in three different bowl games.

"There is a sentiment out there, maybe just some fatigue, dealing with these question on an ongoing basis," Weiberg said. "There are certainly some that would say if our only alternatives are to move toward extra games, it really would be better to just return to an older system. I don't know how realistic that is, but I've heard some of that talk."

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