Five Burning Questions: Dan Wetzel On The BCS

It’s that time of the year where we all wipe off the dust of the most debated subject in College Football year in and year out – the Bowl Championship Series. There is not a lot grey area in the BCS debate. You are either for it or against it.

With the first batch of BCS rankings out, I turned to the leader of the BCS opposition – author of the wildly popular book Death To The BCS , Dan Wetzel. Not only did I get Dan’s initial thoughts on the initial BCS rankings but also what is wrong with the system, what is right and how the wild ride of conference expansion affects it.

Dan Wetzel is an award-winning sportswriter, author and screenwriter. He has covered all levels of basketball as well as college football, the NFL, MLB and NHL. His book Death to The BCS: The definitive Case Against The Bowl Championship Series – co-authored by Josh Peter and Jeff Passan – went through five printings in just four months following its release in October 2010. Since then, the book has been totally revised and updated for the 2011 season. It contains over 15,000 words of new material, fresh statistics, financial records and two new chapters. It’s a fresh work for the thousands of fans who are eager to cut through the public relations spin and find out the real reason college football is stuck with the BCS.

1. Any initial thoughts and reactions to round one of the BCS rankings?

First, thanks for having me back.

I just want to know if the rankings are accurate because the truth is, no one knows that. The BCS has no idea if the computer formulas are accurate, if the data entry is accurate, if the calculations are accurate. Five of the six computer formulas remain secret to even the BCS.

We just have to assume so. They don’t care to know. It’s not a big deal to them to know whether their championship formula is accurate. That kind of says it all about this group. Those bowl directors do count their revenue to the penny though.

Of course, the BCS isn’t much for math. After all, analytic mathematicians have called for a boycott of the BCS for years because they use formals that are not mathematically sound. 

As for the rankings, hey, their guess is as good as any. LSU and Alabama look great. Oklahoma too.

2. Looking at the BCS rankings and the formula behind them, what are some of the glaring issues you see? 

On top of the computers, you have the poll voters, who have proven distracted, ill informed and susceptible to groupthink and gimmicks (PR campaigns, running up the score). And, of course, few coaches actually fill out their own ballot and even less watch any teams play that isn’t their next opponent.

The actual system is terrible. If they are going to do this, then they need to man up and have a small selection committee with educated people and set criteria. They’d rather close their eyes.

3. On top of the yearly debate surrounding the BCS rankings, the newly added conference expansion talk has added it own unique wrinkle to where the BCS goes from here. Will this affect the BCS moving forward? Will expansion help the playoff movement? 

In the long run it makes it more likely. Schools are desperate for money and are essentially willing to do anything for it. The biggest pile of cash, by far, is to stop outsourcing the most valuable product in college athletics – postseason football.

The second biggest is regular season ratings, which continue to be hurt by the current postseason system that takes national interest out of 95 percent of games played in the second half of the season. A playoff would increase interest (and thus money) in the regular season. The BCS argues the opposite, but television executives, ADs and some conference officials scoff at that lunacy.

“I don’t know how anybody could put that out there,” Texas AD DeLoss Dodds told us for the new edition of the book. “It’s the (opposite). A playoff builds the season.”

Stage a playoff (you can keep all the bowl games afloat) and hundreds and hundreds of millions roll in.

Allowing bowl games to take up to 60 percent of revenue off the top is the most illogical arrangement in all of sports before realignment. It’ll be even dumber in the future. The dividing line between the haves and have-nots is clearer now than ever, the break is easy to do. 

Let’s just stage an exciting playoff. I’d kind of like to see what Andrew Luck could do trying to guide Stanford through a couple of weeks of a playoff.

4. So what’s the endgame? Is a playoff on the horizon, or will the BCS remain intact?

My guess is there will be a serious push to a Plus-One but the bowl lobby will be powerful enough to block it. It’ll be close, though.

They don’t want to start the road to a playoff, and that’s what a Plus One is. As long as it’s just a four-team playoff, the bowls can stay involved. Once it gets to eight teams, then campus sites, which are better for fans, players and universities, but bad for bowls, have to come into play.

So they’re doing anything and everything to block any progress. The bowls have spent millions and millions on gifts, vacations, booze, golf, cruises, whatever people want to defend the status quo. They even employ Washington lobbyists, law firms and PR companies.

I think it’ll get close. Obviously the SEC and ACC have been in favor of a Plus One for years. I’ve heard from dozens of ADs and presidents who want at least that, even many in the Big Ten and Pac 12. But I’m not sure there are enough of them. It’ll be interesting. It’s tough to get anything changed in college athletics so the question is whether university presidents and athletic directors are willing to go against their golfing and drinking buddies.

That’s pretty much it.

5. If the BCS remains intact, what would you propose to make the Bowl Championship Series a more functional part of college football? Also, if the BCS does indeed remain intact, will the “Super Conferences” disengage from the NCAA? 

If the BCS remains as is, then either switch to a single computer formula, preferably one that values strength of schedule, so that everyone knows what the criteria at the beginning of the season is or go to a small selection committee. The current thing is a complete lie.

Then force BCS bowls to pick based on final standings, with no limits on how many conference teams can go. Bowls admit they don’t care about college football or the regular season, they just want big fan bases that might give them a good television rating. Why should these people decide anything?

If it’s three or four SEC teams that are in the top 10, then they all go. If say, Boston College, don’t laugh, doesn’t win the ACC but is in the top 10 of the standing, then it deserves a bid. It shouldn’t be punished because it doesn’t travel like a Big Ten club. That’s not sports.

The Super Conferences will disengage in some way – maybe try to create a super division of college football. I think that’s the impetus behind the “cost of attendance scholarship.” It’s not like they are doing that out of the goodness of their heart – it’s been a problem for decades and their initial proposal is comically low. It’s just a way to price out the MAC, WAC, etc.

The BCS is a destabilizing force in college athletics. If your goal is to blow up college athletics, then it’s a very good tool to have. Whether they’ll pull the trigger remains to be seen.

Bonus: Lastly, in the result that a playoff is introduced, what would you do to make a playoff most beneficial for the institutions at hand?  Would you want to start with four teams, or go right to a 16-team playoff? 

Until we see how the conference realignment shakes out I think it’s tough to propose a detailed playoff plan. I’m likely to rework my old one. Even without knowing the specific landscape, however, it’s difficult to argue that against an 8-team playoff. The key is using campus sites, home field advantage,  through the first and semifinal rounds to add extra value to a strong regular season. Then that Alabama-LSU game is just as important.

Give us your thoughts on the debate in the comment section below. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanWetzel and Regie at @FSURocker.