As the dizzying carousel of conference realignment scatters college athletic departments to new leagues across the country, the NCAA’s reshaped landscape won’t alter the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series, according to the organization’s president.
Whether the so-called 16- or 18-team superconferences come to fruition or not, a college football playoff is not in the stars.
“I don’t envision that because the same people who constantly support the BCS will be a part of those conferences,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock told Nooga.com. “I don’t see anything about the possibility of conference realignment changing how people feel about postseason football.”
In a frantic weekend of movement, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, longtime cornerstones of the Big East Conference, cut ties with their former league. The two applied to and were accepted by the Atlantic Coast Conference. The shift makes the ACC the first conference with 14 football schools, while the Big East shrivels to seven with next year’s addition of Texas Christian.
As the landing of that domino reverberated on Sunday, news surfaced from The Austin-American Statesman that Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were preparing to pull a huge trigger and leave the Big 12 for the Pac-12. The move would, in turn, make the Pac-12 the first 16-team football conference. Additionally, reports surfaced Sunday afternoon that West Virginia has submitted an application to join the Southeastern Conference.
In the undercurrent of this massive sea of change, many have hypothesized that the formation of NCAA superconferences will lead to the destruction of the BCS. The theory goes that the fall of the BCS would lead to the rise of an NFL-style playoff in college football.
Hancock, however, does not see the connection.
“I’ve been a little puzzled to read the speculation to the contrary – about how conference realignment might effect postseason football,” said Hancock, the former director of men’s basketball’s Final Four and one of the most respected administrators in collegiate athletics. “I just don’t sense any ground swell of support for significant change.”
While proponents of a BCS downfall base their hypothesis on a yearning for a playoff, Hancock’s summation comes from logic. According to the executive director, no league officials are pushing to dissolve college football’s controversial postseason championship. The current contract between the BCS and its 11 affiliate conferences runs through the 2014 bowl games, as does its television deal with ESPN.
While the possibility of a BCS conference such as the Big East or the Big 12 completely folding remains, Hancock says his organization is making no preparations to revise any contracts. Though Hancock would not confirm it, the belief persists that if a conference with an automatic bid collapses, that bid will simply shift to the at-large pool. In that case, a league such as the SEC could potentially place three teams in BCS bowls. Hancock said the BCS-ESPN deal will not need to be amended if an automatic-bid conference vanishes.
“Our contracts are in place for this season and two more, and we will react when there is something to react to,” said Hancock, who was first named BCS executive director in November 2009. “There’s no news to react to right now for us. There are 10 slots in the BCS. Some go to automatic qualifiers and some go to at-large teams. It will remain that way.”
According to Hancock, because the determination of a “conference” is not included in the BCS bylaws, the organization would likely defer to the NCAA’s definition. This scenario could arise if a league loses a number of teams (i.e. the current Big East) and the determination needs to be made whether that conference retains its automatic bid. According to bylaw 20.02.6 of the NCAA Division I Manual, “A conference classified as a Football Bowl Subdivision conference shall be comprised of at least eight full Football Bowl Subdivision members that satisfy all bowl subdi- vision requirements.”
Thus, the NCAA only recognizes conferences comprised of eight teams or more. According to bylaw 20.02.6.2, if a conference dips below eight members, it has a two-year grace period to regain the necessary number of members before it is no longer recognized.
Because the BCS contract runs until 2014 and the existence of the aforementioned two-year grace period, the Big East’s status as a “conference” under its current seven-team appearance would likely be a moot point.
Much of the BCS’s future will hinge upon upcoming meetings conducted by the Conference Commissioners Association. The organization, comprised of commissioners from all 31 NCAA Division I conferences, is set to have its annual meeting this week in Chicago. As they do every year as part of that meeting, the 11 FBS conference commissioners will meet separately to review basic agenda items and preview the bowl games. No decision will be made out of this meeting regarding postseason football.
However, between next week’s meeting and the spring, the 11 FBS conference commissioners will meet with their constituents to gauge their postseason football desires, according to Hancock. Those constituents are the presidents, athletic directors, coaches and faculty of each university in a conference. Then, in the first quarter of 2012, the commissioners will reconvene to discuss how college football’s postseason will be conducted from 2015 onward.
“That’s when the work will begin and I think it will be concluded by the end of June 2012,” Hancock said. “I expect they will have decided on the format of the future. This is a process that will not be played out over twitter. It will not be appealing to twitter fans. It will be thoughtful and deliberate.”
Thus, the masses petitioning for a college football playoff should direct those pleas to those spring meetings.
To clarify, Hancock’s official job is not to sell the idea of the BCS to the commissioners, but more accurately to help them come to a consensus.
“I don’t feel any need to defend it,” he said. “I feel that it’s my job to help them come to a consensus. Whatever it might be. We outline the options and facilitate the conversations.”
That being said, Hancock said he expects continued support for a BCS-style of postseason, regardless of what happens next.
“Because of two principles – keeping the focus on the regular season and reserving the bowl experience and the tradition for the student-athletes – that won’t change,” Hancock said. “No matter how many conferences you have, those principles will not change.”