The heart of Death to the BCS is the numbers, the ones that nauseate college football fans, the millions of dollars universities forfeit to the thieves who run bowls and the hundreds of millions more they deny by obstructing against a playoff system. These numbers had a different effect on Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner and foremost entrepreneurial spirit in American sports.
They sparked a business idea.
It was only a matter of time before somebody with a brilliant mind and a hefty bank account looked at the Bowl Championship Series and proposed to blow it up. Cuban is reading Death to the BCS these days, and his public proclamations over the last 24 hours that he wants to run his own college football playoff has set afire the hearts and minds of fans ravenous for anything other than the current system.
I am not sure if Mark Cuban is college football’s savior, which is to say I’m not certain anybody can do the job single-handedly. The political minefields on the road to college football playoff Valhalla are laced with IEDs. Jim Delany, already battening down the hatches with his not-so-veiled threat that the BCS is going nowhere, will double, triple and quadruple down if necessary. If the BCS dies, it will do so surrounded by a pile of shell casings.
I am sure that Cuban has latched onto a salient point in any potential overthrow of the BCS: The business model makes as much sense as directions from Ikea. Time and again, the Cartel has failed to answer why it funnels more than 50 percent of the revenue from its most profitable product — its postseason — to the middle men who run bowl games. When 106 of 120 athletic departments lose money, as they did last season, turning down any sum of money — let alone Cuban’s proposed offer of $500 million per year — is criminal.
“If there’s something everybody hates and there’s all kind of inefficiencies and there’s a lack of transparency,” Cuban told the Dan Patrick Show today, “somewhere in there is the business opportunity.”
Sooner than later, the victims of the racket — the universities getting fleeced by the arrangement — are going to seek something better. For the second time in three years, Virginia Tech is preparing to get stuck with a massive load of unsold tickets to a BCS game that will set the school back a seven-figure sum. UConn is bleeding like a stuck pig, ready to eat $2.5 million in Fiesta Bowl tickets, according to the New Haven Register. Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples pointed out that more than a quarter of Connecticut’s athletic budget comes from the university, which is funded by taxes. Surely, given a choice, Connecticut taxpayers would spend the $2.5 million on something of benefit to their state rather than an exhibition football game 2,500 miles away.
If Cuban, or any independent businessperson, can build a playoff, it’s not going to be a situation where everybody jumps in the pool simultaneously. There will need to be a brave, forward-thinking commissioner to rip his schools away from the traditional power structure. That, and someone who is willing to sell out his supposed business partners. As we know from the conference-realignment shenanigans last offseason, the conference commissioners ultimately look out for themselves. And if Cuban offers, say, the SEC $150 million for its participation, surely the 12 university presidents aren’t so wedded to the bowl system that they would pass up such an opportunity.
The rest of college football would join soon enough out of fear that a moneyed SEC would turn into even more of a superpower than it already is. Six of the 10 best ratings on college football games this year were from the SEC, even as overall viewership plummeted. It’s not a stretch to blame it on the BCS. The Big Ten and Big 12 lost any shot at a national championship by Halloween. With a playoff, three Big Ten teams and at least one from the Big 12 would’ve been relevant into November, through December and perhaps January.
Instead, we look forward to 35 bowl games, the first of which starts Saturday. Some will be great. Some will be duds. All will end the season of the participating teams, keeping us from latching onto players, onto stories, onto the sort of things so desperately lacking in this system. Athletic directors should recognize this, but they’re too compromised. Presidents should, too, only most listen to their ADs and conference commissioners. Cuban’s idea to hit schools in the checkbook by urging boosters to cut off donations until the school supports a playoff is novel and could work.
The simple fact that Cuban has given this as much thought as he has bodes well for college football. Amid a sea of partisan bickering, he is an impartial voice, one whose stake is entirely personal. Such a moment can serve as a flashpoint, another tick mark on the timeline toward the demise of the BCS. Patrick asked Cuban whether he’d prefer to own a baseball team or run a college football playoff. He chuckled, the answer so obvious.
“With the BCS,” he said, “you go down in history and make a lot of people happy.”