By Mike Fish
June 15, 2004

Here's a simple way to throttle down the annual rants over the Bowl Championship Series. Let's put control of Division I-A postseason football where it belongs -- under the long arm of the NCAA.

Say what you want about the NCAA, but the folks in Indianapolis know how to run a postseason, and they damn sure know how to stage championships. They pull it off in every other sport from basketball to water polo, right? So the idea that the NCAA brass should butt out when it comes to I-A football -- and only I-A football -- is a questionable, outdated practice that needs rethinking.

Most people don't understand that the BCS and NCAA are not one and the same. Mention another tweaking of the BCS -- such as its latest plan to add a fifth game to the annual rotation of major bowls -- and people assume these are NCAA shenanigans. Last week I heard a couple of sports-talk show hosts ranting at the top of their lungs about the BCS and the boneheads at the NCAA, and they weren't alone.

In actuality, the NCAA wiped its hands of I-A postseason football long ago. The 28 I-A bowls are owned and run by private organizations. The BCS oversees the Orange, Fiesta, Sugar and Rose bowls, which takes turns hosting the national title game. That's not to say the organization should be absolved of this mess. But since the bowl system took off in the 1950s, NCAA folks have rolled over and let the bowl representatives and sunny Chamber of Commerce-types run the postseason football show.

There are more bowls than we care to count. And this was all fine in the day when a bowl game was little more than a junket to the Sun Belt or points west. But the stakes have been juiced considerably since the formation of the BCS in 1998.

The idea was to finish the year with a national championship team while still preserving the bowl system. Great concept, except the BCS has undergone more facelifts than Joan Rivers, and it's run by a handful of elitists who are out to protect their turf. Six major conferences and Notre Dame control all of the BCS money, which last season topped $147 million.

So would these conference commissioners who run the BCS now willingly hand over keys to the bank and control of postseason football to the NCAA? Fat chance.

When the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a college sports reform group composed mostly of school presidents, recently advocated that the NCAA govern I-A postseason football, Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney and others hastily cast the suggestion as misguided. Delaney and even NCAA president Myles Brand represented the idea as the personal opinion of Knight Commission chair William Friday -- as if time had passed by the University of North Carolina president emeritus.

Well if it has, that's sad. Friday remains one of the most ethical and right-minded observers of college sports. It turns out, however, the spin was bogus; the Knight Commission's recommendation was OK'd internally by a consensus 9 to 2 margin. Friday did not even participate in the vote.

Trying to diminish the Knight Commission's recommendation suggests that the BCS power brokers aren't eager to relinquish control, and the NCAA doesn't have the stomach to fight them.

"Some of the most powerful players in the NCAA are unamused at the idea of losing that particular little gravy train,'' said Hodding Carter III, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, which is the funding arm of the college sports watchdog group. "And it is a very nice little club that they have formed. And it, of course, has a great virtue existing essentially under the control of the [conference] commissioners. You're talking about a fairly nice revenue stream for the have-nots in this case as well as the haves. That is to say it is not bad to be Iowa State if you're in the right conference. It is not quite the same distribution system as basketball [which spreads the wealth more widely], so that you actually can be poor and get richer just for being in a [BCS] conference.

"There are a good number of reasons for this, and all of them have to do with money. Virtually none of them have anything to do with any issue more elevated or academic than money. And once it is all about money, then keeping control tightly held in a very lucrative bowl system makes sense. If, of course, you're trying to make it be about something besides just the money then at least there is an opportunity through NCAA control to do a number of things.''

Problem is, there's a lot of status quo inertia when it comes to talk of the NCAA regaining control of postseason football. Observers contend college presidents don't have the nerve to take on the fight and that NCAA's Brand lacks the will.

Brand's position that he only wants to certify the bowls is no position at all. If you're going to be in the business of governing college sports, then do the whole job. Don't leave one of the most controversial and lucrative ventures in the hands of another cast of characters.

The bowl system is rife with nostalgia and nice folks doing nice things for college football. That's fine. Keep the bowls in place, if you want. But postseason D-I football should be run through the NCAA, just like every other sport. That way we know where to point the finger when these odd games are played.

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