Last week, as the 12--0 TCU Horned Frogs prepared to play the equivalent of a third-place game against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (a Dallas--Fort Worth resident) proclaimed his intention to bring a playoff to college football. Cuban feels that his plan, a self-funded 16-team tournament, would bring fairness to the sport. That's all good, but let's be clear: He's hardly the first to try.
In 2008 Barack Obama promised to "throw my weight around" and build the sport's first bracket; the Chick-fil-A Bowl remains.
Cuban, at least, has specifics. He aims to "put $500 million in the bank and go to all the schools and pay them money" in exchange for their commitment to a playoff, he told ESPNDallas.com.
Unfortunately for Cuban, a lack of funding has never been the issue. If the sport's leaders decided to stage a playoff, there would be no shortage of suitors (most notably TV networks)—and they know that. In 1999 a Swiss marketing firm offered $2.4 billion over eight years to stage a 16-team event. The BCS's response: Eh. In '05 Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany admitted to Congress that "an NFL-style football playoff would provide three to four times as many dollars to the Big Ten as the current system does." And yet the current system lives on. "I don't think any amount of financial inducement will make people abandon the BCS," executive director Bill Hancock told the AP last week.
December 27, 2010
The BCS is the only postseason system controlled entirely by its participants (the six major conferences plus Notre Dame). They won't cede that power to the NCAA, much less to a billionaire NBA owner. And they remain loyal to the bowls, no matter the financial hits. Cuban's proposal would marginalize the major bowls, and the conferences won't have that. "The Rose Bowl is probably the most important external relationship we have," says Delany.
There is a glimmer of hope for playoff proponents. The same day Cuban made his comments, a headline in the SportsBusiness Daily read COLLEGE FOOTBALL RATINGS DOWN FOR MOST NETWORKS DURING THE  SEASON. For years BCS leaders have pointed to the sport's increased popularity as an affirmation of its system. Maybe four or five more years of headlines like those would cause some reevaluation.