Nov. 19, 2008

By Adam Caparell

In 2011, the BCS will have a new home as ESPN announced Tuesday it had acquired the rights to air college football’s biggest bowl games for four seasons.

But the question still on everyone’s mind had little to do with the details of the agreement and everything to do with the prospects of a potential playoff.

And for those college football fans hoping a big change in the BCS would come on the heels of a new television deal, keep dreaming.

Even with the BCS switching broadcast carriers, the most controversial postseason format in American sports is staying the same. Despite the general sentiment toward a playoff and the recent attention President-elect Barack Obama has given to the ongoing argument, a Plus-1 format or full-blown playoff is no closer to happening than it was a year ago.

After this spring’s BCS meetings produced little support for a playoff (only the SEC and ACC backed the idea in April) any talk out of the men who make up the BCS board – the commissioners of the 11 FBS conferences and Notre Dame commissioner Jack Swarbrick – will be tabled until we get closer to 2014 when ESPN’s contract runs out.

“After lengthy discussions within conferences, with presidents and with our BCS board made up of the commissioners and the AD at Notre Dame, it became apparent that there was not enough support to change the current format,” BCS coordinator and ACC commissioner John Swofford said Tuesday. “So since that point in time, we have moved forward with maintaining the current format as we have it for this year and it would be our anticipation that that would go through the next cycle and this television contract with ESPN.”

ESPN has invested a reported $125 million or more per year to televise the five BCS games – Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Rose and BCS Championship – but ESPN President George Bodenheimer would neither confirm nor deny any figures.

Fox, who picked up the rights to air every BCS game except the Rose Bowl starting in 2007 until 2010, chose not to top ESPN’s offer.

Bodenheimer, considered one of the more influential men in sports, was asked if he was in favor of a playoff, but chose to stay out of the fray.

“That’s up to the presidents and the conferences and we’re here to support and televise the format that they elect is in their best interest,” Bodenheimer said.

For now, the BCS board believes the current system is the best. School presidents and administrators, the ones who would ultimately have to agree to a change, are very leery of adding more weeks to the season and many involved in college football are concerned about how a playoff would affect bowl games with which cities and conferences have had long standing relationships.

The long term future of the BCS is certainly far from clear, but in the short term the system that continues to keep people talking about college football will not be changing.

The only people this deal will affect are the schools and conferences – who can expect a bigger payout from the BCS games – and fans that do not have access to a cable or satellite connection as all games will be televised on ESPN. It remains to be seen if the Rose Bowl, who has a separate television contract with ABC that runs through 2014, will remain on the network. Both ABC and ESPN are owned by Disney and the Rose Bowl could very easily find its way to cable.

Weekend Ramifications: Texas Tech-Oklahoma is getting nearly all the attention this weekend, and for good reason. But there are plenty of other games with big BCS implications. 

In the Big East, Cincinnati is on the verge of securing its first BCS bowl berth if the Bearcats can handle Pitt at home. It’s a battle for first place in the conference when the Panthers – set to go bowling for the first time under Dave Wannstedt – meet Cincy at Nippert Stadium. 

A Big East championship would be yet another feather in Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly’s cap. Kelly’s in just his second year at the school, but he has a track record of winning having won two straight national championships at Division II Grand Valley State and a MAC title at previous stop Central Michigan.

“You know, I think, when I took the job, the most important thing for me was to set an expectation level to be a BCS championship level football team,” Kelly said. “Of all the things we thought about in preparing our team, was based upon are we talented enough to win a Big East championship. I thought, last year, there was one team that was more talented and that was West Virginia. The only way we could catch them was to get stronger in the off-season, and our team did a great job this year in doing so.”

Penn State looks to lock up the Big Ten when they play host to Michigan State. Penn State can earn a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1995 by beating the Spartans. Ohio State, who plays host to archrival Michigan earlier Saturday, will keep a close eye on this one. If Penn State loses, Ohio State will be headed to Pasadena instead of the Nittany Lions should it beat the Wolverines.

Michigan State is also alive for the conference title. But the Spartans need help from Michigan before they take on Penn State.

Over in the Mountain West, all that stands between Utah and a seemingly automatic berth into the BCS is rival BYU.

The Utes and Cougars meet for the MWC title – not to mention state bragging rights – and should Utah cap their regular season undefeated, it will be headed to the program’s second BCS game. Naturally, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham is trying his best to keep the hype to a minimum.

“Our guys have got to treat it as if it was a normal week. We can't go crazy and lose our composure and poise. We have to prepare the same way we have for 11 straight weeks,” Whittingham said.

Utah’s No. 7 status in the BCS virtually assures it a spot in the Fiesta Bowl should they beat BCS No. 14 BYU. While Boise State (BCS No. 9) and Ball State (BCS No. 17) are both undefeated and are still vying for a BCS berth, their remaining opponents aren’t strong enough to allow them to leapfrog the Utes in the final standings. And the likelihood of the BCS giving more than one berth to non-BCS teams is practically zero.