The Pac-12 television contract has longstanding ramifications not just for Cal, not just for the other teams in the conference, but also the entire college football landscape. It could potentially be the next step toward what many sports fans have dreamed of--the dissolution of the creaky BCS and a playoff system being put in its place. There are plenty of hurdles to cross before we move to that particular dream scenario, but it is something that feels a little closer than it did previous to the deal.
However, there are two sides to this argument, and we definitely should explore both of them thoroughly. Thankfully, Stewart Mandel [representing the establishment, I guess] has already written the anti-playoff side in his Sports Illustrated Mailbag, so I'll fill in the blanks when it comes to the pro-playoff side after the jump.
Does the Pac-12 TV deal make it more likely, less likely, or doesn't change the probability of a college football playoff replacing the BCS?
Now that more of these huge TV megadeals like the Pac-12's are coming in from different conferences based largely on the popularity of college football's extremely popular regular season, how much money do you think is really being left on the table by not going to a playoff? -- Taylor Cooke, Austin, Texas
You hit the nail on the head, Taylor, and it's something I touched on in my column from last week's BCS meetings. The playoff zealots keep telling us that the schools and conferences are committing a grave injustice by refusing to pursue the hypothetical windfall that would come from a hypothetical playoff. Well, there's nothing hypothetical about the Pac-12's staggering new contracts with ESPN and Fox. According to The New York Times, the deals are worth a combined $250 million per year -- and that's before additional revenue from a forthcoming Pac-12 Network.
And you wonder why these guys talk so much about protecting the regular season?
I'm not sure if this is a case of "protecting the regular season" Stu. Are you trying to argue that these huge contracts wouldn't be possible if there was a playoff in place? Yes, the regular season contracts have been astronomical, but they're tied into the value of individual conferences. The BCS has been proven ad infinitum to be bad for universities, bad for conferences, and good for scummy executives who are taking advantage of a very peculiar system. If conferences like the Pac-12 start marketing their own self-worth (as Larry Scott has done here), then they could find the possibilities for positive financial models much much greater.
Now, it's not like these numbers would go down if college football suddenly adopted a playoff tomorrow (in most cases the contracts are locked in for 12-15 years). And some estimates do suggest that a playoff would net three to four times what the BCS contract does. But first of all, that doesn't mean each of the conferences would automatically make three to four times as much. An NCAA-sponsored tournament would require certain operating costs, would likely follow a performance-based distribution method and would be spread more evenly among all 11 conferences. And the well for TV sports properties is going to dry up at some point.
So we should base our decisions for future conflicts based on "what could be" rather than "what is". Well, let's take the "what could be" argument further. The fact that Larry Scott expanded the conference by two teams in two years could hint at further expansion toward the super-conference model. The often hinted-at "four conference, sixteen teams in each conference" model would definitely encourage a playoff system, as the best from each could be taken in.
So if you're the Big 12 or Pac-12 and you're already reasonably pleased with the sport the way it is, and now the networks are suddenly tripling and quadrupling your revenue stream the way it is -- what's your incentive for change?
Answer: There isn't one.
I'll phrase this very leading question another way. Now that the regular season makes the bulk of revenue dollars?for each college football conference, why should the be beholden to some alien organization like the BCS to bestow them their title? Why can't they go their own way and do something that's best for the conferences and the schools within them?
To put it plainly, what's the incentive for staying the same when so many more possibilities for revenue are out there?
Answer: There isn't one.