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Congressman says television money makes college football playoffs a possibility

Saturday, June 19, 2010 | 7:11 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — One of the most powerful advocates of a college football playoff system says he thinks the Big 12 Conference’s brush with death might eventually help doom the BCS.

It’s not going to happen right away, said Texas Rep. Joe Barton. But the promise of renewed television riches that persuaded the Big 12’s major football members to reject overtures from the Pac-10 has shone the spotlight on the huge financial jackpot awaiting a playoff.

“The reason the Big 12 stayed together is the commissioner was able to put together a deal that enabled Texas and Texas A&M to go from about $8 million to $12 million a year to around $20 million a year” apiece, the Republican said. “I don’t really have a dog in the hunt as to how the conferences ought to be aligned, but I do think this moves us toward a playoff because we now know where the money is.”

After Colorado announced it was going to the Pac-10 and Nebraska agreed to become the Big Ten’s 12th member, the Pac-10 made a bid for all Big 12 South schools except Baylor. As Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott flew from campus to campus in Texas and Oklahoma making his pitch, the Big 12 teetered on the brink.

Momentum seemed to be building toward a handful of 16-team mega-conferences.

As the drama unfolded over several rumor-filled days, BCS haters took heart that a historic, tectonic shift in the collegiate landscape would naturally result in a championship tournament among four or five super leagues.

But after the Big 12 elected not to disband, only two other schools switched leagues, Boise State (Mountain West) and Utah (Pac-10).

“I think what happened with the Big 12 staying together maybe postpones the creation of a playoff system,” said Barton, who has introduced anti-BCS legislation in Congress. “But it doesn’t eliminate it.”

BCS executive director Bill Hancock said he wasn’t worried.

“The fact is, the consensus of all of the schools in the 11 conferences support the BCS,” Hancock said. “There are some who have said they would rather do something else. But it’s a small percentage because the presidents of those schools know the BCS works. It does match the top two teams in a bowl game and it does preserve the importance of the regular season. And it does preserve the bowl system that so many people enjoy.

“I don’t see the universities changing their minds about a playoff or about the BCS system.”

Hancock refused to speculate on how long it might be before conference expansion again jumps into the headlines.

“The fact is, nobody knows. As of today, we have six automatic qualifying conferences,” he said.

That number, however, could change in two years. The Mountain West, especially after adding two-time Fiesta Bowl winner Boise State, could gain an automatic BCS entry when the current four-year evaluation period ends after the 2011 regular season, though it lost Utah, which has won two BCS games.

“The official data won’t be compiled until after the four years, but intuitively looking at what they’ve done the last two years, we know the Mountain West is off to a good start,” Hancock said.

Another sign of the long-range health of the BCS is its new four-year, $495 million contract with ESPN. But Barton isn’t buying it.

“All those contracts have a kickout clause. They could go to a playoff and modify the contract,” he said.

Awaiting action by the House Energy and Commerce Committee is a bill that Barton introduced that would make it illegal to market something as a national football championship unless every eligible team was given a fair opportunity to win it.

“If we’ve learned anything through the basketball and baseball playoffs, it’s this: When you have a true playoff, the underdogs do stand up and bite every now and then,” Barton said. “It would be more fun and exciting, and now we know for sure that it would also generate a lot more money.”


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