Lieberman: Divergent factors pull the BCS in different directions

As most college football fans already know, this week could mark a momentous development for the Bowl Championship Series and its current championship format.@@

For the past few days, 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick have met in Hollywood, Fla., with the objective of honing in on options for a multiple-game playoff format. BCS executive director Bill Hancock told ESPN the group hopes to settle on two or three final options by the end of the session. The proposed changes would likely be enacted starting in 2014.@@[email protected]@

The news has been met with tepid response from fans. Even a four-game playoff would provide a huge improvement over the current No. 1 vs. No. 2 format, but with several large obstacles still standing in the way, it’s not clear how such an adaptation would mesh with current reality.

Right now, one of the largest hurdles to evolution is the Rose Bowl. While Oregon fans surely have a soft spot for the annual classic, right now the Granddaddy of Them All is looking more like an old fogey.@@[email protected]@

That’s because the other BCS bowls (Orange, Sugar and Fiesta) seem to be fully willing to make way for an alternative system. But the folks in Pasadena — as well as the big wigs for the Pac-12 and Big Ten — want to make sure their golden goose gets treated with extra care.

“We feel like we have something very special and unique in college football,” Rose Bowl spokesperson Gina Chappin told ESPN. “We went into the room with the intention of reaffirming what we are.”@@[email protected]@

That being said, both Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany were adamant that the partnership between the conferences wouldn’t throw a wrench in the discussions.@@[email protected]@

Perhaps the Rose Bowl won’t present a challenge in the end. But regardless of how negotiations play out, the situation hints at a simple, yet crucially important dichotomy hanging over all proposed changes to the bowls: tradition or innovation?

That’s not to say that the proposed BCS amendments present a complete split from what was prior. There is hope that the current four-bowl system could remain intact while an auxiliary multigame playoff is put in place. But even if the current bowls survive, their significance and timing will undoubtedly be altered fundamentally.

Unlike the initial formation of the BCS, which clearly presented an improvement over previous methods of determining a national champion,@@which [email protected]@ these changes would involve a bit of give-and-take.@@among [email protected]@ When you look across the landscape of college football, there is a diverse range of stakeholders with different views of how a new system should work.

Hancock claims that the heads of college football involved in the discussions are simply responding to the demands of fans.@@[email protected]@ In reality, a new format has the potential to fatten everyone’s wallets while increasing protection for the BCS against antitrust litigation.

For those unfamiliar with antitrust law’s relation to the BCS, here’s a simplified breakdown: Detractors of the BCS allege the system fosters collusion among conferences and teams that prevents the market within all of college football from functioning competitively (unlike a multiple-game playoff that treats all conferences equally). In essence, the current practices of the BCS exclude new competitors from entering the market. This allows the BCS to deliver a less desirable product and to — at times — raise prices at its own discretion. Such practices are illegal.@@what [email protected]@

While the BCS National Championship Game has frequently been held up as a key symptom of corruption among the giants of college football, it is not the game itself that is the primary issue. Instead, it’s the steps the BCS has taken to protect its game from a better alternative. Alarmingly, BCS conferences — six of the 12 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision conferences — have formed agreements stating if any four teams do join another playoff system, the remainder of schools will refuse to engage in competition with the defectors indefinitely. This represents a collective boycott, a practice that rarely stands up to legal challenge. Considering that other sports and divisions in the NCAA already compete in multigame playoffs, this collusion has no widely accepted justification.@@[email protected]@

From a legal standpoint, a playoff doesn’t completely protect the BCS from litigation; it would only increase the likelihood of immunity.@@[email protected]@ But when you consider a playoff would appease most college football fans and a number of leaders from non-BCS conferences, you have to assume it factors into the equation.@@so, why aren’t non-BSC conf. included in this [email protected]@

My point: As we keep tabs on a proposed college football playoff, fan allegiances, tradition and demands for a “fair” system seem to rise to the surface. And all those concerns are legitimate, complex issues.

But below that, economic factors are always at work.@@[email protected]@ So, as the dominant coalition of college football plots its next move, keep your eye on a number of considerations. Finding an agreeable balance will be a momentous, if not intriguing, challenge.

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