Perlman: Hard to see why playoff is good idea

BY foxsports • July 9, 2009

University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor Harvey Perlman was recently appointed as chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, which ultimately decides, even more than the conference commissioners, how the BCS works from year to year.

Perlman gave his thoughts on a range of BCS-related topics, including why the system works for all members Division I FBS, and why the alternative to the BCS is not a playoff. Perlman stressed this fact consistently. Read to find out why.

Q: Explain a little bit about the duties you have as chairman of the BCS
Presidential Oversight committee, and what the committee ultimately decides upon.

A: Four or five years ago, the commissioners who run the BCS thought that presidential oversight was important, so the presidential oversight committee was formed. I represented the Big 12 on that. Dave Frohmayer has been chair, but he's no longer president, so I've moved into that position. We do ultimately make the decisions with respect to how the Bowl Championships Series functions.

Q: Did the BCS commissioners want presidential oversight because they felt
like they needed to have that academic component in consideration?

A: I think partially that and partially, across the board, there's a movement in intercollegiate athletics to have greater presidential control.

Q: The BCS has its share of critics. I know you recently considered and
rejected the Mountain West's proposal for an eight-team playoff, and I wanted to read you the statement from Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun. I'm sure you're aware of it, but I'll read it anyway: "We basically have a system for college football that too closely resembles the old Soviet Presidium. You have a seven-member politburo that's decided if you aren't one of those party members, then you're unable to participate."

Why is that statement inaccurate?

A: It's unfortunate that we have to have this kind of dialogue. There's a reason why the oversight committee consists of who it consists of. There are six automatic qualifying conferences and Notre Dame that currently comprise that body. The six automatic qualifying conferences are conferences that had contractual relationships with bowls prior to the BCS. The Big 12 had a contract with the Fiesta Bowl, the Pac-10 and Big Ten had the Rose Bowl and the SEC had the Sugar Bowl and The ACC had the
Orange Bowl. What we agreed to do was modify those agreements to allow a No. 1 and No. 2 team to play each other for the national championship.

But we weren't going to give up those contractual rights without having control over what the system was. That's why it's that way.

Q: Do you think that, somewhere along the way, the BCS failed to make this
argument to coaches? You're right, the dialogue tends to be pretty negative. Has the BCS failed to get down to the coaching ranks and explain this in terms they can appreciate? Is there a communication that needs to improve?

A: Obviously we haven't convinced everybody that what we're doing is the right thing, so maybe more communication is in order. But there are a lot of reasons people want to attack the Bowl Championship Series, and I recognize that. It pretty tracks to be the third team instead of the first two, or which conferences think they should have had a better chance of playing in the national championship game. That's all part of the environment that we're in.

Q: You talked about Dave Frohmayer. He released a statement turning down the eight-team playoff because it "disrespects our academic calendars and it utterly lacks a business plan." While the business plan may be one issue...if at least some coaches — and possibly a majority — are in favor of a playoff, don't you think they've at least considered the academic impact on their athletes, and don't you think they know better than, say, administrators how much or how little their athletes can handle in the classroom?

A: We rejected the Mountain West proposal unanimously, which included the
representative of the five conferences who are not automatic qualifiers.

And in fact, we had a report from the commissioner of each of the Division I conferences and none of them were prepared to adopt the Mountain West Conference proposal now because we just signed an agreement for four years. And everybody believes it's our obligation to comply with our agreements.

Everybody has said they'd be willing to consider the Mountain West proposals at the time they could be implemented.

President Frohmayer was reflecting the view of most of the presidents I talked to, that, when you think about a playoff, that we have not seen a proposal that doesn't implicate the academic success of student athletes.

Now, coaches and players will always want to play as many games as possible. And I respect them for that, but I don't think any of us are prepared to adopt a playoff system that interferes with exams in the fall semester, that extends into the spring semester any more than we have to.

What I think most people don't understand is that the alternative to the current system is not a playoff. The alternative to the BCS is going back to our traditional relationship with our bowl partners.

Q: Why is a playoff not a viable alternative? Is it because it would cut
too many teams out of postseason play?

A: It would diminish the bowl structure and it would reduce the number of
opportunities for student-athletes to play in the postseason and that's not a good thing. If you look at college football now, it's the greatest sporting event spread over September, October, November, December and a little bit of January that the country has. A playoff would seriously diminish the regular season, as it has in college basketball.

I don't think it's good for college football, I don't think it's good for student-athletes and I don't think it's good for fans. I don't see fans travelling around the country three weeks in succession between December and January following their team. So you're either going to
have to play at home sites — which I'm sure everybody will want to play in Nebraska in December and January — or you're gonna have to travel, which means that bowls will cease being intercollegiate events, but will become corporate events, where everybody in, you name the city, will be there except the fans of the teams.

This isn't basketball. This isn't March Madness. Football's a different game, different environment. We have different traditions. It's hard to see why a playoff is a good idea.

Q: One sore point with fans is that Notre Dame has an automatic bid if it meets certain qualifying standards, while non-automatic leagues essentially get cut off if more than one team qualifies. Notre Dame can get an automatic bid, whereas Boise State can't, even if it's ranked in the same place, if Utah already had one. Why does Notre Dame still have a chance at an automatic bid?

A: You have to go back and remember the tradition here. The agreements with
the bowls were by conference. Now, Notre Dame is not in a conference, but they had significant relationship and they had their own television contract. At one point in time, Notre Dame was pretty much in a bowl every year. The question is not teams, the question is conferences.

We have a mechanism within the BCS that all schools agreed to — except
the Mountain West — that provides an outlet for a conference, through demonstrated conference-wide success, to become an automatic qualifier. It's not just Boise State and Utah. It's the strength of the conference. That has a lot to do with who you play over the course of the season and a lot to do with how people who rank college football teams rank the relative strength of a team.

Q: If the Cotton Bowl is going to move full-time to the Dallas Cowboys football stadium, doesn't it make a compelling argument to become a BCS site — not now, but four years down the road? Considering the stadium, and considering that Dallas is a great college football city for 60/70 years, doesn't the Cotton Bowl make a more compelling argument as a site for the BCS than, say, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, where the Superdome isn't nearly as nice?

A: I know the Cotton Bowl people have that objective in mind and I see no reason why we wouldn't entertain a proposal like that when the time is right. One of the concerns that will be expressed is that the Sugar Bowl has had a long relationship with the SEC, and I don't think the SEC would be willing to give that up.

Q: Long-term, do you think it's a good idea to put the entirety of the BCS in the hands of ESPN, which already wields a great deal of power in college football to begin with? I go back to 2001, when ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit was announcing on the air that he would call coaches and ask them not to vote for Nebraska over Colorado. Given the bully pulpit the network already has, do you think the BCS poll gets bent in a
direction that favors ESPN's preferred schools, like USC, the SEC, and the Big Ten, or are there safeguards to prevent against ESPN using its on-air talent to lobby for certain programs?

A: The ranking system that we have has a diversity of ways to rank teams. I
suspect you can't influence the computers, for one thing. And I'd be very surprised — notwithstanding some efforts — that voters in polls are influenced by what ESPN wants.

We were with FOX, we took bids, ESPN made us a very attractive offer, they are good football partners, and we'll see where it goes.

Q: Does it concern you that they intend to move all of the BCS to cable and
take all of it off free television?

A: It concerns me personally. It's an issue that we talked about at great length when we decided to move in that direction. It concerns me because I know there are a number of fans in Nebraska that do not have cable and depend on over-the-air broadcasts.

But I think if you look at long-term trends in programming, particularly sports programming, I think you're going to find there's less and less over-the-air and much more cable-oriented programming. It's just the economics of it drive the place where it is and with cable, of course, you have an additional revenue stream than you do over the air.

Q: The state of Utah intends to pursue this antitrust lawsuit against the BCS. Do you think that this is just a process the BCS is going to have to withstand before emerging the winner? Is there a way to resolve this without years of litigation? Is there a chance the BCS will lose?

A: I'm not an antitrust lawyer, but I do find the general claim that this is an anti-competitive market difficult to understand. If you go back before the BCS and look at how many times schools in the group of five played in any of the major bowls, I think you're gonna find that the BCS has broadened their access to national markets rather than narrowed it, and I think if you look at how much income they got from postseason
intercollegiate football before the BCS and look at how much income they're now getting out of the BCS, I think you have to conclude that the BCS has given them more access and given them more income.

And it's hard to see what the endgame is for this attack on the BCS on antitrust grounds. As I said: The alternative is not a playoff. The alternative is to go back to the system we had. That's fine.

Many of us would think that's not a bad outcome.

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