Tuck: BCS May Eliminate Automatic Qualifiers

UCF, and others, have been scrambling to be part of the “BIG” picture.  Turns out, their shortcut may be a dead end soon.

The Big East may not be the automatic path to prominence it currently is.  Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas talked recently of changes to the current system of the BCS.

“I think there is growing sentiment to eliminate the automatic qualification part of the BCS,” Neinas told CBSSports.com this week. “You can see what’s happening. They [conferences] are gerrymandering all over the place under the intent to maintain an automatic qualification. History has shown you don’t need that if you are qualified.”

So the mad dash to be part of the “in crowd” of college football, the conference realignment, the desire to be in a BCS conference, may become completely irrelevant in the bigger picture.

The changes supported by Neinas wouldn’t occur until after the 2014 bowls when the current BCS deal expires with ESPN. Commissioners and ADs will discuss the changes as part of their next BCS meeting Monday in San Francisco.

The BCS has changed the view of what matters in college football.  The only thing that makes the Sugar Bowl more important than the Cotton Bowl, the Gator Bowl, or the Capital One Bowl is the payout associated with it.  But we buy in, and believe in the prestige as fans, and there is no question the conferences and teams see the financial value in being part of the system.

Currently, 85 percent of the BCS bowl take is divided among the six power conferences. Last year approximately $200 million was made off the BCS bowls. If one of the six major conferences is not guaranteed a BCS bowl that could change the distribution model and potentially be a deal breaker.

With no guaranteed spot, it wouldn’t matter what conference you belonged to, it would only matter how good you were that season.  Certainly, looking at recent years, the Big East and the ACC wouldn’t like the idea of being shut out of major dollars because they didn’t produce teams worthy of playing in the “best” bowl games.

Using the final 2010 standings as example going forward, the Big East (Connecticut, out of the BCS top 25) and ACC (Virginia Tech, No. 13) would not have had a BCS team because those conferences champions finished out of the top 10. The Big Ten would have had three teams: Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State last season.

In that configuration, the most deserving schools, like Missouri (2007), Texas Tech (2008), Boise State (2008, 2010), Iowa (2009), Georgia Tech (2009) and Michigan State (2010) would have made BCS bowls simply by finishing in the top 10.  From a fans perspective, that certainly seems the most fair.  To the rich go the spoils.

To date the Big Ten has played in the most BCS bowls, 23. The SEC is second with 21.  Those leagues, proving stronger, would gain more of a strangle hold on BCS bowls if their teams continued to perform at a higher level than the best schools of the Big East or ACC.

“You can make it on your merit without having to be in an automatic qualifying situation,” Neinas said. “That would solve some problems here with people just scrambling because they think they have to take in certain institutions. Let’s eliminate automatic qualification. If you merit it, you’re in …”

So while we have seen the BCS busters like Utah (Pac-12) and TCU (Big 12) make the move up for easier access, in the potential new system without AQ, it wouldn’t matter where you played, or who you played.  It would just require you to be a top 10 team to earn a spot and a payday.

Neinas said he senses support for the change among his peers. The scramble for automatic qualification fearing instability in BCS conferences and the desire of schools like Boise State, UCF, Houston, and SMU to “move up” has shaken the foundation of the sport in a way fans, media, and the schools themselves cannot be happy about.  The change of eliminating AQ would in theory, stop all the conference jumping.

So for UCF fans who thought this was the final hurdle for the school becoming an equal to not just USF, but Florida, Miami, and FSU, a change would put them right back where they were.  UCF would have to win, and become a top 10 school to crack the big time, and wouldn’t matter if they were in the MAC, Conference USA, or the Big East.

Even worse, as I’ve talked about, is in the current system, UCF and the Big East may lose their AQ even if the system remains the same because the conference has struggled to produce great football.  Commissioners will have to decide if the Big East even merits AQ status if the system remains the same. It currently has that status because of a waiver granted by BCS commissioners in 2008.

“The point is, then you wouldn’t have this effort to cobble together a conference for the purpose of automatic qualification,” said Neimas.

Clearly the Big East, and even the ACC would be against changes that take money out of their pockets.  I am not sure how this will all play out in 2014.  Heck, I am not sure what the landscape will look like either.

So while fans of schools in those conferences would probably hate the idea of a change because losing money would only hurt all the programs in those conferences while helping the teams in the SEC, Big XII, and Big Ten that would make even more money and get even stronger, the change of eliminating an AQ could be the next step in getting a playoff.

When you start selecting teams based soley on their rank and success, it becomes easier to simply lay them out in a playoff.  And even if it doesn’t, I think the fan in all of us would rather watch #5 play #8 in the Orange Bowl instead of seeing an unranked Big East team and an ACC champ ranked #17, right?  Better matchups equal better, more entertaining games.

I am for that, and I am for anything that gets college football closer to a playoff.