November 11, 2008
Comes word today via The Sporting News' SportsBusiness Daily that ESPN is only a few days from wresting Bowl Chamionship Series rights from Fox when the current BCS television deal ends in 2010:
The BCS is considering a proposal from ESPN that would see all BCS bowl games, including the championship game, wind up on ESPN, sources familiar with the negotiations are saying.
Sources say Fox still has another five days to accept the BCS' proposal, which is seeking about a 50% annual increase over the current deal's $82.5 million annual fee. The BCS is looking for a four-year, $500 million deal, which would put the average annual payout at around $125 million.
Fox has proposed a 25% increase, which would average a little more than $102 million per year. Though Fox still has several days to match, insiders say it is not likely to increase its bid by enough.
The main issue here is not exactly "OMG BCS on cable" (come on, everybody has cable, and the digital switchover in a few months will end over-the-air dominance, anyway). Nor is it "No playoffs until 2015." That's already the case; any playoff proponent hoping for 2015 is overly optimistic. Playoffs are inevitable -- the entire trajectory of the sport for the last 25 years is toward a playoff, and coaches and presidents alike (even the new president) are making their cases for a playoff in very public ways -- but no matter what the short-term situation with the BCS, a legitimate bracket is still a good decade away.
From a pro-playoff perspective, though, the real consequence of a ridiculously lucrative deal between the BCS and the Worldwide Leader is the potential for the playoff argument to disappear altogether from the discourse of the sport's most visible, agenda-setting media giant. With no major corporate stake in the Series or the legitimacy of The National Championship Game as an actual championship game, playoff talk gets bandied about pretty regularly on ESPN's various outlets. It comes up on GameDay and studio segments with Rece, Lou and Mark; Kirk Herbstreit has gone out of his way for years to argue on-air for a "Plus One," the bridge to a playoff (or a mini-playoff in itself, depending on your definition of "Plus One") in a less revolutionary guise. Even if it comes out in half-baked form, the concept of a playoff still exists in the mainstream discourse for the average fan who tunes in to College Football Live or GameDay Final, or to any random game wherein Chris Spielman or Andre Ware or somebody might bring it up. Online, Pat Forde was setting up hypothetical brackets just last week.
But corporations are usually loathe to allow employees to pull the legs from underneath a $500 million investment. My concern as playoff advocate is that the Worldwide Leader -- which really is that, in terms of influence and agenda-setting -- will start to look like a more slickly-produced, less obvious version of the shameless BCS home page, which currently features the following "headlines":
Fox, while keeping Barry Alvarez around to play up the "magic of the bowl experience" as often as possible over the air, is not that monolithic about it online. Maybe that lack of empire-wide discipline is an effect of whatever the reason is that it's about to lose a cash cow to the kings of top-down synergy -- or just of the effects of nobody reading or watching Fox's college football coverage outside of the actual BCS broadcasts.
Maybe not; maybe playoff talk doesn't undermine the profitability of the BCS and the WWL will allow its playoff advocates free reign in the name of maintaining pundit integrity. And if you can't swallow that, at least we won't have to endure a thousand consecutive cutaways to the Kansas band during the Orange Bowl. It may be a bottom line-obsessed monolith, but ESPN can produce a football game.