Chuck the BCS: college football is better off with this sham in its rearview mirror

Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

PASADENA, Calif. – When you stick your neck out and write a book (two, actually) titled "Death to the BCS," it does tend to help when the thing dies. It kind of saves you from some humiliation. So now that it is, well, dead, that's appreciated.

The actual transition to a playoff is long, long overdue, but there are things we'll miss about the deceased.

No, not that it ever "got it right," because that's a completely subjective call in the first place and quite absurd in its own right. Would it be "right" to anyone to set the Super Bowl matchup now as Seattle vs. Denver and then stand around for a month while we cancel the NFL playoffs? Or would that simply be the dumbest idea ever?

We'll miss that comedy of rationalization, the impossible-to-duplicate stupidity that pervaded the whole beast. The BCS was maddening, but it was hysterical, too.

It was so terrified of progress toward a playoff that it invented ludicrous and demonstrably untrue argument after ludicrous and demonstrably untrue argument, feigning concern over everything from player academics to cutting off the spigot of bowl games' charitable giving – which, in case you forgot, accounts for less than 2 percent of total revenue – and even the supposedly likelihood that Nick Saban would begin tanking the Iron Bowl. Yeah, sure he would.

The BCS's sole positive claim is that it was better than the old system at matching top teams in a title game. A push-button phone was better than a rotary dial. Color TV beat black and white. While the rest of the world embraces improvement and evolution, college football's power brokers subjected fans of the sport to this nonsense for 16 years. The BCS is old enough to drive. And you know some fat-cat bowl director would've bought it a Mercedes.

No discussion of the BCS should focus on who got to play in the title game, even when the game ends up like the last one, a 34-31 classic that crowned Florida State national champions over Auburn on Monday night. Even though the stated intention of the BCS was to pit the top two teams against one another, that was just another canard – a talking point in a sea of them. Really.

The BCS existed to allow a small number of people – notably bowl directors – to make an incredible amount of money by serving as the outsourced middlemen of the sport's lucrative postseason. That's why it lasted. Because no matter how nonsensical it was, someone was profiting handsomely off the nonsense.

All you ever needed to know about the BCS came from the handiwork of a man named John Junker, who ran the Fiesta Bowl for a couple of decades and made himself a millionaire doing it.

He lost his job in 2010 for giving politicians illegal campaign contributions. He may still serve time in prison for the transgression. The "scandal" made headlines, mostly because it revealed he and his staff sometimes expensed trips to a local gentlemen's club.

That was good for some laughs, but it missed the point. The strip-club bill was about the 500th most scandalous thing about the Fiesta Bowl. Nos. 1 through 499 were the other ways John Junker spent the game's cash on himself (which proved the largesse) and why guys like him fought so hard and so long to maintain the BCS.

At the time of his firing, Junker paid himself nearly $700,000 per year. He managed to get the bowl to pay for membership in four exclusive, private golf clubs in three different states. Four! His car allowance was $2,250 per month, which meant he was either secretly paying for four or five cars for his entire family or the dealer that leased him a vehicle for that amount should be imprisoned.

Junker had an AMEX Black Card that he worked like few others. Over a 10-year period, he averaged – averaged – $1,330 per day, every single day, in expenses. Go ahead and even try to do that.

One time he bought 20,000 golf balls on the bowl. He repeatedly billed it for new clubs. He paid for an employee's wedding. He threw himself a three-day, $30,000-plus birthday party in Santa Barbara and flew his entire staff out for it. He once bid $95,000 to take some conference commissioners and himself on a golf outing with Jack Nicklaus.

John Junker was living the good, good life. And like anyone who had a job that not only paid that much but paid for virtually all of their personal expenses, he fought to maintain the status quo.

Who can blame them? The BCS was a cash spigot for everyone – well, except the players of course. It was certainly good to the three of us. We are the first to admit we profited off the BCS, too. The BCS will help send our kids to college.

The truth we tried to elucidate was a story as American as it comes: Men in power refusing to give up what they believed was theirs because they told themselves that lie so many times it became their truth.

A survivalist through and through, Junker threw an opulent multiday party every year in Scottsdale – The Fiesta Frolic – for all the important decision-makers in college sports, picking up travel costs, meals, drinks, golf, everything. ADs and commissioners came with hands out, bellies ready to be filled and swings grooved.

And so the BCS stayed as the ice slowly melted in single malts on the veranda.

Junker was just one of many. The Orange Bowl doled out free Caribbean cruises. The Sugar Bowl had a "subcommittee" on golf. Every bowl director walked around flashing plastic, buying favor with anyone and everyone. The BCS was an exercise in cronyism and hypocritical corruption. The same people with their palms out – college sports leadership – wrote and enforced rules that would excommunicate any of their athletes that took even a fraction of what they did.

When the outside pressure for a better system came, the bowl industry tried to wage a PR campaign, hiring lobbyists, media spokesmen and even Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokesman for President George W. Bush.

The PR assault was a disaster, of course, because not even the most brilliant spinmeister could squeeze such a heaping lump of coal into a diamond. Fans grew to hate the BCS even more with each laughable justification. By the end it wasn't the crime, it was the comedy.

Eventually, no one wanted the BCS around except the people paid directly by the BCS. Fear of being left behind drove unnecessary conference realignment. Everyone got tired of it. The new generation of college athletic directors make a lot of money, so complimentary rounds of golf don't hold the same allure they did for the old guard.

Mostly, though, the rampant profiteering of the Junker set became too much. Within a week of our book coming out in 2010 – after studying years of bowl tax returns, using open-records requests to uncover contracts and ferreting through business plans – our phones rang with the leaders of college athletics. They weren't calling to dispute a thing. They were looking for more information.

Few knew how much money was really getting siphoned off. Many were stupefied.

Wait. That overpriced hotel we were contractually obligated to stay in gave a kickback to the bowl? Yes.

Are you saying that game that kept telling us they were all about charity only gave a couple grand? Yep.

So the guy in the garish blazer is making $800,000 to run one game? Oh yeah.

Are you telling me the computer formulas are actually mathematically unsound? So say actual mathematicians.

The bowls tried to fight a playoff because they know eventually it will expand past four teams to eight that will require campus sites to be used. Once campus sites are used, the bowls aren't getting a cut of the pie. And once people realize it's a lot more fun just to play this at Bryant-Denny or Ohio Stadium, there goes having a car allowance that could get you a four-bed, four-bath, center-entry Colonial.

So change finally came. The current compromise will make some bowls big money. Bigger than ever. That's to be expected. Cronyism and corruption always will exist in college sports. It's the bedrock value on which the entire enterprise is constructed. It was never getting cut out completely.

At least the fans get the excitement of a playoff.

More than that, so much of what we wrote about is being changed. Onerous ticket guarantees are being reduced. Conferences are beginning to take ownership of bowls themselves. Bad computers and nonsense polls will be scrapped in favor of a selection committee.

The four-team playoff is just a transitional period – a half-decade-or-so pit stop. An eight-teamer with five automatic bids is inevitable. Everyone in college athletics knows it.

So now that the BCS is dead, enjoy the next iteration. The sport will be better. The regular season will be better. Non-conference scheduling will be better. The double-header semifinals will be better.

Games like Monday night's will continue to happen because the game is always bigger than the system. Only now there will be three that matter each postseason, not just one. There is nothing to miss about the old BCS, which really got nothing right except a public-relations campaign so terrible that it provided years of jokes and allowed for easy books to be written.

It was such a bumbling foil it almost became a friend.




What to Read Next