Lewis: Countdown to end of BCS starts this week

Associated Press photo by JOHN BAZEMOREAlabama coach Nick Saban and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly pose with The Coaches' Trophy during a news conference for the BCS National Championship college football game in Miami.
Associated Press photo by JOHN BAZEMOREAlabama coach Nick Saban and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly pose with The Coaches' Trophy during a news conference for the BCS National Championship college football game in Miami.

Advocate sportswriter

Get ready to begin saying goodbye to the BCS.

Don’t everybody be waving at once, lest you stir up hurricane-force winds.

The countdown toward the end of college football’s much-maligned championship structure has its semiofficial start this week when the commissioners of the 10 FBS conferences, plus Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, hold their annual spring meeting Tuesday in Pasadena, Calif., site of the 16th and final BCS Championship Game in January.

Traditionally, the spring meeting was the one where the big issues were argued and the big decisions were made, such as last year when the history-making move to a four-team playoff starting with the 2014 season was announced.

So that means the upcoming confab, that also includes the group’s bowl partners and ESPN, which is paying out in excess of
$5 billion over 12 years for the TV rights, will be a nostalgic get-together, because there isn’t even any tweaking needed for this season.

Right?

Well, yes and no.

While it’s all but over for the old BCS, the future is nigh.

BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said the official name for the new event, which includes two semifinals and four other bowls to be played over Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, along with the title game a week or so later, will be unveiled (discarding the BCS was the easiest decision the group had to make), along with the site of the first championship game (Cowboys Stadium is a lock) and the three “access” bowls (the Cotton, Chick-Fil-A and Fiesta are also locks), to go along with the three previously announced “contract” bowls — the Sugar, Rose and Orange.

There had been speculation that the exact makeup of the selection committee, which will replace the old polls/computer combination, would be announced as well, but Hancock said they aren’t there yet on that item.

“You can see we’ve still got a lot of work to do just for year one,” Hancock said. “There’s going to be a whole new nomenclature for people to get used to.”

One thing that is clear is that Hancock’s position is an increasingly powerful one.

Hired primarily to be the spokesman for the commissioners in 2005 and elevated to his current title in 2009, by next year Hancock will be supervising a staff of 10-12, which have the charge of producing the championship game, something that in the past was the bailiwick of the host bowl.

It’s not unlike the Final Four, which Hancock spent 13 years directing for the NCAA.

A major reason for the shift is that the commissioners, increasingly untrusting of each other after years of realignment warfare, caused in large part by new marketplace rivalries created by the BCS, don’t want their showcase event in disarray because of internal problems.

The Big East, with is rich basketball history, broke up because of schools chasing football prestige.

“There’s been some tension in the room,” said Karl Benson, commissioner of the New Orleans-based Sun Belt Conference, who in the last year has seen seven of his members defect to Conference USA.

Already, they know it’s going to be picked apart as the inevitable flaws arise.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that after the first year, there’s going to be clamoring for change,” Benson said. “It’s been difficult enough going from two teams to four.”

Another thing that’s clear is that the power of the bowls has been diminished.

In order to land what was called the Champions Bowl between the top available teams from the Southeastern Conference and Big 12, the Sugar Bowl had to up its financial commitment from its BCS setup.

And instead of being guaranteed a championship game every four years, as it was in the past, the Sugar Bowl will have to bid against other cities, much as is done for Final Fours and Super Bowls.

In fact, it won’t be the Sugar Bowl’s bid. Instead, it’ll be part of a local organizing committee, and it appears there will be at best two shots at the championship over the next 12 years.

There will be four semifinal games here, though, the first in 2014.

“The BCS has been good for the Sugar Bowl, good for New Orleans and good for Louisiana,” Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan said. “But now we’re going to be working under a new business model, and we’ll have to see how things work out.”

As Hoolahan said, the BCS wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.

It’s made college football a truly national sport. And it’s definitely replaced baseball as the prime topic in the hot stove league.

Almost makes you wish they’d just left it as it was.

Almost.