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The Future Direction of the BCS: Why's on Third (or Why Involve Notre Dame)

I had a dream. Yesteday I had thoughts of Notre Dame's role in college football and with the BCS, of the damage of the Notre Dame Rule, superconferences, dominos falling, a playoff with conference champions only, and how windfall profits from contracts could affect struggling universities.

I had been thinking of Kevin White, who felt honored as just another Athletic Director sitting with the BCS Commissioners, of writers like Hayes and Dodd who fixate on what they see as special treatment for the Irish in a world where you don't have to win your conference to play in a national championship game or play on the same coast as conference members. Somehow for them, football independence and preserving rivalries is a difficult grasp, when everyone else joins a conference to play a handful of tough games a year and a shared identity irregardless of geographical disconnect or any shared history.

Last night, I dreamt of being at a Tea Party with a Dormouse, a Mad Hatter, and March Hare at a large table with shouts of "No Room! No Room!" The Mad Hatter yelled, "Everyone knows two people run college football, Jim Delany and Mike Slive, and neither needs Notre Dame." The March Hare riddled, "When is football not really about football?" When it's about power and the BCS.

Through shouts of "Move down. Move down.", I saw the reassuring smile of the Cheshire Cat and awoke to a far different reality.

More after the jump.

Jack Swarbrick

Swarbrick brings a unique skillset to the BCS table that will help unite the members in a workable agreement. As a corporate lawyer and head of the Indiana Sports Corporation, Swarbrick's proposals led to Indianapolis hosting a NFL Super Bowl, the annual Big Ten's conference championships, an agreement for the NCAA's Final Four site once every five years, the U.S. Olympic Festival, various U.S. Olympic Committee events, a Pan American game and in relocating the NCAA's headquarters to Indianapolis. Swarbrick has received one of the NCAA's highest achievement awards for his contributions to the NCAA.

Swarbrick's legal, business and sports experiences, including the NCAA and licensing, branding and contracts, put him in a unique position within the BCS to help fashion an agreement that appeals to the public, meets the requirements of the University Presidents, and minimize legal interventions by the U.S. Antitrust Division. Antitrust will certainly examine any BCS contract with an eye for "redressing exclusionary and predatory acts that result in harm to competition, distort markets, and increase barriers to entry" with ultimate harm to the consumer and disregard for their interests.

The BCS needs the leadership that Jack Swarbrick can bring and the involvement of Notre Dame.

Why Notre Dame?

If the Big 12 fell apart and Texas with its own television network became independent, would BCS conferences exclude the Longhorns from post-season and national championship contract discussions and participation?

The Irish fan base is the largest and most national, estimated at five per cent of all college football fans. Perhaps another five per cent woud tune in to root for an Irish loss. To attract the maximum viewers in the next BCS contract, the Irish have to be included.

Recent Irish bowl participation has increased Champs Bowl viewership by 56% and also been among the top five or ten attendance records at the Sun Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, with corresponding high television viewership. The last time Notre Dame opted out of a Football Championship television contract, the contract amount was reduced by sixteen per cent. Any loss of Irish partipation in the next BCS contract would conservatively decrease the amount of the contract today by 5-8%. The BCS would be equally concerned about reverting to a pre-BCS situation in which the Big 10 and Pac 10 were also not participants.

Also, at least twelve FBS Athletic Directors (10% of all FBS schools) have either graduated from ND or worked in their Athletic Department. At least nine head coaches (about 8% of all FBS schools) in the last two years have coached at Notre Dame with a number of others who are prominent coordinators.

Most importantly to BCS conferences, any exclusion of the Irish frees up Notre Dame and Jack Swarbrick to sign individual contracts with media partners and the major bowls as well as triggers antitrust implications, considering the large Irish national consumer fanbase.

The End of the Notre Dame Rule

A rising tide lifting all boats did not apply to Notre Dame over the last five years as college football grew in popularity and enjoyed increasing BCS revenue. College football's postseason revenues jumped an immediate 13% in the first year of the current BCS agreement as Notre Dame agreed to take less. Non-BCS participants shared some of the difference. The revenue growth has reached almost 30% over five years, amounting to increase for BCS participants from $11 million prior to the contract to $21 million last year.

The Irish were anchored to fixed payouts due to the Notre Dame Rule, as the tide rose around them. The Irish received a fixed second place payout of $4.5 million for any BCS participation or the 1/66 payout if no BCS participation.

For the last reported post-season bowl revenue by the NCAA (2010-2011), Notre Dame's revenue was less than all Automatic-Qualifiers average revenue, just ahead of the average revenue of a Mountain West team (link above). With this next contract expected to jump up to four times the amount of the current BCS contract, don't expect Swarbrick to tie Notre Dame to any fixed amounts.

Before all the new schools are added as full BCS conference participants, the sixty-five BCS conference teams split - just over half the FBS schools - split up $151 million of the $182 million (approximately 84% of the total revenue). Not enough? The same split of a $500 million new BCS contract would amount to $420 million. Mike Slive recently asked ESPN to renegotiate the SEC's $2 billion contract because he thought it was undervalued. Not enough, Mike?

Finally, Swarbrick and Notre Dame may provide a valuable swing vote for the Big East while they undergo a shaky reorganization should some other BCS members want to exclude theire conference or reweigh their distributions.

What's Next?

Having discussed the framework and issues for any contract in the first article, the specific proposals in my second article and Notre Dame's involvement in this one, I'll bring it all together in what I think will emerge as the final agreement in my last article.

Feel free to let all of us know what you think.

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