These days, it is fun to say that college football is all about money. In the modern age, many commentators argue, the focus of the sport is on TV contracts, conference revenue distribution, bowl ticket sales….virtually anything except the beauty and integrity of the game. But are we really sure that college football is about money? Isn't it actually about power?
Let's take a minute to examine this theory. If college football were only about money, then wouldn't the powers that be that control the game look to make as much money as humanly possible? Wouldn't they seek to maximize TV revenue for bowl games? They would….and yet they don't. If college football wanted to maximize the sport's overall revenues then they would institute a playoff system because the fans want it and would watch it. Smaller bowl games incorporated into the playoff would result in higher viewership and hundreds of millions in additional TV revenue. After all, college football is much more popular than college basketball but the March Madness tournament earns a lot more money than the BCS bowls. So, if it's not about money, is it actually about power?
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College football is about power. Money is an important motivator and the BCS does not look to create smaller revenues but control is the priority not money. The BCS system is still favored by the power conferences because it ensures their continued control of the game. Each major conference still has an automatic entry into a BCS bowl every year for its champion-despite issues with these guarantees and their unpopularity with fans-because that helps to maintain their power. If these conferences can control six of the ten BCS bowl spots directly and command at least two more spots for their at large teams, then they will always control college football. So, even though the BCS helps shield bowls from corruption (at least until recently), costs taxpayers and schools money every year through its fraudulent ticket scheme, and doesn't come close to maximizing the revenues that could be garnered from the game, it is still favored because it ensures the power of the major conferences to control college football.
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Understanding that college football is about power is critical to understanding how the game may change (or not) going forward. Fans like to believe that the sport operates in a relatively free environment and that, if someone can prove that a playoff will be both lucrative and popular with fans, then a college football playoff system will be adopted. But, that is not the case: college football's BCS system was created to bring order to the bowl system and maintain the major conference's power. Even if it has failed at almost everything else, it has succeeded in this respect so the leaders of the largest conferences will not willingly move to replace it.
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If college football is going to see changes, they will come from antitrust charges and lawsuits filed on the grounds that the BCS defrauds taxpayer institutions. But, those suits have a lot of merit so, even if college football's system is currently about power, it may end up changing sooner than we think. In the meantime, stay tuned but always remember what makes the sport tick: not money, power.
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