When Kyle Brotzman missed those field goals in Nevada last month, he did more than cost Boise State its shot at a national title. He also took a lot of air out of the annual debate over the Bowl Championship Series.
The BCS is always under heavy fire in December, as fans of schools left out of the system complain about its built-in unfairness. But it appeared for months that we were headed toward BCS Armageddon if Boise State and TCU remained unbeaten and were passed over in favor of one-loss schools from automatic-qualifying conferences.
Didn't happen. Boise State's loss removed a significant player in the debate, and Oregon and Auburn kept their records unblemished -- in fact, they became more impressive as the season went on. As a result, virtually nobody (outside Fort Worth, anyway) disagrees that the Ducks and Tigers have earned their slots in the national title game, and the Horned Frogs received a pretty spectacular consolation prize: A berth in the Rose Bowl.
So in a year in which the BCS isn't playing defense against its critics for a change, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany decided to play a little offense. Clearly bugged that Big Ten co-champ Wisconsin doesn't get a traditional Pac-10 opponent in Pasadena, Delany on Thursday warned the locked-out conferences -- Mountain West, WAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mid-American) -- that if they keep clamoring for more BCS access, the major conferences might just scrap the whole idea and go back to the old bowl system.
"We gave up the Rose Bowl, the SC gave up access to the Sugar Bowl, and others were included who never had access to any of this before," Delany complained about the non-automatic qualifiers. "You have to understand who brought what to the table. ... The pressure is for more. It's never enough."
Delany understandably believes that the big schools built this interest in the game, and he resents teams with less tradition and less investment in the system taking shortcuts -- as he undoubtedly views the schedule the small-conference teams play -- to claim money the Big Ten helped earned.
In fact, he would like the BCS schools to have even more access (and as a result, less for the non-AQ conferences) by lifting the restriction that only two teams from a single conference can play in the five BCS games, a rule that prevented 11-1 Michigan State from going to a BCS bowl this year.
His point is taken. But what did the ACC or Big East do to deserve their status over leagues like the Mountain West or Conference USA? The favored leagues frequently are inferior on the field to some of the snubbed leagues, who don't appreciate being locked out of a chance to make the same money.
So is Delany's walk-away threat credible? The BCS has contracts that keep it in place through the 2013 season.
It's difficult to imagine the BCS schools giving up the structure they've created, since the money has mushroomed to incredible levels in its 13 years of existence, and forgoing a championship game -- this year, for example, Oregon would play Wisconsin and Auburn would get, say, Ohio State or Virginia Tech, rather than facing off for the title -- would be a financial and public-relations disaster.
But they're clearly tired of having to defend their monopoly from legal challenges, fans' complaints, and especially those pesky unbeaten Broncos and Horned Frogs. And going back to the old bowl system, where matchups are determined by contractual agreements made years in advance, would end TCU's chances of ever getting to the Rose Bowl, or Boise State ever playing in another Fiesta Bowl.
"We've got fatigue from defending a system that's under a lot of pressure," Delany said.
Yes, well, $27.2 million will re-energize any conference commissioner. That's the Big Ten's take this year from the Rose Bowl ($21.2 million) and Sugar Bowl ($6 million). After expenses are paid, the money is divided equally among the conference members, so the Gophers can expect a check of just shy of $2.5 million, just for watching the Badgers and Buckeyes on TV.