The Debate Over College Football Playoffs

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Author Dave Zirin and FOX Sports president Ed Goren explain how the Bowl Championship Series title is determined and whether the system needs to be changed. Callers discuss major college football teams and weigh in on the possible benefits of a playoff season.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Mike Pesca in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

College football's national champion will be crowned tonight. But because of the lack of a playoff system no matter who wins - Ohio State or LSU - there will be a few teams who will be able to complain about not getting a fair chance. The two teams that get to play for the championship are selected based on a fairly subjected process involving polls, computer calculations, and lots of luck.

If the "Notre Dame Fight Song" were rewritten today, it might go: Pray, pray for a BCS bid based on perception not what you did. Write your congressman or sue if the computer doesn't choose you. Or it probably wouldn't, actually, to tell you the truth. But we are talking about college football today and later in the hour, how to rig an election, the confessions of one former political operative.

But first, crowing a college football champion. What system works best - BCS, playoffs or maybe something else completely? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And you could comment on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. We'll get both sides on this.

First up, Dave Zirin, a columnist for SLAM magazine and author of the book "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports." He wrote an op-ed for Sports Illustrated called "On Pigskin and Petrol: The Oily BCS."

Welcome to Studio 3A, Dave.

Mr. DAVE ZIRIN (Columnist, SLAM Magazine; Author, "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports."): Great to here, Michael.

PESCA: So we'll get to the arguments. But first we have to explain what the BCS is and how it works. And Dave, I know that you know and I kind of know. So what we have to do is get someone in here who maybe doesn't know to see if we go over that person's head. And we found such a person…

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: …person, Ashley Grashaw is going to keep us honest. Ashley, how do we find you?

ASHLEY GRASHAW: Well, I work for TALK OF THE NATION.

PESCA: Okay.

GRASHAW: I'm on the staff.

PESCA: That's one way. And is it true you really don't know that much about college football?

GRASHAW: Ah, football. That's the one where they wear tight shiny pants and there's some pigskin involved.

PESCA: No, honestly.

GRASHAW: Look, I went to Cal - go Bears. I've been to a couple of games. I know what a healthy rivalry is. But, by no means, am I an expert. I don't even know what that little yellow tissue is that they throw in the field much less how the playoffs work, you know.

PESCA: Well, let me ask you this, who did Doug Fluttie play for?

GRASHAW: Who is that?

PESCA: Okay.

GRASHAW: Is he on Cal?

PESCA: No. No. I think that establishes her lack of…

Mr. ZIRIN: Bonafides…

PESCA: Bonafides, yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: …if you will.

PESCA: Good.

GRASHAW: I'm a little embarrassed. I just got…

PESCA: Good job.

GRASHAW: …to say that.

PESCA: All right. So let's get into this process. Today is the BCS championship game. What is BCS stand for, Dave?

Mr. ZIRIN: Well, it stands for boy, college football stinks. No, it does not. It stands for the Bowl Championship Series. Oh, should we explain that there's a whistle in this segment?

PESCA: Well, how it's going to work…

Mr. ZIRIN: Thank you.

PESCA: …is if Ashley gets confused, she's going to throw one of those yellow tissues and blow a whistle, okay? So we're just going to have our conversation and then if we hear the whistle, we'll stop and, you know, pull back and get a little less jargony. So what is BCS really? How did it come about?

Mr. ZIRIN: Well, BCS or Bowl Championship Series started in 1998 and it was designed as a way to force a recognized national champion on NCAA college football. Before 1998, what you had at the end of the year were a series of bowl games.

(Soundbite of a whistle)

Mr. ZIRIN: What? What's a game?

PESCA: What's a bowl game?

GRASHAW: Bowl game.

Mr. ZIRIN: What's a bowl?

PESCA: Why is it called a bowl? So explain that.

GRASHAW: Yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, why is it called bowl? It's called a bowl actually because the shape of a football stadium is like that of a bowl. And so that's why you have the Super Bowl is the final NFL game, because that's the most super of them all. It's so super. Now, you go to some of the other bowls. You have other - you know, the pageantry of college football means that now you have 33 bowl games at the end of every season. That means 66 schools, over 50 percent of all schools that play football play in the bowl game. And I don't know about you, Michael, but I just love the pageantry of the Papajohns.com Bowl…

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: …which happens every year.

PESCA: The San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl is my favorite.

Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, I love it. I mean, the historic rivalry between - all right.

PESCA: So they have all these games with - some with crazy names often pairing teams that have 500 records, but tonight is the championship game.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes.

PESCA: How do they decide which teams get to play in that?

Mr. ZIRIN: Well, I can't tell you how they actually decide it because I don't have an advanced degree in computer nanotechnology from Stanford. It is a bizarre - Stanford?

GRASHAW: Yes.

Mr. ZIRIN: Or the nanotechnology? Boo.

GRASHAW: It's our big enemy at Cal.

Mr. ZIRIN: We hate nanotechnology at - no. No. What it is is this bizarre computer program that's weighed against the college football coaches who vote in a poll. And through the computer readout as well as the college football coaches voting…

(Soundbite of a whistle)

Mr. ZIRIN: What, coaches?

GRASHAW: So is it - yeah, is it a popularity contest? I mean, with the coaches voting, you know.

PESCA: That's a good point.

Mr. ZIRIN: It's subjective. It's polling. I mean, that's the thing. It's like one of the things, I think, we love about sports, one of the things that despite all the scandal and detritus that clings to sports like barnacles on a boat, one of the things we love about sports is that the champion is determined on the field of play and that we know who the winner is on the…

(Soundbite of a whistle)

Mr. ZIRIN: What, play?

GRASHAW: On the field of play.

Mr. ZIRIN: Field of play.

GRASHAW: Sorry.

Mr. ZIRIN: A court that field…

GRASHAW: I'm really bad.

Mr. ZIRIN: It's okay. I mean, we could do this some English classes after this, too, if you like. But…

PESCA: We wanted someone not that informed, but…

Mr. ZIRIN: …maybe a sports to English dictionary might be good. But, no, but that's what we love about sports, the winner is the winner except in college football. There - and you could argue also in sports like - that I don't even consider sports, things like ice skating or skeet shooting. You know, actually skeet shooting is okay. But it's anything where you have to have a judge. You know, anytime you have to explain the history of the East German judge in any sport…

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: …you know, it's subjective, it's somebody who might have some shadowy under conspiracy about how something should turn out - that's not sports. It has to be something that's decided on the field of play. And in college football, it's really not decided on the field of play. It's decided by computers. It's decided by coaches, many of whom - they are handed these polls - and I know this from talking to college coaches, they're exhausted after a long day. They have a keg to drink. And what they do is they hand the poll to their equipment manager or to their child and they say - or to a chicken in Chinatown and they say, please, pick out who in fact should be the top 20 teams in the country.

PESCA: So the championship today means millions of dollars for the winning school…

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes.

PESCA: …a few million less for the losing school. And you're saying a big part of who gets to play for those millions and that glory is whoever was next to the particular coach while he was drinking a beer.

Mr. ZIRIN: A part that just plays into it.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: But the computer side plays into it, too. But the biggest determiner of who gets to play forward is who is in the major conferences. And that's the other thing that's very unfair…

(Soundbite of a whistle)

Mr. ZIRIN: Major conferences, good. That was a good whistle blow. The major conferences are - there are six major conferences, and I'm not going to list -I mean, the Big Ten, Pac-10, or Big 12. They're the…

PESCA: The big team, the big household-name teams…

Mr. ZIRIN: …the big household-name teams play.

PESCA: …where everyone in the state loves this school, have the huge budgets.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah, Big East. These are the big teams. So you have the six major conferences and you have the team you mentioned at the top of the other - Notre Dame, which exists in a universe all its own.

PESCA: Right.

Mr. ZIRIN: All of these teams and with - there's a slight variable for at large mid-major teams, although it rarely happens. The BCS started in 1998. You didn't have a mid-major teams play in a BCS bowl game. A mid-major team -smaller schools, smaller schools…

PESCA: Anticipating me.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah, it's one - a smaller school at a smaller market. Utah is an example of a mid-major team.

GRASHAW: Okay.

Mr. ZIRKIN: Boise State is an example of a mid-major team and Hawaii is an example. These are three mid-major teams that played in BCS games. And that's really where the list begins and ends.

PESCA: Okay. Hold on, Ashley, because let's just give a bottom line to this whole thing. It seems the process is subjective, not necessarily fair. The rich get richer - because only teams in the big conference are really allowed to play in that championship game.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right.

PESCA: And I guess is what kind of - maybe it's this crazy thing that everyone kind of likes anyway, like in Iowa they all like the caucuses.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right. But it's not that. Some of the biggest names in college football have said that the BCS is an absolute sham, that there should be a playoff system, and it's only because of greedy and small-minded college presidents who cling to the bowl system, because over 50 percent of all colleges get to play in a bowl.

PESCA: Right.

Mr. ZIRIN: You know, and they like those easy paydays where the big-moneyed alumni, you know, pay their ticket and they fly out to Arizona to go to the, you know, Wikipedia/.org(ph)…

PESCA: Sun Bowl.

Mr. ZIRIN: …you know, bowl.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: And they get to go there and you get to make some easy money for your college. And that's why in my column on Sports Illustrated I compared the Bowl Championship Series, the college football bowl system, to the oil industry, because people recognize that the oil industry is something that, you know, it's something that's dirty, that is unclean. And there's actually ever more profits to be made by going to different kinds of energy and yet, we're still immersed and stained in oil as an energy source in this country.

Just like with college football. Because there are interests in place -powerful interests that say, no, oil is the way to go. It's the same thing with college football. So you have big names in college football. People like Joe Paterno, who's the coach of Penn State. You heard of Joe Paterno? I'm just curious.

GRASHAW: Absolutely not.

Mr. ZIRIN: Absolutely not. Okay. That's okay.

PESCA: A legendary coach…

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes.

PESCA: …who's up there on the all times win list.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes. Don't go to Pennsylvania. You will be physically harmed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: But Joe Pa, as they say is…

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes.

PESCA: …annoyed with this system.

Mr. ZIRIN: Hates the system.

PESCA: Steve Spurrier, a great coach.

Mr. ZIRIN: Hates the system. Tremendous coach.

PESCA: A lot of these big coaches.

Mr. ZIRIN: Tommy Tuberville from Auburn.

PESCA: Because these are guys who know that to play the game, what you have to do is keep score.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right.

PESCA: And there's a lot about the college bowl system that really isn't about keeping score. Only two teams get to play for the big game.

Mr. ZIRIN: That's right.

PESCA: Ashley, do you more or less get it?

ASHLEY: I do. And I think I'm going to do much better in bars with guys now. Thank you.

PESCA: Awesome. Now go answer the calls.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ZIRIN: Also…

ASHLEY: Thank you.

Mr. ZIRIN: But it's just - one last thing…

PESCA: Yes.

Mr. ZIRIN: …about tonight's championship game you mentioned that's between LSU and Ohio State. One of my favorite sports radio people described this game as LSU and Ohio State, two teams that backed into the championship game. And because they were not very good teams but all the top teams lost at the end of the year, so they were kind of like the two people, kind of, left standing.

PESCA: Sometimes, this screwy system does pair two undefeated teams.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes.

PESCA: Teams that people want to watch.

Mr. ZIRIN: And when that happens, the uproar dies down. Like a couple of years ago, USC played Texas. The two undefeated teams - Vince Young, who played for Texas, going against Reggie Bush, who won the Heisman Trophy that year, and it was a real clash of the Titans kind of feel. And therefore, the hoi polloi were satisfied. But this year, when you have two teams back into a championship game, no one has really earned the right to be there - on Ohio State or LSU -it leaves a bad feeling in everybody's mouth.

PESCA: This year, LSU has two losses. And Ohio State has one loss. But there are a lot of other teams in that exact category, right?

Mr. ZIRIN: Sure. And there's another team that went to the bowl series undefeated. That was Hawaii. And they ended up getting trounced by Georgia in their ballgame.

PESCA: But maybe you can make a case that Georgia should be playing for the national championship now.

Mr. ZIRIN: Exactly. Or USC, which was very impressive in their ballgame. Or you could make the case that if Hawaii, having gone undefeated, actually got to play for it all, they could have been like Villanova, the college basketball team in 1985. The kind of underdog that, surging with adrenaline despite physical odds to overcome, won a championship over a school called Georgetown, which is in Washington, D.C.

PESCA: So you're saying that this system doesn't even allow underdogs to have their moment in the sun.

Mr. ZIRIN: Not at all. It's a system for the rich and the powerful and the corrupt.

PESCA: What is - are there any good arguments for it?

Mr. ZIRIN: No. There are none.

PESCA: I can think of one, but you go ahead.

Mr. ZIRIN: And I'll tell you - all right. But I'm going to respond to the argument that people always make, that you're about to make…

PESCA: Right.

Mr. ZIRIN: …which is wrong.

PESCA: Which is on week two of season - it makes every single game so important. In week two of the season, a team can lose a game and that really will spell doom for their whole season. Other sports, there's always the chance of recovery. So the advocates of this system say it makes every week life or death.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right. But it wouldn't for college football because you couldn't realistically - in college football, they play roughly once a week. You couldn't have 64 teams playing a tournament at the end of the year in college football; it'd be completely unfeasibly. Because in basketball, it's a tournament of 64 - really 65, but let's not go there. You know, it gets too confusing. But…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ZIRIN: Oh, the music is coming.

PESCA: Finish the thought.

Mr. ZIRIN: Okay. The thought to be finished is that in football, it would be top 16. Therefore, every game - I would put it top 16, every game would still count throughout the year.

PESCA: Coming up, Ed Goren, president of FOX Sports, will join us. He's an advocate of this system. And we'll take your calls at 800-989-8255. You could send us e-mail at talk@npr.org.

I'm Mike Pesca. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Mike Pesca in Washington.

College football rankings are pretty convoluted. They regularly bring grown men to tears, and some women, too. My guest is Dave Zirin. He's a columnist for SLAM magazine and a regular contributor to The Nation and Sports Illustrated Online.

If you're a fan the feels the BCS has done you wrong, that's right, if you're a West Virginia, Georgia, or Missou fan, or if you want everyone to stop whining about it and take some pleasure on what could be a really great game tonight, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And quick question for you, Dave. If we're criticizing the current system, you can't beat something with nothing.

Mr. ZIRIN: Right.

PESCA: So give me a system that you think would work better and more fairly.

Mr. ZIRIN: Absolutely. Instead of a system where the winners of the top eight conferences or the top six major conferences play it in the bowl games, what you could have instead is something where the top 16 teams, based on coaches -and if you want, computer rankings - play in a tournament modeled after the NCAA basketball tournament. Instead of the team of - the field of 64, you get the field of 16. Of course, the team that's ranked 17th is going to complain. But to me, that's just more part of sports. And you'll lay it out - top 16 teams, people play against each other. It allows the mid-majors, who've impressed us all year, to be able to compete with the other squads.

And also, I mean, I'm sorry, but these are 18, 19, 20-year-old kids giving their heart and soul. And just like something that you said before the break, if they lose their second or third game, I don't want their season wiped out for the year if they're good enough to come back. I want them to have a chance at redemption during a season. I mean, these are kids, for goodness sakes, playing their hearts out, and I want to see them have the chance to win it all like in college basketball.

PESCA: Let's bring in Ed Goren, one of the most powerful men in sports. That's just not me saying that. He was on such a list. I think it was the Sporting News who named him number 22 in all sports. He's the president of Fox Sports, where the BCS championship game will be broadcast tonight. He's joining us from New Orleans.

Hello, Ed.

Mr. ED GOREN (President, FOX Sports): Mike, how are you today?

PESCA: I'm really good. And I guess we'll put to you - we've been probably engaging in the kind of complaining that you very well might be hearing about a lot these days. But what do you make of it? Is there anything to the critics and critiques of the college football championship system?

Mr. GOREN: Well, first of all, you know, Dave's point about you can't lose early in the season - this year, it doesn't hold up. The two teams that are playing in the championship game did suffer losses - that's number one. Number two, I think if you took a poll of football - college football fans, they would agree with Dave. Why don't we have a 16-team tournament? It's just not going to happen. So we need a reality check here.

PESCA: Tell us why.

Mr. GOREN: I mean, college football - the other version of how to change the current system that's been suggested is a plus one where you add a game, you have two ballgames with one and four playing each other, two and three playing each other and winners facing each other and what would be a plus one, that hasn't happened and is not going to happen in the next couple of years either. So…

PESCA: The plus one is essentially a four-team playoff. That's just a more complicated way of saying a four-team playoff.

Mr. GOREN: And we haven't even been able to get to that point.

PESCA: But why not, Ed? I mean, you're close to the money. You're close to the ratings. Is it because of TV or is it because of some other factors?

Mr. GOREN: Well, it's nothing to do with TV. Look, we signed on two years ago for the BCS rights. And we knew what we were buying into. And we've been thrilled with the relationship and how it's worked out. If it gets modified along the way, we would continue to have an interest. But it's not about television. And a lot of college coaches - I was surprised when I first heard this - a lot of college coaches don't want a tournament. You know, you have your BCS ballgames - the Bowl experience for these kids is more than just a game. They get to enjoy the week in New Orleans or in L.A. or in Miami or in Phoenix. And it's a wonderful, wonderful experience.

If you're in a win or go-home scenario, I think, number one, you lose some of that fun for the kids. If that's the scenario - win or go home - you're not going to be out at functions and going around town and doing tours. You're going to be getting ready for a game and that's it. The other thing is, with the current system, the kids who - from USC, they end their year and go back to the campus as champions. Kids from Georgia, they go back to their campus as champions. Once you get into the playoff, there's only one winner. In the current system, there are multiple winners. With a 16-team playoff…

PESCA: So you think the seven and six team that won its Motor City Bowl feels like every bit the winner that a national champion does?

Mr. GOREN: Well, I'm talking the BCS. And yet, even the kids who win the Motor City - you know what, it's a pretty good feeling going back to the campus having won your last game and having it be a bowl game.

PESCA: Dave Zirin, you've been scribbling furiously like someone who wants to get the prosecution witness on the stand.

Mr. ZIRIN: No. No. No. I do that so I look smart for you, Michael. But first of all, Ed, you know…

PESCA: Better than scratching. Yeah.

Mr. ZIRIN: First, Ed is both much more powerful and has a much better radio voice than I, from hearing that. But I would like to respond to a couple of things. I mean, first, if this was really about the kids at the end of the day with all the millions this produces, we'd be paying these kids a bit of stipend. They'd get a little piece of the pie when this is all said and done. I mean, I talked to a lot of college athletes and the first thing they say to me is not I want the bowl system, but while I'm out there on the field, I wouldn't mind getting a little piece of that myself at the end of the day.

But the second thing though that I would say is I agree with Ed that it's not about TV. That's not the interest at work here. This is, to me - and from to coaches as well - this is about university presidents. Because when you have over 50 percent of all college teams get to play in a bowl, they're able to get a small piece of that. Yet, it's so shortsighted because it's not - it's infinitesimal how much more money would be able to be gained by getting a playoff system. The amount of energy and attention that that would produce would so transcend that. That, to me, for a lot of people, it just seems logical at this point that we need to do that.

And, you know, it's interesting. It's like - well, I wrote in my column about this, W.E.B. Du Bois - and this might be the first time W.E.B. Du Bois and Tommy Tuberville were mentioned on the same show - But W.E.B. Du Bois wrote a century ago about the influence of King Football(ph) on the college campus, and about how it distorts the thinking process in terms of just the logic of the role that sports should play in university life. And to me, the BCS is really a manifestation of that.

PESCA: W.E.B. Du Bois also said the color line would the problem of the century. Tommy Tuberville said I think it would be the defensive line.

Hold on. Let's get a call in here. Tom(ph) from Kingsland, Georgia. Tom, what are you thinking?

Mr. ZIRIN: It's very funny.

TOM (Caller): Well, I'm one that stands - that falls on the side of the current system: It makes every game matter, it makes every game count. And this season was a perfect example of that. I watched more football probably this season than I have in any other season in recent memory because every single weekend, you had teams that put - that, you know, either suddenly made a move where they could play for a championship or - you know, and teams that we thought that would be going to a championship that lost in an upset. And I think if you go to a playoff system, you end up with either one of two situations. You either have a small field of four or eight teams, and then you have the same problems that you have with the current selection process.

PESCA: Someone's always going to get left out.

TOM: Exactly.

PESCA: Right.

TOM: Or you have a larger field of 16 or more teams and then you dramatically reduce the importance of the regular season games. And I just - I think that the sport would suffer for that.

Mr. GOREN: You see, this proves that NPR has intelligent listeners.

Mr. ZIRIN: Nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Well, Tom, take the compliment and thanks very much.

TOM: Oh, thank you.

PESCA: Ed, what do you hear from - I read a Gallup poll saying only 15 percent of people were satisfied with this system. Earlier, you made the point that the reality doesn't matter what percent of the system…

Mr. GOREN: Yeah, it doesn't. I mean, there's no question in my mind that if you took a fan poll, it would heavily favor some form of a playoff. But, you know what, as Dave said, it gets back, certainly, to the presidents - or it begins there. It trickles down into the conference chairs and the coaches. Heck, from what I've heard, the folks at the Pack 10, Big 10 in Rose Bowl are the major blocking force - or certainly have been on record as saying, they don't even want a plus one.

So in the end, I just don't see it dramatically changing, although there certainly has been discussion about a plus one. The trouble with the plus one, some years that worked real well. This year, I think, you would look at it and say, well, there are a lot of schools - USC, Georgia, and Kansas - who would feel they have every right to play the winner of tonight's game, too.

PESCA: Yes. This year would be one of those years where you'd want an eight-team field. But let me just ask you, Ed, while we have you on the line. Do you think - is your assessment, knowing what you know about ratings, do you think the college presidents and the conference presidents are being penny-wise, pound-foolish? Because I could see a scenario. If you marry the popularity of college football - maybe you could talk to just how incredibly popular college football is as a sport - and you marry that with the buzz of March Madness, which is the NCAA basketball tournament for a regular season sport that I don't think is as popular, I would think that you could have an event - a weeks-long event that could even rival the NFL as the greatest television property we know.

Mr. GOREN: Well, maybe so. But understand - and everybody likes to bring the NCAA basketball tournament into the equation as an example. The reality is that the BCS ratings, right through the championship game, are well in line, if not even better, than the final four of the NCAA basketball tournament and ourselves, guys, we've been very fortunate. Madison Avenue loves the current system based on the fact that we are sold out for four years, which is just an amazing testimonial to the college BCS product.

PESCA: And the current system meaning you're sold out for all the ballgames or just the championship?

Mr. GOREN: All of them.

PESCA: Amazing. Let's take one more call and if you could stay with us, Ed, for a second because I know you've got a lot to do.

But Andrew(ph) from St. Augustine, Florida. Go ahead, Andrew.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi. Yeah. I'm going to be a staunched defender of a system. I think it reflects the university culture. It's what I call the seminar approach to choosing a winner, I suppose, and that's, in a sense, what these coaches are asked to do - to come together and develop some kind of a consensus and understanding and in doing that, they reflect the university culture and take away some of that competitive nature of the sport. And, of course, show that, you know, coaches can come together and make a good decision together. That's my comment.

PESCA: Wow, thanks for the call there, Andrew. Go ahead, Dave.

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah, I was going to say it's remarkable considering how cutthroat college sports can be on every conceivable level, from the university level to the network level, that when it comes time to defend a system that 85 percent of the people don't want, all of a sudden it's draped in ivy and we're speaking about it as if the long day has gone by, as if we've got - we're all going to sing "Auld Lang Syne" here in a second.

Now, I just think it's so much more critical, I think, to understand that we have to look at what college football could be and what it could generate. I mean, Ed's absolutely right, that the current system people profit from it and it does very well. But that vision that - of what it could be, I think the basketball analogy is very appropriate, because 20 years ago, no one would have thought that you would have the office pools, the bus, the excitement and the people who are casual sports fans stepping to the fore and becoming something much more intense.

Mr. GOREN: Well, that's really going to convince college presidents that off these pools are the figures to expand the format.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: So Ed, I'm going to let you go in a second because you, of course, got a lot to do. But we've been going around a little bit and the same point is made that no matter how many ideas you have to improve it, reality says it's not going to improve. But a few years ago, there was a different system and the BCS does represent a gradual improvement. Are there any baby steps that you think can be made to address some of the concerns we've heard?

Mr. GOREN: Well, I do believe that moving forward, you will hear more and more discussion at the very least about the possibility of a plus one. I don't see it happening in the next two years because of current contracts. There are some speed bumps along the way, but between a plus one and what we have today. And I will say this speaking for Fox Sports: Our number one priority is to continue the relationship with the BCS. It has been outstanding and if it doesn't change one iota, we would love to continue that relationship down the road.

PESCA: Ed Goren, president of Fox Sports. Thanks for joining us today, Ed.

Mr. GOREN: You got it. Thank you.

PESCA: And this is TALK OF THE NATION. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's take another call. Michael(ph) from Flagstaff, Arizona. Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hey you guys. How you doing? It's great to be on the show.

PESCA: So was that University of Arizona Wildcats in Flagstaff?

MICHAEL: It's actually Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks.

PESCA: Lumberjacks, yes.

MICHAEL: There would see a million to one shot that we would have a shot at the title. But I'd say, I guess with the current standings with mid-majors, we might have that. We are, I guess, equivalent to like an Appalachian State going out beat Michigan?

PESCA: Yeah. But you're in Division I-A or what they used to call that. Are you on the top division?

MICHAEL: At the top of the championships' league, it's something like that, yes. It's something weird now.

PESCA: Yeah.

MICHAEL: Anyways, I have a solution to all this without messing anything, without messing things too much up. So…

PESCA: Go ahead. What's the solution?

MICHAEL: All right. It's an 18 playoffs - it will be 18 playoffs and they'll consist of the six conferences that are already in place. It will also - the first round of the playoffs will also consist of the four ballgames that are already existing - the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl. We can keep traditions alive, too, by having the Rose Bowl house automatically a Pac-10 versus the Big Ten in the first round of the playoffs. And then you also have the tradition of the Notre Dame club, which is the Notre Dame housed to more than 10 wins are automatically in the playoffs and so that gives one spot there plus the bowl's one or two spots for the mid-majors like the Utahs and the Boise state. The second week will become two new ballgames. Why not? You can make it, you know, something really nice like the Gold and the Silver Bowl or something like that. And then…

PESCA: We can come up with that or we can sell some sponsorships. And…

Mr. ZIRIN: Yeah.

MICHAEL: Absolutely, absolutely. And then…

PESCA: And then the final is…

MICHAEL: …and the finals should be played the week between the Super Bowl, between - and the championship game and the Super Bowl, and that will be the two teams right there and that will cover all our bases that will cover everything. It will not - it will actually add some more revenue to the whole situation without having to mess with the other bowls. The smaller bowls can still be around and still do their little thing and the other schools can make their money by doing that. We're not trying to harm anything; we just want to see a champion. That's it.

PESCA: All right. Well, Michael, thank you for the suggestion. And please, if you could turn your sights to Social Security or the polar bear next…

Mr. ZIRIN: Yes.

PESCA: …that would be great.

Mr. ZIRIN: Lumberjacks, baby.

PESCA: Let's get a call in here from Stephanie(ph) from Cincinnati. Hi, Stephanie. Go ahead.

STEPHANIE (Caller): Hey. I'm a University of Georgia grad and I just wanted to make a comment about how frustrating that game was because we are big team coming in. We should have, debatably, played in a national championship, but…

PESCA: And that game, we should say, was this was you beat the undefeated Hawaii team and beat them to a pulp soundly.

STEPHANIE: Yes. And it's frustrating because they're undefeated but they're coming from a minor conference with only two teams that have winning records in that conference. So why - what are we doing playing that school, you know?

Mr. ZIRIN: In their defense, they were jetlagged.

STEPHANIE: Well, come on.

Mr. ZIRIN: It was a heck of a flight.

PESCA: But the point is at a day that you should have been celebrating the victory of your Georgia Bulldogs, you were having these ambivalent feelings.

STEPHANIE: Right. And we couldn't really win for losing because we were beating them and then everybody says, oh, well, they're just playing Hawaii, they come from a minor conference, what do you expect? But then, the announcers turned around and said how disappointing it was for the country because, you know, Hawaii was an underdog it wouldn't have been great for the country if Hawaii would have won. So it's just kind of frustrating coming from - to play in the Sugar Bowl, which is traditionally for years and years and years had been a big game for the FCC.

PESCA: All right. Thanks very much for your call, Stephanie. And in our final couple of seconds, Dave, put a fine point on it if you would.

Mr. ZIRIN: Absolutely. The system is broken. It is broken, broken, broken. And I think that the only way to fix it is for the 85 percent of the people who want a new system to begin to start thinking for how they can organize to push the television and university-president interest to actually make a fundamental change.

PESCA: All right. You were just listening to Dave Zirin, who wrote an editorial on "Pigskin and Petrol: The Oily BCS."

Thanks very much, Dave.

Mr. ZIRIN: My privilege. Thank you.

PESCA: This is TALK OF THE NATION on NPR News.

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