As a former Arizona athletic director now in his third year in the same position at UNLV, Jim Livengood has seen college football’s hierarchy from both sides.
While at Arizona, Livengood represented what was then the Pacific-10 Conference on the Bowl Championship Series’ AD Advisory Group. He now works in the same role for the Mountain West Conference — one of five leagues not guaranteed an annual BCS bowl bid through the automatic qualifier (AQ) system.
“There’s no question in my mind,” Livengood said. “The AQ needs to go away. It’s grossly unfair.”
The BCS’ governance continues to discuss reform — support is growing for a playoff, along with rumors that the AQ will be abolished.
And it’s the smaller conferences that could reap the benefits.
A Football Bowl Subdivision without automatic qualifiers would open up the possibility for any team to reach BCS games based upon ranking rather than conference affiliation.
“Then you earn it on the field,” said Western Kentucky President Gary Ransdell, a member of the BCS’ Presidential Oversight Committee responsible for final approval on any changes. “If the AQ conferences are what they say they are, then they don’t need the AQ. They’re going to qualify teams anyway.”
Until the automatic qualifier goes away, Ransdell said the rule will continue to be “at the core of conference realignment that has been unhealthy for intercollegiate athletics.”
Just last week, Memphis joined Southern Methodist, Central Florida and Houston in moving to the Big East Conference, where Boise State and San Diego State will also play as football-only members. TCU bolted to the Big 12 Conference, and Utah added to what’s become the Pacific-12 Conference. I
“I’m just afraid that at some time we’re going to wake up to the college football landscape and say, ‘Oh my gosh. What did we do to ourselves?’” Livengood said.
Spreading out leagues becomes more expensive for universities and takes more travel time for student athletes, Ransdell said, in addition to causing branding nightmare for smaller leagues.
All 120 FBS programs are part of the BCS even though not all 120 are automatic qualifiers.
“It’s kind of unfortunate because it brands us as non-BCS, which isn’t the case,” Ransdell said.
Another proposal under discussion could in the future require seven wins to earn a bowl invite, benefitting teams such as Ransdell’s 7-5 WKU squad that last season was left without a postseason bid.
The current system not only allows 6-6 teams to accept an invite but doesn’t distinguish that seven-win teams must be selected first.
“Those changes will obviously kill bowl games, because they barely filled 35 bowl games this year,” said Teddy Cahill, football beat reporter for The Ball State Daily News.
Along with WKU, a 6-6 Ball State team was the other bowl-eligible program denied a bid last season. But Cahill said Ball State fans generally didn’t feel left out of the postseason because the Cardinals didn’t finish with a winning record.
14 teams — 13 of those coming from automatic qualifying conferences — made bowl games last season with six wins.
“I think that a lot of people around college football want to see winning teams in bowl games,” Cahill said. “It seems like a 6-6 Ohio State playing 6-6 Florida in January is what’s bothering people.”
Any major changes will have to wait until 2014 to go into effect because the BCS’ TV contract with ESPN will last through the 2013 season.
“This is such a moving target right now,” Livengood said of the timeframe. “But I think every conference that says its not talking about it isn’t being honest.”
The Sun Belt Conference, of which WKU belongs, held an annual meeting recently where bowls and the BCS were discussed among other regular business.
The main factor keeping WKU (from the Sun Belt) and Ball State (from the Mid-American Conference) out of a bowl game was that their respective leagues ran out of bowl tie-ins. A conference’s tie-ins can increase or decrease based on past performance — a process also decided on the same cycle as BCS changes, said John McElwain, Associate Commissioner for Communications with the Sun Belt.
Smaller conferences like the Sun Belt will continue to seek one thing from new bowl assignments, like with the automatic qualifier and bowl eligibility.
“I think the general consensus with it, like with any change,” McElwain said, “is that it needs to be fair.”
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