Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Post-Season College Football Economics

College football has perhaps the most complicated post-season of any sport. There are 120 teams in Division 1-A, divided among 11 conferences with 4 independent teams. Because of the high risk of injury, teams can only play once a week and it's best to have about 3 games per month in order to maintain the health of the players. This leads to a 12 to 14 game season. That is already a nightmarish scenario for determining the best team. By comparison, in major league baseball each of the 32 teams play 164 games in order to set-up the post season. College football, with its meager 12-14 games and 120 teams cannot hope to definitively decided which teams are the best.

In addition to that, college football employs a totally unique post-season. Instead of some sort of tournament, for historical reasons college football uses 34 bowl games that match-up teams based on popularity, geography, conference affiliation, and revenue generation. Starting in 1998, the 6 largest and most popular conferences banded together with the organizers of 4 of the most popular bowl games and formed the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in an effort to provide quality match-ups and generate more revenue. It has worked beautifully, as shown by the following plot of where bowl revenue has ended up over the last 25 years with the three red lines indicating various stages in the evolution of the BCS, with its current form starting in 1998.
Of course this makes the "non-BCS" conferences unhappy, but really, what motive do the big guys have to share? BYU, Utah, TCU, Boise State, and East Carolina have all shown in recent years that they are among the top tier on the field, but yet their conferences get tiny slices of the revenue pie.

Is there any hope for change? It's already better than it used to be as Utah (twice), Boise State, and Hawaii have gove to BCS bowls in the past few years. But for further improvement "non-BCS" teams are going to have to continue to play and beat top-notch BCS conference teams in the regular season, which often means playing at the BCS team's home field since they have no motive whatsoever to come to a non-BCS team's home stadium. This year BYU is playing two major BCS opponents - Oklahoma and Florida State. Wins or close losses in those games will continue to raise the profile of non-BCS teams. Go Cougs!

1 comment:

  1. I hope BYU does well this year. If they can find a way to win their first several games they will be off to a killer start.


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