SBJ/February 27-March 4, 2012/Colleges

Consultants to help shape future of BCS

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The BCS is about to hire two media consultants who will play vital roles in determining the direction of college football’s postseason.

The two veteran consultants, Chuck Gerber and Dean Jordan, were finalizing negotiations with the BCS last week, according to industry sources. Jordan represents Wasserman Media Group, while Gerber, a former ESPN executive, is an independent consultant.

The duo will be key players in the reshaping of the BCS because they’ll project the media value of each postseason model under consideration.

It’s unusual for properties like the BCS to hire multiple consultants to handle media rights negotiations, although it’s not unprecedented. The NCAA used two consultants to negotiate its deal with Turner and CBS — Gerber and former Turner Sports executive Kevin O’Malley. IMG’s Barry Frank worked on the current BCS contract, while O’Malley has consulted with the BCS in the past.

But industry sources indicated that the BCS could not agree on Gerber or Jordan individually. Gerber is close to SEC Commissioner Mike Slive; Jordan has strong ties with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. Slive and Delany generally are considered the power brokers among major conference commissioners, and it’s not surprising that they each pressed for their own man to be involved, sources said.

Gerber worked with the SEC on its last TV deal when it was negotiated in 2008. He remains an adviser to Slive on media matters. Jordan, who runs the media rights and properties division of Wasserman Media Group, formerly worked for the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates. He has consulted on media issues for the Big Ten, Notre Dame, ACC, Conference USA and Mountain West, among others.

The BCS currently receives $125 million a year in its four-year package with ESPN through the 2013 season (2014 BCS games). The Rose Bowl, which is negotiated separately to the BCS, has a contract with ESPN that’s worth $37.5 million annually.

ESPN will begin a 30-day exclusive negotiating window with the BCS this fall. Fox has made no secret of its desire to bid aggressively for the package. NBC Sports and Turner are viewed as longer shots but are expected to kick the tires on the package.

The competition should lead to a windfall for the BCS, especially given the current scorching-hot market for media rights. The BCS would be staring at a 50 percent rights-fee increase — at a minimum — if it didn’t change anything at all, according to industry sources. But any new postseason structure that has something resembling a playoff is expected to shoot that number significantly higher in the next deal.

Nearly all of the BCS’s media revenue goes back to the conferences, weighted more heavily to the leagues that supply the teams in the BCS bowls. The BCS distributed $174 million to the conferences and Notre Dame after the 2011 season; that payout will be about $180 million this year, based on slight increases built into the current TV contract.

The 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, who constitute the BCS’s decision-makers, met last week in Dallas to review several of the postseason models, which ranged from the radical — a true four-team playoff conducted outside the bowl system — to a more standard institution of a plus-one championship game within the current setup.

There’s a small chance the BCS could simply keep the current system, although most of the commissioners have said there’s strong sentiment for change.

What’s uncertain, however, is whether the commissioners simply will go for the model that generates the most dollars and to what degree they’ll be willing to make sacrifices. Each scenario clearly has its benefits and drawbacks.

BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock has said that close to 50 models have been proposed and after last week’s meetings no options had been taken off the table, although sources said there’s no support for anything bigger than a four-team playoff. The commissioners plan to meet monthly until they make a final decision on a format sometime this summer.

With each model being considered, there are financial ramifications that could come into play. This is where the consultants will begin to play a prominent role.

If the BCS selects a four-team playoff conducted outside of the bowls, the semifinal games likely will be played on campuses or neutral sites.

The commissioners have expressed a desire to stay out of the window during final exams (roughly Dec. 3 to Dec. 21), meaning the earliest those games could be played would be the weekend before Christmas. But the closer college football gets to Christmas, the more likely it runs into direct Saturday scheduling competition from the NFL.

The other option resembling a four-team playoff is the plus-one model, which would be held within the current BCS structure. Four teams would be seeded in two of the BCS bowls around New Year’s Day and the two winners would advance to a championship game a week later.

That most closely resembles the current system, yet achieves the desire for a playoff, even though Hancock has said the BCS wants to keep its games as close to Jan. 1 as possible.

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