PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Will an untested, undefeated team get a shot at the title instead of a one-loss team with tougher competition? Can a team finish No. 1 in the polls and still not make it to the championship game? Is the winner of this year's college football championship the real champion?
Fortunately for everyone involved, these dumb questions and more should fade away with the Bowl Championship Series when it ends after this season.
The BCS seemed like a fine idea in the early 1990s, when coaches and sportswriters' polls had picked two different teams as the "national champion." It was also, ideally, supposed to give mid-major teams a shot at college crown against larger-higher profile competitors.
As we're all painfully aware, the BCS did none of the above. College football divided its national championships again in 1997 -- when an early, crude form of the BCS was in place -- and in 2003, when Louisiana State and the University of Southern California were each named the best team in the country in the coaches' and Associated Press polls. It eventually required intervention and assistance from Congress to get college football to agree to the four-team playoff system being implemented in 2014-15.
From the perspective of fans, schools and the businesses and sponsors surrounding college football, nobody is going to miss the BCS.
That became abundantly clear in November 2012, when ESPN (DIS) agreed to a 12-year deal to broadcast the college football playoffs. It will be paying $475 million per year for television, radio and online rights those games and will shell out even more to air the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and Orange Bowl in Miami during years when they're not in the playoff rotation. The deal also gives the network the right to air three "host bowls" featuring conference champions and at-large teams, with the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, slated to be those bowl sites.
Considering ESPN was paying a relatively scant $155 million per year for rights to the BCS bowls and championship from 2009 until this year -- and Fox (FOXA) was paying $82.5 million a year for the BCS Championship, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls before then, ceding the Rose Bowl to ABC for more than $30 million a year -- broadcasters aren't going to miss lackluster championship matchups and blowouts one bit. Judging from the ad numbers, the playoff can only help matters.
As big-money sporting events go, the BCS Championship still has some catching up to do. Back in 2011, 30-second spots during the BCS title game went for $750,000 apiece, according to Kantar Media. That's little more than half of the $1.2 million similar ads fetched during the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship and well shy of what the $1.3 million to $1.4 million could charge just for the AFC and NFC title games, never mind the $3.5 million they took in that year per 30-second Super Bowl commercial.
Last year's BCS title game on ESPN drew $1.14 million per ad, but still lagged behind college basketball's $1.34 million to $1.45 million per spot. Alabama's blowout of Notre Dame still didn't pique advertisers' interest as much as the AFC and NFC championships, which commanded $1.46 million per ad.
It's simple: If there aren't scads of viewers for advertisers to pitch to, they aren't going to pay big-ticket money. The BCS title game wasn't played until 2007, but college football postseason viewership peaked when Vince Young's University of Texas squad knocked off Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and USC in the Rose Bowl back in 2006. That 21.7 rating share was the highest of the BCS era. Since 2007, ratings dropped from a 17.1 share to a 15.1 for last year's matchup. ESPN likes to note that the 2011 game was the most-watched program in the history of cable television to that point, but pointing out the glass ceiling hovering above an already dubious championship format isn't the greatest way to lure ad money or viewers.
But ESPN has spent the past few years making the case that there's not only cash to be found in college football cable broadcasts, but loads of viewers if you're able to give them a compelling product. In 2011, the Pacific-12 Conference negotiated a $3 billion, 12-year deal with ESPN and Fox for its football and basketball games that was four times more than what the networks were paying. Last year it paid $3.6 billion to extend its deal with the Atlantic Coast Conference through 2027. The dominant Southeast Conference, meanwhile, signed 15-year contracts with ESPN and CBS (CBS) worth $205 million a year, but has managed to squeeze a bit more out of both as its schools have racked up titles.
That's a much easier sell when you can convince companies including Allstate (ALL), Vizio, PepsiCo (PEP) and Discover (DFS) that the title game they're spending millions to sponsor won't be either a stomping of an overrated team or won't end with another bowl's winner being crowned the national champion. The four-team playoff may not be a perfect solution -- college basketball has a 68-team field and still deals with annual complaints about snubs -- but it lowers the volume on one of the nation's biggest sports gripes and raises the stakes for fans, broadcasters and advertisers who finally get the true championship they've long dreamed of.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.
>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.
>To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.