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Sports Business: College Football Fans Vote With Their Eyes

College football is dead to me. And, apparently, if TV ratings are any type of accurate gauge, more and more sports fans share that sentiment. The average ratings for Fox’s four Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games fell 13 percent from last year. ABC’s lone BCS game, the Rose Bowl, dropped 20 percent.

College football is dead to me. And, apparently, if TV ratings are any type of accurate gauge, more and more sports fans share that sentiment.

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The average ratings for Fox’s four Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games fell 13 percent from last year. ABC’s lone BCS game, the Rose Bowl, dropped 20 percent.

By the end of the first half of LSU’s (blowout) win over Ohio State in Monday’s national title game, I found myself more concerned with figuring out how I was going to get through the remaining heap of buffalo wings sitting before me than any aspect of the game (six wings survived). Were these really the two best teams?

The current BCS format has the top two BCS-ranked teams (as determined by a convoluted system of human-voted polls and computer-generated rankings) facing off in the title game. What sports fans have been begging for for years is a one-game elimination playoff format as we see in college basketball’s wildly popular NCAA tournament. The thinking goes that a playoff would result in the two most deserving teams reaching the title game.

As Michael Hiestand explained in USA Today earlier this week, “given how they voted with their eyeballs, viewers might want change in the system producing college football’s national champion.”

But the common perception among pundits in recent years has been that while fans crave a playoff, the powers that be in the BCS conferences won’t allow it for fear that it would dilute each of the BCS bowl’s brands — and if the NCAA took control, cut into the conferences’ financial windfalls from lucrative TV deals. SI.com’s Stewart Mandel is one student of this philosophy.

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“There isn’t going to be a playoff,” he wrote this week. “You know what else? There isn’t going to be a playoff. Oh, and by the way? There isn’t going to be a playoff. Just thought you should know.”

However, for what it’s worth, incoming BCS coordinator John Swofford said this week that he will head a “thorough” evaluation into the possibility of a playoff. Hopefully Swofford and his comrades will recognize that open discussion is a catalyst for successful innovation.

One of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard of is an eight-team playoff that would incorporate the four BCS bowls. Three bowls would host two games and one bowl would host one. The bowl that hosts the championship game, in turn, would be the one to host only one game the following year. This should make for more competitive, and meaningful games, that should translate into more engaged customers and plenty of profits to go around.

College football is a business, after all, and in the business world, isn’t customer satisfaction a key to long-term success? I sure think so. And there’s at least one pundit out there who agrees.

“Enough people with a say will see the money that can be made with the kind of tournament that the customers want,” writes King Kaufman today for Salon.com, “and they’ll stop pretending that college football is something other than a highly lucrative feeder league for the NFL.”

I’m holding out hope that Kaufman’s right. Anyone else with me?