Opening statement by John Swofford, Commissioner of the ACC and BCS Coordinator, to the House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Hearing on May 1, 2009.
Thank you Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, ladies and gentleman.
My name is John Swofford and I have been commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference since 1997.
Prior to that, I was the Athletics Director at the University of NC, my alma mater, for 17 years.
I speak to you today not only as someone who has been fortunate to spend my entire professional career as an athletic administrator but also as a former student-athlete.
While in college, I was fortunate to play at UNC and participate in two post season bowl games.
Like virtually all student-athletes, my football career ended when I received my undergraduate degree. My own experiences in the 1970 Peach Bowl and 1971 Gator Bowl remain among the fondest memories of my athletic career.
As an administrator, I have worked to ensure that those same post-season opportunities exist for as many student-athletes as possible.
Currently, the Atlantic Coast Conference serves as the coordinating offices for the Bowl Championship Series. This is an assignment that rotates every two years among the conferences that are a part of the BCS arrangement.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
The BCS is now 11 years old and is the result of a group of people at the various conferences and selected bowls asking: “How can we keep the bowl system and also create a championship game that includes the number 1 and number 2 ranked teams on an annual basis.”
Prior to the current BCS structure, the two top rated teams played each other only nine times in 45 years and rarely did all Division I football teams get access to the more elite bowls.
The BCS now exists to accomplish three relatively simple goals:
- Create the opportunity for a national championship game
- Maintain the Bowl structure and create quality match ups
- Maintain and enhance college football’s regular season as the best in all of sports
The BCS has been successful in reaching these three goals.
- It has paired the number 1 and 2 ranked teams in the country annually.
- It now includes all 11 of the football bowl subdivision conferences.
- Every conference has more access into the highest level of bowl games and potentially the national championship game than ever before.
- During the BCS 11 year span, college football has flourished. Attendance is soaring, television ratings are high.
- BCS television ratings regularly out rate the NCAA basketball Final Four, the NBA Playoff finals and the World Series.
- Recently the level of interest of young people in various sports was measured. NASCAR and the NFL over the last decade gained 1%; college football gained 9% in the 12 to 17 age group. The largest gain of any sport.
- Every other sport has devalued the regular season while college football’s regular season has only gained in stature, interest, attendance and television coverage.
While realizing that many American sports fans relate very well to a play-off system, much of this could be lost if the regular season were turned into a seeding process.
The current system maintains long-term bowl alliances. Bowls have existed for over 90 years. They stand as cultural icons in our country. Twenty-nine non-BCS bowls create regional interest, support charitable causes, generate tourism, economic impact and tax dollars for host cities and give approximately 5,800 young men, most of whom are not fortunate enough to play on college championship teams of highly ranked runner-up teams, the chances to enjoy a memorable post-season experience.
Bowls are not merely games; they are events. Teams do not travel to them the day before the game and leave immediately afterward, as in the regular season. Rather, they go to the host city and stay as many as six days enjoying the hospitality of the bowl organizations geared for student-athletes and fans. Fans travel to the games and stay for several days, thus generating economic benefits for the host city and allowing the bowl to attract local sponsors and support that help it fulfill its economic and charitable missions.
For example, the Sugar Bowl estimates that the two BCS bowl games played in January 2008 created an economic impact in the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana of nearly $400 million. State and local governments realized nearly $25 million in tax revenues as a result of the game.
We cannot reasonably expect fans and teams to travel multiple times in December or January staying several days in each location. Our fans do not have the time, and most do not have the financial resources, to do so. Moreover, I am not aware of any football playoff in this country at any level in which all games are played at pre-determined neutral sites that may be thousands of miles from the homes of the participating teams.
College football is different from professional. There are 120 Division I-A college football teams, and we need a system that provides a large number of those teams with a postseason opportunity. Professional football, with only 32 teams, can make a 12-team playoff work nicely within its structure.
Like all other football playoffs in the NCAA and the professional leagues, early-round games of any Bowl Subdivision playoff would almost certainly be played at campus sites with only the final contest at a neutral site. As the playoff grows, sponsorship and television revenues that historically have flowed into bowl games and their host cities will inevitably follow, meaning that it will be very difficult for any bowl, including the current BCS bowls, which are among the oldest and most established in the game’s history, to survive.
The current system also keeps football a one-semester sport, maintains the integrity of the regular season, preserves the over-all bowl system, does not conflict with fall semester exams and adds only one additional game.
One of the reasons we are where we are in post-season college football is because of the fact that the BCS is a system the conferences have individually and collectively been able to agree on.
Decisions concerning the BCS arrangement are made by a presidential oversight committee, a group of university presidents and chancellors, with advice from conference commissioners, athletics directors and coaches.
The BCS arrangement is reviewed annually by all eleven Division I-A conference commissioners and an athletics director advisory panel. We also seek the advice of representatives of the American Football Coaches Association on certain matters.
Ultimately, our Presidents and Chancellors remain strongly committed to the balance of academic and athletic excellence. Their first priority is their students and preparing them for their futures.
The BCS is fully consistent with the educational mission of our colleges and universities and maximizes the number of post-season opportunities for our student athletes, coaches and fans.
Each year one or more of the conferences submits ideas for change in the current system. All of them receive careful and deliberate consideration. Last year, for example, the ACC and SEC proposed a format adjustment. This year, the Mountain West has suggested a different adjustment in the format. The conferences will consider that proposal during their upcoming meetings.
These realities pose very serious challenges for college football. Those of us privileged to administer the game must balance the many different interests that are at stake and act in a way that best serves the interests of our student-athletes, our bowl colleagues and fans. These decisions are not easy, but they are and will continue to be given the careful consideration they deserve.
While we are aware that no mechanism for determining a college football national champion will ever be perfect, without controversy or without ambiguity, we are always open to suggestions to improve the BCS or the game of college football as a whole.
In closing, college football continues to be managed within the context of higher education. University presidents and chancellors seek a balance between the academic missions of their institutions and the desire of fans for a system to crown a national champion. We want to maintain the significance of the regular season and support a vibrant postseason bowl structure that provides a maximum number of opportunities for student-athletes.
Again thank you for the opportunity to address these matters.