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Book Review: Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan

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Barring a miracle, the Big Ten champion will be playing in the Rose Bowl this January. The conference has been out of the national title picture since Ohio State tripped up against Wisconsin on October 16.

Never mind that the Buckeyes are still among the nation’s leaders in scoring average, offense and defense, or that their loss came against another one-loss team.

The single blemish essentially ended their hopes with almost half the season remaining.

The BCS eliminates teams with a single loss from the title chase almost by design (unless they play in that bastion of football, the SEC). Calls for a playoff have been rampant — even reaching Capitol Hill — and now Utah’s attorney general is meeting with the Justice Department about possible antitrust violations.

The atmosphere has been ripe for the definitive book against the system, and that is what three writers from Yahoo! attempt to deliver in Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.

Since Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan hail from the home of the BALCO leak and the Reggie Bush scandal, it seemed the perfect group to behead the hated Cartel, as the heads of the major football conferences are referred to.

While the book succeeds in highlighting the many issues with the BCS and the bowl system, it fails in its other stated purpose. It does not deliver a playoff system with the appropriate amount of detail and air-tight financials, the same thing the authors expect from the computers, poll voters, and BCS in general.

From revelations about how bowl payouts work to how most athletic programs lose money by attending the smaller bowls (even after conference assistance), Wetzel and crew have compiled enough data to make a CPA blush.

If the devil is in the details, then the authors have found it. They just chose not to share it with the readers.

Death to the BCS has exactly one illustration, an expense report detailing a Virginia Tech bowl trip and how they managed to lose money on a more than $1 million payout.

With all the documents assembled to pull the book together, you would think they could share more than one of them. The rest of the data has to be taken on face value.

If printing these in the hard-bound book was too expensive, they could have included them on the book’s website (a practice that in the Internet age would seem to be a no-brainer, especially for three sportswriters who work for Yahoo!), but again, nothing.

And that is where some of the arguments begin to fall apart, especially when trying to prop up the playoff system that the authors propose.

Instead of a well documented monetary structure for the 16-team playoff, the authors wait until the last chapter to detail the sketchy way they came to the conclusion that the tournament was worth $750 million. It is a number they reference throughout the book, but without any of the context they wait until the end to provide.

While it is easy to believe the television estimates coming from the networks, the ticket revenues are thumb-in-the-air guesses. The authors pained to lay out who would have been in the tournament last season, and even what a potential outcome would have been. Why not use actual stadium seating capacities and ticket prices based on some hard facts?

Or why not use existing models, such as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, or the NIT (since they want the first three rounds to be home games for the higher seed), to project ticket revenues? At least use it as an example of how that money is shared. Instead, figures are thrown into the air like tee shirts from an air gun.

Death to the BCS just gets bogged down in itself. It includes chapters with no bearing on the argument for or against the BCS, such as one titled “Superfans,” which details how Internet sites for individual teams (and Yahoo!-owned Rivals.com) have become huge draws.

They even contradict themselves by offering that their title game should go to the Rose Bowl, even after preaching that the bowl system and the playoff should have nothing to do with each other.

And preaching is a perfect description for their tone which takes away from the reasoned arguments they do put forth. It is not hard to see why BCS-director Bill Hancock called the book “a 200-page rant” on a Baltimore radio show.

If the book were one of the college football games that the authors love so dearly, their coach would call this a “character-building loss.”

There are some good things in there, but they have a lot to work on.

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About Ben Miraski