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Published: Saturday, 12/2/2006

BCS should draw flag for conflict of interest

BY NANCY ARMOUR
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Say this for the BCS: At least it's consistent.

Consistently foolish, but consistent nonetheless.

The Bowl Championship Series will divvy up its considerable spoils tomorrow night, sure to prompt all sorts of howling over who's going where and who got jobbed. There's already been some pre-emptive whining (yes, Urban Meyer, this means you), not to mention some shameless self-promoting straight out of Mack Brown's playbook.

Before we get to that fun, though, let's deal with the mess at hand. Because it seems the BCS is having a little trouble with the "conflict of interest" concept.

During a conference call earlier this week, Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive said it's part of his job to lobby bowls on behalf of SEC teams. He makes sure those folks in the bright jackets know just how tough the conference is, and why, say, 10-2 LSU would be more attractive than 10-1 Louisville.

Not to mention how happy the SEC fans would be to pump a few hundred thousand bucks into the local economies in Pasadena, New Orleans, Phoenix and Miami.

Which seems to make sense. After all, who knows the fan base and the strengths of the SEC schools better than the guy running the conference.

But there's one, not-so-slight problem: Slive is also the head of the BCS circus for the next 18 months.

The guy in charge of making sure the BCS works "properly, fairly and equitably" is the same one trying to make sure his teams get as much of the big-name bowl largesse as possible.

It's not the folks at the Independence or Music City bowls who need the SEC's Chamber of Commerce pitch, either. Spots in the Rose and Orange bowls are still in play, with as much as $17 million going to the lucky teams that get them.

"I think you advocate as a commissioner, and as a BCS coordinator, my role is to make sure that the system works properly, fairly and equitably," Slive said.

Make no mistake. Any other savvy commissioner would do exactly the same thing.

It takes some serious cash to run big-time college programs, and the payouts from the big-money bowls benefit every school in a conference, not just the ones splashed across national TV in January.

And unlike the folks on the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee, who take impartiality so seriously they actually leave the room when their school or conference is being discussed, the BCS honchos don't actually decide who gets the coveted invitations. That's up to the loud-jacket patrol.

But the double-dipping looks slimy, and appearance is what really matters. Most folks already think the BCS is a toxic waste dump that needs to be plowed over. It doesn't need to pile it on.

Besides, the SEC already has a welcome wagon - Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

She saw fit to spend some of her time recently buttonholing the Rose and Orange bowl presidents on behalf of LSU.

"I am reminding representatives of these bowls of the excitement our state shares for this team and everything we offer as LSU fans," she said Thursday. "An invitation to any of these bowls would be a major win for both LSU and the bowls themselves."

Now that's government time and money well spent.

The BCS obviously has no control over Blanco's schmoozing. But it can - and should - do something about its own operations.

Most fans want a Division I playoff, and Slive said he's open to discussing changes in the current format. But it's the school presidents who call the shots, and they've shown little interest in a playoff. Which means we're probably stuck with some version of the BCS for at least a few more years.

If that's the case, get somebody to oversee it who has nothing to gain. Transparency isn't going to solve all of the BCS' problems. But it has to start somewhere. Image, after all, is everything.



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