September 12, 2011

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Q&A with Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the Bowl Championship Series

By: Anson Whaley

Since college football season is here, arguments about the BCS will begin before you know it. With that in mind, I went straight to the guy at the top – BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock. Bill provided his thoughts on the system, why a tournament isn’t best for college football, and conference expansion.

 

Fathead: Obviously, as the season goes on and anticipation grows about who might play in the BCS, things are pretty busy for you. But are you able to get away from it all in the offseason? What type of things do you work on during college football’s ‘off’ months?

 Bill Hancock/BCS: I love my job, but yes, I’m pretty good at getting away.  My interests are my three grandchildren, history, the outdoors, classical music and exercise.  I was lucky to have indulged in all of those during the brief “off” season.  I hiked in Colorado, went to little league games and concerts, read a great book about post-World War II Europe and ran or rode my bike every day.

 

You’ve spent a large part of your life affiliated with the media as a journalism student in college and working as an SID, media relations director, and a newspaper editor for many years.  Being out in the front defending the BCS is part of your job as the Executive Director, so is it safe to say that experience helped prepare you for your current role?

 Journalism is a great teacher.  I learned to listen, to work hard, to write and to understand others’ perspectives.  I was lucky to have grown up in the newspaper business. 

 

Lots of folks think of the BCS as a faceless system, but the fact is that you’re actually extremely visible. Even while making valid points, do you get frustrated about the amount of anger of non-BCS supporters when it comes to defending the system?

 The First Amendment is alive and well.  Thank goodness.  But I must admit that, when I took this job, I did not anticipate the nasty personal attacks.  Some of our critics are bringing slash-and-burn Washington politics to college sports, and I think that may backfire.  I don’t think sports fans appreciate those antics.

 

Many fans probably don’t realize that you were previously the Director for the NCAA’s Final Four. I find it interesting that you were the head of a tournament format championship and now, the BCS. Having seen the wild success of the NCAA tournament up close, why do you feel that the same system (or a shorter modified version of it) would not work in college football?

 Every sport is different, and it’s inappropriate to expect them to be clones of each other.  Basketball is a tournament sport; teams often play three games in a week.  The physical nature of football precludes that.  One coach told me that a football playoff would not be decided on the field, but in the training room instead.  I believe that. 

 

Just as much as you’re involved with the business-side of college football, you’re a fan. What are your thoughts on conference realignment and expansion? In addition, would you rather see the current number of conferences remain the same or fewer, larger mega conferences as have been discussed?

 Yes, I’m a huge fan.  I love college sports.  It’s important for people to remember the history: schools have been changing conferences forever.  For example, people were very frustrated in 1927 when Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri and Nebraska abandoned the Missouri Valley to create the Big Six Conference.  That was nearly 85 years ago!  Still, I was intrigued by Grant Teaff’s comment; he said he had a hard time seeing how the current speculated realignment will be good for college football.  History will give us the best perspective. 

 

If there is conference realignment, how do you think that would affect the BCS?

 The BCS has strong support from the college presidents, athletic directors, coaches and commissioners.  I don’t envision realignment changing that.

 

Regardless of the varying opinions about the BCS, most people realize that the current system is better than the previous one, which didn’t always showcase a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. Still, there have been worthy teams from non-BCS conferences on the outside looking in from time to time. While the BCS has found ways to integrate them into the bowl lineup, we haven’t yet seen one play for a championship. Do you think that can/will ever happen?

 First of all, every conference is a BCS conference.  I work for all 11 commissioners, and they all manage the BCS together.  You’re right; the BCS has provided significantly more revenue, and more access to the top-tier bowl games by the non-AQ conferences than ever before.   Those conferences definitely are on the inside!  I do think a team from a non-AQ conference will play in the championship game someday.  It nearly happened last year. 

 

I imagine that you answer this question nearly every day in some form or another, but in a nutshell, why does the BCS work?

 The BCS works because it allows the top two teams to meet in a bowl game while (1) preserving the best regular season in sports—you know, we have three months of madness and (2) preserving the bowl tradition and the bowl experience for the student-athletes.

March 14, 2011

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Predicting the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four

By: Anson Whaley

 

    

With the NCAA Tournament bracket officially released, it’s time to take a look and see who’s got the best chance of going to the Final Four. Sure it’s weeks away, but while there are games in between, when it’s all said and done, getting to Houston is all that matters.

The East may be the toughest region in the bracket. While top overall seed Ohio State will play its first two games in Cleveland, the Buckeyes will have their hands full with potential games against programs such as Kentucky, Syracuse, and surging North Carolina. And if those teams stumble, there are plenty of others that are capable of giving the Buckeyes all they can handle, including Villanova, West Virginia, George Mason, Washington, and Xavier. All of those teams have been ranked at some point in the season and on any given day could challenge Ohio State.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to pick Ohio State or Kentucky to come out of this region because of their difficult path. Each school would need to beat the other, avoid other potential trap games and then beat a North Carolina team that is 14-2 over their past 16 games. I’ll take the No. 2 seed North Carolina Tarheels to come out of this region.

The West also features a difficult path for the No. 1 seed, the Duke Blue Devils. Duke should win its first two games playing in North Carolina, but can then look forward to potential matchups against Arizona, Texas, Cincinnati, UConn, and San Diego State. Texas could be Duke’s biggest challenge in this bracket and even though the Longhorns have struggled a bit lately, they have one of the best resumes in the country with wins against Kansas, North Carolina, and Missouri. A No. 4 seed was a slap in the face to this program, and I think Texas will play with a chip on their shoulders. UConn is also lurking in the region. They’re playing incredible basketball and are fresh off of winning five straight games to capture the Big East Tournament championship. And in Kemba Walker, the Huskies have one of the nation’s best players. Still, UConn can be a bit of a one-man show at times, so I’m taking the Longhorns in a bit of an upset in this region.

No. 1 seed Kansas has an easier time out in the southwest. Big East teams Notre Dame and Louisville could challenge the Jayhawks, but other than that, their path is fairly easy. Georgetown and Florida State have been solid teams this year, but are too inconsistent to make a deep run. I also find it hard to take Purdue too seriously. They have a big win against Ohio State at home this year, but after that, they have a fairly weak resume. The Boilermakers’ body of work includes an ugly loss to Iowa, one of the Big Ten’s worst teams, about a week ago. Purdue simply doesn’t have the manpower to match up with a team like Kansas that has several future NBA players. The Jayhawks should advance to Houston.

Pitt is the No. 1 in the southeast, and after a decade of regular season success, this could be the season they reach the Final Four. Standing in their way will be Kansas State, Wisconsin, Florida, BYU, and St. John’s. All quality teams, but none that the Panthers aren’t capable of beating. Pitt should also watch out for a potential second-round matchup against Butler or Old Dominion. Old Dominion, particularly, could pose problems as they would have a virtual home game against Pitt, playing in Washington D.C. But the Panthers should be extra motivated to reach the Final Four in a year when college basketball is down across the board. I expect Jamie Dixon to get to Houston and Pitt to finally get over the hump.