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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 159
Tuesday, November 25, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Cowen crusade nears junction

Two steps forward: Tulane President Scott Cowen making progress on BCS front


Tulane University president Scott Cowen (AP)


Bonesville Bytes — Listen to Denny O'Brien's Nov. 22, 2003, interview with Scott Cowen: Select clip...

NEW ORLEANS — Scott Cowen wasn't bluffing when he vowed to buck the system.

Over the past five months, the Tulane University president has been on a mission to reform the Bowl Championship Series, the system that determines the national championship in NCAA Division I-A football.

It has been a journey that has landed him countless headlines and television appearances, not to mention a couple of trips to Capitol Hill. Along the way, Cowen formed an organization, the Presidential Coalition for Athletics Reform, which has representation from almost every non-BCS school.

Considering the 113-year old Green Wave football program flirted with extinction before the mission began, few could have predicted this scenario: Thanks largely to Cowen's efforts, change is on the horizon for the football postseason, with a more inclusive system an almost certain result.

Denny O'Brien: Pirate Notebook No. 159 - 11.25
— Cowen crusade nears junction
Nuggets: Notes from ECU and beyond - 11.25
Bonesville: BCS standings - 11.25
Bonesville: AP basketball poll - 11.25
Bonesville Bytes: Denny O'Brien Audio Feature - 11.25
— Interview with Tulane president Scott Cowen
Cable 7 Audio: The Brian Bailey Show - 11.25
— High schools playoffs talk with four prep coaches
Pirate Radio 1250 Audio: Sportsline with Patrick Johnson - 11.25
— Segment with Charlie Adams & Denny O'Brien
Pirate Radio 1250 Audio: Sportsline with Patrick Johnson - 11.25
— Segment with Harold Graider & Denny O'Brien
Pirate Radio 1250 Audio: Live@5 with Troy D. & Ellerbe - 11.25
— Segment with Mike & Drew Steele
Greg Vacek: Daily Web Headlines Roundup - 11.25

"Clearly the whole issue of the BCS and the possible restructuring of it got a lot more attraction and visibility than I originally thought it was going to get," Cowen said in an interview before last Saturday's ECU-Tulane game at the Louisiana Superdome. "We, to date, have made a lot of progress in the sense that the world is now educated on the issue.

"I think there has been a general sentiment out there that there should be change. I think our colleagues on the other side have even agreed there should be change. And now we're entering the home stretch to decide how significant that change will be, and I think that's what we are going to know in the next 90-120 days."

"I feel like we are moving in the right direction," Cowen added. "We've got a long way to go because we don't have an end result yet. But, everybody seems to be on the same page in trying to figure out how to take it from where we are now to something different in the BCS system."

Something different has been the battle cry for non-BCS schools since the system made its debut in 1998. That fall, Tulane finished 12-0 but did not participate in a BCS bowl because its league — Conference USA — does not receive an automatic bid.

Marshall had a similar argument one year later and Texas Christian was on the cusp of crashing the BCS party this season until its dream was derailed by Southern Miss last Thursday. Cowen's hope is that schools from C-USA and the Mid-American Conference no longer will be forced to finish undefeated and pray that the computer gods are merciful.

All signs are pointing toward a more inclusive approach, which may not have been the case had Cowen not stepped forward.

"We'll never know the answer to that," Cowen said. "Clearly, us being there has kept more attention on the issue, more pressure on the issue, and I think has had a very valuable impact of educating people on, just generally, the BCS.

"Even in the popular press, there are very few articles that I ever see — there are always some — that are supportive of the system just the way that it is now. Just about everybody is vying for a change in the system, even schools within the BCS are starting to say that."

At least that was the message last Sunday when the Presidential Coalition met with the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee.

The two sides convened for four hours in New Orleans to discuss broad principles that should guide postseason play. Each group also presented a concrete postseason model that individual presidents will share with presidents and commissioners from their respective conferences.

Each conference commissioner, if he hasn't already done so, will hire an outside consultant who will study the models and see if they have credibility. Commissioners from all 11 Division I-A conferences are expected to convene sometime in the next 90 days to pinpoint a couple of ideas to recommend to the presidents.

Though change appears imminent, Cowen is guarded in his optimism.

"My hesitation is I'm a guy who wants results," Cowen said. "So, until I see what is it that we are really going to change, I'm going to reserve final judgment until we see whether there is, in fact, a change.

"Have we come a lot farther than I thought we would, and are we on a path to a resolution that seems reasonable? The answer to both of those questions is yes. I want to see what the end result is and I don't know what that end result is yet."

Gaining momentum

While the cartel-like tendencies of the BCS have received most of the attention, Cowen's argument for change is two-fold.

Not only does the system not grant access to outsiders, it also doesn't meet its primary goal of crowning a true national champion.

"It's extraordinarily exclusive," Cowen said. "And there are ways to make it looser to provide more access. That's all we've asked for all along, and I think that's in everybody's interest.

"Secondly, even under the current system, it doesn't determine a legitimate national championship for Division I-A. A lot of people, especially fans, want to see that."

The evidence is mounting.

Perhaps this year more than any other has been the sign of a need for change. Though Oklahoma — if it finishes undefeated — deservedly will fill one spot in the national title game, its opponent is less clear. Several one and two-loss teams are in the mix, which almost assuredly will lead to controversy when the BCS selections are made.

Also, breakout seasons by several non-BCS schools, four of which are currently ranked in the Top 25, offer valid arguments for change. To compare, the MAC currently has two nationally ranked teams, compared to just one for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Even more intriguing was the case of TCU, which peaked at No. 6 in the BCS standings, but fell two spots one week later after a win.

"It certainly would be another data point over the last several years," Cowen said. "Here's a school that was perfect, and other schools that had two losses were getting ahead of them.

"I never put too much stock into whether TCU got in or didn't as either proof for or against the system. I think what would have been interesting, but it wouldn't have happened, if TCU had ended up in the Top 6 of the BCS. But I think everybody projected — even the BCS people projected — they maxed out two weeks ago at No. 6."

Pursuit of a playoff

Representatives for both the BCS and non-BCS schools have chosen not to disclose the postseason models they are considering because they don't want them subject to public debate.

They did, however, confirm last Sunday that a playoff similar to the one used in Division I-AA is not being examined — though Cowen is quick to point that not all playoff models have been eliminated from consideration.

"Be careful about what we said on Sunday," Cowen said. "What we said was that the traditional 16-team, NFL-style playoff, we weren't going to look at that.

"There are other models of playoffs other than that, and we have not ruled those out. So, for example, there has been a lot of conversation about having a national championship game after the bowl season. That's a form of a playoff."

Just not the type of playoff he eventually would like to see. Cowen advocates the traditional, 16-team playoff in Division I-A and believes one will be put in place sometime in the future.

"I think sooner or later, people are going to go there," Cowen said. "I just think it's begging to go in that direction. Anything less than that, even if we drew a modified playoff, we're still going to say that's got problems with it.

"The other thing is, we (have a playoff) in Division I-AA. We do it in all other divisions. Now, what is different about Division I-A is the historic bowl system and bowl tie-ins. That's what makes it a little more complex."

Not so complex, though, that it can't be done.

Cowen believes that there can be a marriage between the bowl system and a playoff in which individual playoff games could become bowls. For example, one first round game potentially could take place at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

Logistically, it would be too difficult for such a radical change to be put in place when the current BCS agreement runs out after the 2006 season.

"That would be too much of a jump given where we are now to that," Cowen said. "The key is whether we make a substantial step forward in that direction.

"We're not going to push right now anymore for that course of action because that's not going to realistically come about. Therefore, we ought to take a look at ... taking a step forward, and that's where we are right now."

The legal matter

Despite threats of interference from lawmakers and litigators, Cowen has insisted that university presidents be given first dibs at finding common ground.

The Presidential Coalition for Athletics Reform contends that the BCS violates antitrust laws, a testimony Cowen delivered on October 29 to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That came after first speaking to the House of Representatives Committee September 4.

In both cases, the motive was clear.

"It was really to lay out our case as to why the BCS should be changed," Cowen said. "In the case to the senate, I wanted to lay out why there are some legitimate antitrust issues.

"But, I said to both, 'Listen, I think we should be given an opportunity first to see if we can resolve it.' If we can't, then I think all other remedies should be looked at. Then we should go back and think about the courts, legislation, or anything else. Until we've put a good-faith effort into it, I would hate to see someone else jump in prematurely."

The Presidential Coalition has retained legal counsel from Covington and Burling, which is viewed as one of the more distinguished sports law firms in the nation. Cowen says he also spent a considerable amount of time discussing the issue with lawyers long before the Coalition was formed and feels he is well-educated on the subject.

On the contrary, University of Oregon president Dave Frohnmayer, a lawyer and former attorney general who is serving as the spokesman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, is confident that no laws have been broken.

"We are quite confident that there is no violation of the antitrust laws of the United States in the present configuration of the Bowl Championship Series," Frohnmayer said last Sunday. "We have high confidence in the legal advice that has guided the BCS from prior to its formation.

"That may remain a legitimate difference in opinion amongst us, but I don't want to let the question pass without re-affirming our very clear view that this is not a legal matter."

Cowen disagrees.

"No surprise there," Cowen said. "But what I would say to this is, it doesn't make any difference what Dave Frohnmayer says and it doesn't make any difference what Scott Cowen says.

"The fact is, if it gets litigated, it will be determined in a court of law. You shouldn't have been surprised to hear Dave Frohnmayer say that there are no issues, no more than you should have been surprised to hear me say there are issues. The fact of the matter is, all of that is irrelevant. If it goes to a court of law, that's where it will be determined."

And in the case of the People versus the BCS, Scott Cowen is the star witness.

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02/23/2007 01:53:17 AM

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