- Ryan Corazza
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Think the BCS is just some faceless computer selection process hell-bent on angering and refusing to listen to college football fans who prefer a playoff system to a preordained No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game?
Think again. The BCS done gone social. And it wants you to know it's here to listen.
On Nov. 17, the BCS announced it was promoting Bill Hancock to the title of executive director. That same day, it launched a Facebook page. Three days later, a Twitter account -- Inside the BCS -- launched. On Saturday, Hancock announced the BCS had hired Ari Fleischer Sports Communications, a public relations firm, to help highlight the positive aspects of the BCS. Fleischer is most famous for his previous role as the press secretary of former President George W. Bush. This week, the BCS launched a Web site spelling out the problems of a playoff system, aptly named playoffproblem.com.
Phew, that's a lot. So why is it suddenly on the offensive?
"The critics have had the field to themselves for too long," Hancock said. "We have a story to tell. The BCS has done some wonderful things for college football, and that story wasn't being told.
"We know people are out there that don't like us. We welcome the opportunity to engage with them, and we totally believe in social media as a wonderful way to engage."
So far, so good on that.
A healthy, interesting dialogue is happening between the BCS brass and the average fan. As Twitter users have directed arguments for a playoff system at the account -- "Deciding the last team out in an eight-team playoff is easier than leaving out the third-ranked team in the current system (Texas in 2008, Auburn in 2004)" -- the BCS account has made points right back: "It might sound easier but it's not. You'd still have to have rankings, subjectivity and more teams than now [would be] left out."
As Hancock -- who mans and responds to the Twitter replies with the aid of a helper because of the volume of responses -- has noted since he assumed his new role with the BCS, in his view, he has yet to hear a pro-playoff-system argument without holes or one that has unanimous support.
"The BCS is in an extremely tough position, and I really feel like they have actually taken a very smart approach with Twitter," said Daniel Prager, a social media consultant at the Ocean Agency in Chicago, who has written about the subject on his sports marketing, public relations and branding blog, the Sports Spectator. "Instead of merely tweeting about how the BCS is the best system for college football, they fairly intelligently expose the flaws in any type of a playoff system that is brought to the table. Essentially, they are taking the approach that they are the lesser of two evils.
"It does make you realize that choosing a college football champion is an extremely difficult endeavor, and there is really no such thing as true 'fairness' in sports."
Prager is right. The BCS is in a tough spot, but its Twitter initiative -- which has 1,820 followers as of Friday morning -- is a terrific idea. It's not going to change everyone's mind. No way that's possible. But what it has done so far is peeled back the curtain and made the organization far more personable. Instead of hearing its reasoning through traditional media channels and voicing frustration to your buddy about it, you can go direct to the source and tell the powers that be how you feel. And they're listening, and sometimes responding.
Sure, the BCS will continue to poke holes in other proposed systems because you can find a flaw in just about anything, even if it speaks to more common sense than the current setup. But the fact that the BCS folks are listening and responding to people on Twitter goes a long way toward changing their public perception, and it might prove to flip some people. If not, at least those shouting up at the mountain can gain some more insight into the rationale behind the current setup straight from the mouths of the BCS. It's a fascinating prospect, and for all the useless noise Twitter creates daily, it's of real value to sports fans who are passionate about college football.
Last November, ESPN and the BCS reached an agreement to bring the postseason games to the cable network after the 2010 regular season. The deal includes exclusive television, radio, digital, international and marketing rights for the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls from 2011 to 2014 and the BCS title game from 2011 to 2013. The Rose Bowl will continue to be televised on ABC through 2014 under a previous contract. Digital media rights include ESPN's operation of the official BCS Web site and the opportunity to simulcast the games online at ESPN360.com and on ESPN Mobile TV for mobile devices.
When the BCS announces its bowl selections, there are bound to be some gripes -- always are.
But if you're just a regular college football fan yelling at your TV, it might serve you better to hop on Twitter and voice your concerns to the BCS.
It's there and ready to listen.
Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.
3hMichael C. Wright