The biggest winner in this year's BCS debate?
Could it be Baylor?
The Bears haven't been to a single bowl game of any kind in the 11-year history of the Bowl Championship Series, yet the money keeps flowing in.
They'll receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.4 million this year, thanks to a revenue-sharing deal the Big 12 and the other five conferences with automatic BCS bids have that guarantees bowl money to all their teams, even if they don't play in a bowl game.
So, while college football fans debate Alabama and Texas, TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati — five undefeated teams who came into Sunday vying for two spots in the Jan. 7 championship game — Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, uses Baylor as Exhibit A when he talks about why the BCS needs to change its business model.
"I don't have any ax to grind with the BCS as an organization that has a specific goal and does the best they can to maximize that goal," said Barton, who wants to pass a bill that would force the BCS to start a playoff. "My problem is, they claim they're about picking a national champion legitimately on the football field, and that's flat disingenuous. They're about maximizing revenue for their cartel."
Teams such as Vanderbilt and Duke — infrequent bowl visitors from among the six power conferences — typically benefit in the same way as Baylor, while teams like TCU and Boise State settle for leftovers.
TCU is both the problem and the solution in a year like this.
As the highest-ranked team from a nonautomatic qualifying conference, the Horned Frogs are guaranteed what the BCS likes to call "access" to a spot in one of its five big games.
Which might keep some of the complaining down, but certainly won't level the playing field, either financially or competitively. Even though the small-conference teams get more BCS money when their teams make it, it still has to be divvied up by five conferences comprising 50-or-so teams.
And in 11 years, none of these schools has played for the national championship.
"You look at a team like TCU, and before the first football was kicked in August, you knew TCU didn't have a prayer of becoming a national champion," Barton said.
TCU's problem is, essentially, baked into the equation. Rankings — from computers and human voters — decided which teams play for the championship. As a small school from a small conference, TCU started the season ranked No. 17 — behind Alabama, Texas and a number of other traditional powers who sometimes earn their preseason position on name and history as much as the product they're expected to put on the field.
Cincinnati and Boise State also finished without a loss this year, but, like TCU, were behind from the beginning. Heading into Sunday's selections, the Bearcats of the Big East were guaranteed a spot in the BCS, while the Broncos of the Western Athletic Conference were a good bet, but had no guarantees — other than that they had zero chance to play for the championship.
"Our point is, (the) BCS was set up to fix the old system, which rarely gave us (1) v 2 in the postseason. There's been bumps but it's done that," said a post on the newly created insidethebcs Twitter account.
Conferences have always shared bowl money, giving teams at the bottom access to big dollars even if they never play in big games.
BCS supporters point out that the gap has narrowed between power conferences and the so-called little guys since the BCS tweaked its rules to allow greater access and increased revenue sharing for the TCUs and Mountain West Conferences of the world.
They also say their system makes the regular season more important and, by supporting the overall bowl system, gives more teams a chance for a good trip and a nice ending to their seasons.
The alternative would be a playoff, which would figure to benefit teams like Boise State and TCU in years like this. Yet WAC commissioner Karl Benson is among those who doesn't count himself an unconditional proponent of the playoff idea.
"Any playoff that doesn't provide access, whether it's eight or 12 or 16 teams, if there's not access that's any better than what we have today, then there's no benefit," Benson said.
The WAC hired a public-relations firm to compile a good argument for Boise State this year. "The Case for Boise State," as it's called, includes: mention of the program's four undefeated regular seasons over the last six years, fans who travel and buy bowl tickets and an entertaining team.
One of the best bowl games ever was Boise State's 43-42 overtime victory over Oklahoma in 2007 that included Boise State's hook-and-lateral play to tie, its Statue of Liberty play for the winning 2-point conversion and, to top it all off, a postgame marriage proposal from the Broncos' star, Ian Johnson, to a BSU cheerleader.
Pure entertainment, however, is not the bottom line when it comes to figuring out the haves and have-nots in college football.
Fairness also takes a back seat.
"If we were going to talk about fairness, the first thing we'd do is destroy that whole structure," said Jay Coakley, a sociology professor who authored the textbook, 'Sport In Society: Issues and Controversies.' "That's the least fair thing in all of college sports. It doesn't even pretend to be fair."
Barton said he's hopeful his bill will wind its way through the House starting later this month. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is interested in the issue. They both could have President Barack Obama's support; last year, Obama famously said there ought to be a playoff.
Barton's bill would force the BCS to either adopt a playoff or lose the word "championship" from its title because, he argues, that amounts to false advertising.
"Just drop the word 'championship' and call it the "Big-Time College Football Series,' or the 'Dollar Maximization Series,'" Barton said. "Because the way it is now, you're not telling the truth about what you are."