The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a five-game showcase of college football. It is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game, and to create exciting and competitive matchups among eight other highly regarded teams in four other bowl games.
It has been undeniably successful in achieving those goals. Thanks to the BCS, the top two teams have played each other 15 times in 15 years by BCS measurements and 12 times in the last 15 according to the AP poll -- including the last nine years in a row. Additionally, it has provided more access to the major bowls for all eleven conferences, more television exposure, and more postseason revenue than ever before.
The BCS allows for preserving the significance of the regular season, which is the most meaningful in sports. It also maintains the bowl system to the benefit of dozens of universities each year.
The bowl games participating are the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Discover Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl presented by VIZIO, Allstate Sugar Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game, which is played each year at one of the bowl sites.
The BCS is managed by the commissioners of the 11 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ("FBS") (formerly Division I-A) conferences, the director of athletics at the University of Notre Dame, and representatives of the bowl organizations. The conferences are Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Pac-12 and Southeastern.
The conference commissioners and the Notre Dame athletics director make decisions regarding all BCS issues, in consultation with an athletics directors advisory group and subject to the approval of a 11-person presidential oversight committee whose members represent all 120 FBS programs.
The five BCS games are part of the overall bowl structure. All bowl games provide meaningful season-ending opportunities to teams.
As one conference commissioner said, "The celebration that occurs among the student-athletes, coaching staff and fans at the end of each bowl games is an indication of the importance of all bowl games."
The BCS places great premium on the regular season of college football.
"Football weekends are an important ingredient in the overall college experience -- going well beyond simply what occurs in the athletics department," said BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock. "A significant amount of the revenue that supports all athletic programs is generated by regular-season football. And so it is important that the regular season remains strong and vibrant."
The top two teams were matched in bowl games only eight times in the 56 years before the BCS and its predecessors (the Bowl Coalition and Bowl Alliance) were created. In those days, conferences were contractually obligated to certain games and there was no flexibility to attempt to match the top teams.
The 11 BCS conferences have a contract with ESPN to televise the games through the 2013-14 season.
Each conference whose team qualifies automatically for the BCS receives approximately $22 million in net revenue. A second team qualifying brings an additional $6 million to its conference. Notre Dame receives approximately $1.6 million. Army and Navy receive $100,000 each, and each of the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision conferences receives $250,000.
The total economic impact in the host cities from the five BCS games in January 2010, was estimated at more than $1.2 billion.
Each conference had an opportunity to earn annual automatic qualification through a four-year evaluation covering the regular seasons of 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences met the threshold and earned automatic qualification through the 2013-14 season. A seventh conference could qualify for the 2012-13 and 2-14 bowl season based on an evaluation of the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 regular seasons.
Additionally, institutions can qualify in any given season by meeting certain thresholds.