So why would one of the nicest, most humble people I know place himself in a position where he and the organization he leads are criticized and lambasted nationally on almost a daily basis?
“Well,” said Bill Hancock, “it’s because I love what I’m doing.”
Hancock, you see, is the executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, better known by its initials, BCS, with the most popular punch line among pundits being that they ought to drop the “C” to more accurately describe the system that determines the two teams that will play each year for major college football’s national championship.
This year is no exception. Louisiana State University is unbeaten and No. 1 but will square off against Southeastern Conference rival University of Alabama—a team it already has defeated—for the national title Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
Voters (coaches and media polls) and the measurements of six computer rankings put Alabama at No. 2, slightly ahead of Oklahoma State University and, predictably, the BCS pot boiled over.
Critics don’t believe a rematch is right. Critics don’t believe the presence of Alabama is fair because the Crimson Tide didn’t win its own conference. Critics think Oklahoma State, champion of the Big 12, should have been given the shot at LSU that Alabama already had.
Those who hate the BCS need someone to hate on, so Hancock is their guy. He takes it all in, but not to heart.
“No, I don’t take it personally,” Hancock said recently during a visit to Indianapolis for the Big Ten football championship game. “I get abused, but those people don’t know me. They’re frustrated. It did bother me at first. Not so much by fans, because everybody in our business has been chewed out by fans.
“But the first time [someone in the media] wrote that I was a spineless SOB, well, that never happened to me before. But it’s a reflection of the passion for the game.”
Besides, Hancock knows that the knocks come with the territory of orchestrating high-profile events. The soft-spoken Oklahoman previously worked for 13 years as director of the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament and the Final Four.
He retired from the NCAA after the tragic death of his son, Will, who perished in a plane crash that killed members of the Oklahoma State University basketball team. Will was the school’s basketball media relations director.
After a three-year hiatus—during which he wrote an inspiring best-selling book, “Riding With the Blue Moth,” about his cathartic cross-country bicycle journey—Hancock signed on as the administrator of the BCS, then became its executive director three years ago.
One of the perks of the job is an allowance for tailor-made flak jackets.
“Sure, the BCS is unpopular with many in the media and fans,” Hancock said. “But there are also a lot of fans who like it. And I don’t want to get on the media and never would, but it’s easier to cover a tornado than a nice spring day.”
And make no mistake, Hancock has no problem defending—passionately so—the seemingly indefensible BCS.
He cites college football’s regular season “as the most unique and meaningful in sports.” He believes in the tradition of the bowl games and says the impact of bowls is overwhelmingly positive on both the student-athletes who participate in them and the communities that host them.
And most of all, the BCS does deliver a No. 1 versus No. 2 game, which happened rarely underneath the old bowl system.
Hancock also said playoff proponents do not consider student-athlete welfare, or the logistical challenges for competing schools and their large fan bases.
“People absolutely think [a playoff] would be easy and it’s not,” he said.
Finally, there’s the single most important factor critics frequently ignore in assailing the BCS: Those essentially in charge of major college football—no, not the NCAA, but the campus presidents and chancellors—don’t want a playoff.
So, for now, the BCS is the alternative and Hancock is the man to defend it. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
“I’m having a great time,” Hancock said. “I got to direct the best event in college basketball and now I get to direct the best event in college football. It’s a total dream come true.”
With that he smiled broadly … while adjusting his flak jacket.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.