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Social web forces BCS to change

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the cartel that controls college football’s national championship (in lieu of the NCAA like other sports) has gradually worked to reach skeptical audiences who believe it’s methods are less than fair to all of the teams in college football’s highest division.

One of the ways the BCS tried to stem the tide was to create a Twitter account last year. This (somewhat noble) effort largely failed and the BCS has scrambled in other ways to stem the public opinion away from questioning the system that chooses college football’s national champion.

Thursday, the group announced it would publicly reveal the formula needed for conferences that are not “automatic qualifiers” to the most lucrative bowl games to receive automatic qualifier status.

“By putting out the data, we’re hoping we can uncomplicate it,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said.

As recently as December, the conference commissioners agreed not to release the formula publicly but less than six months later have reversed course. What gives? Who knows precisely, but it’s a safe bet to believe that the vociferous masses railing against the system — many of them fans, the others sports journalists — using the web as their vehicle certainly couldn’t have helped the organization’s massive PR campaign. Perhaps the recent success of March Madness also helped fuel the decision, as the ESPN article cites:

BCS officials have been criticized by not giving details of how the formula is put together and what exactly needs to be done to qualify. Hancock said the BCS released the formula to try to become more transparent.

At the end of the day, whether this move is damage control or an attempt to make the process more transparent, you can credit the BCS officials for at least listening to the criticism that their process was opaque. To people who have less exposure to the new order of social interactions — from companies and their brands, institutions and their students — it might be difficult for a large organization to understand why it would have a need to pay attention to people who are ultimately going to keep paying for their product anyway.

Perhaps they’ve started to embrace the idea that you can’t control the message anymore, you have to cultivate it.

Who knows, maybe fans can influence the NCAA’s choice of what teams will play in the new play-in games added to the basketball tournament too?