The Department of Justice is currently investigating the BCS, the OPEC of big money sports, and NCAA President Mark Emmert and BCS Director Bill Hancock are doing little more than playing the denial and ignorance game.
The Fiesta Bowl's egregious offenses (and the slap-on-the-wrist ruling that followed)
have called attention to corruption within the BCS. And now
the Feds are investigating the cartel's possible involvement in
anti-trust behavior. This is very much about economics and markets, and
less about football. So this article continues first and foremost in
the vein of "the dismal science," not the gridiron.
You don't need a MBA to understand this, but since I am one, I'm
actually really excited about this story and hope to convey that
ebullience over to you the reader in breaking this down.
A must read comes from this ESPN article by Andy Schwarz,
who drafted the economic arguments in a letter recently sent to the
U.S. Department of Justice requesting an antitrust investigation into
college football's Bowl Championship Series, which the DOJ cited in recent inquiries to the NCAA questioning the lack of a playoff system.
the antitrust laws frown upon collective actions among
competitors that are not needed to create new products or that make it
harder for new competitors to enter the market. This is where the BCS
raises several red flags.
The BCS has taken four independently produced, successful
products (the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls) and cartelized
them, turning them into a joint product where there is no economic
competition among those Bowls. This has many bad effects, but the
biggest problem is that the BCS has locked up the eight teams most
likely to form a rival playoff system.
Yes, I know the game is played on a green rectangle which reminds us
all just how much it's all about the dough, but there is a more fair and
equitable way for everyone to get their pieces of that fat pie. We all
know America is all about "free markets" and the idea of economic "pure
competition." Both ideals are obviously fallacies, probably in theory
as well in practice. (but that's a whole another article, the U.S.
economy is anything but a "free market").
Another American ideal is Social Darwinism, which is the idea of
cutthroat, all-out competition taken to it's highest level. Other than
in the military, nowhere in American society is that ideal of Social
Darwinism more prominent than football. Perhaps this is why the military
and football are joined at the hip. But it's time to let that ethos
work it's magic in doing some good old fashioned trust-busting, and then
let the best system and plan rise to the top.
Quoting Schwarz again:
To make matters worse, the BCS conferences, through their control
over the FBS, all agree that if any four teams choose to join a
playoff system, the other 116 teams in FBS will refuse to play against
them indefinitely. This is a collective boycott, and it's rarely
legal. But it is BCS/NCAA policy, enforced with specific bylaws that
limit FBS teams to one postseason game and that prohibit the other
schools from playing against schools that violate this rule, even in
sports other than football.
The argument for a college football
playoff is similar to the argument for universal health care. For
what seems like ages, there has been an overwhelming demand by most
people. It's the right and just practice to implement, it benefits
almost everybody, but a small band of narrow-minded but extremely
powerful interests hold us back. The big pharmaceutical and insurance
lobbies spend a lot of money to pollute minds and influence congress
into keeping the archaic system in place, much like the moneyed
interests of the BCS -the commissioners of the Big 12, Pac 10, Big Ten, and Big East especially- keep the inequitable bowl system in place.
The Kennedy Proposal is a plan which keeps the bowls, and makes them into a legitimate playoff.
Going back to Schwarz:
it would sever the ties between the BCS Championship Game and
other bowl games. There are simpler, more competitive ways to ensure
that the Rose Bowl and others would release the two top teams to the
BCS. By doing this, the DOJ would make quality teams available to a
playoff and prevent the BCS from locking up all potential rival
champions. This would allow an entrepreneur such as Mark Cuban, a network such as ESPN, or the NCAA itself to develop a playoff in competition with the BCS.
And if/when the DOJ hands out their ruling, you'll finally have the
barriers broken that can allow markets to function normally. You can
have healthy markets in place that keep traditions in tact while moving
forward. One of the best football examples originated from my alma
mater, the University of Illinois. When superstar halfback Red Grange
was done with school in the 1920s, professional football leagues were
considered an abomination at worst; a pathetic joke at best.
But Grange, along with fellow Illini
George Halas, broke from tradition to give professional football the
star power and leadership infrastructure it badly needed to establish
itself. The duo combined to give the game marketing appeal and marketing
acumen. And we know how this product has panned out.
Long ago, the NFL
passed up the college game to become America's best loved (and most
lucrative) sport of any kind. If the college game has a true
meritocratic playoff system, maybe it can go back to having more
prestige than pro football once again.