Godzilla versus Mothra

Er… I meant bowls versus playoffs. The Wizard of Odds links to this article at IndyStar.com, which, while not providing any answers, does ask some good questions.

The article is interesting in that it does highlight one key item:

… Two years ago at a Knight Commission meeting, former UCLA and Florida president Charles Young, a playoff proponent, described what he saw as the power struggle in postseason football.

 “This has really been a battle about control between the conference commissioners and the NCAA,” Young said. [Emphasis added.]

Which brings me to this editorial in the NCAA News that is referenced in the IndyStar piece. The editorial is chock full of high minded and wishful thinking presented as unsupported facts, all of which is meant to portray the NCAA and the college presidents as knights in shining armor ready to protect the college football post season from itself.

If the alarm bells aren’t going off yet, they should be after you read it.

The power play is coming. The NCAA is going to wring its hands and decry the creeping professionalism it perceives in the current bowl arrangement. And then, it’ll sit in front of Congress and ask the lawmakers to ignore the tax exempt question (kinda like asking someone to not think about elephants; once you say it, it’s all you can think of).

You don’t see where the NCAA wants this going? Here’s the roadmap:

 

… The present bowl system also is questionable under antitrust law, which applies to intercollegiate sports and weighs pro-competitive benefits against anti-competitive effects when looking at monopolistic practices. Currently, there is token access for deserving teams from smaller conferences to a BCS slot, but the vast amount of revenue from the bowls as a whole goes to the six major conferences and ultimately the institutions within them (as well as the University of Notre Dame). If challenged in court by a class of perceived Division I Football Bowl Subdivision outsiders, as was threatened a few years ago, the question would become whether the anti-competitive effects of the BCS system within the subdivision, given its relative exclusivity, outweigh the pro-competitive impacts. Legislation could have the same impact of applying the antitrust laws to the bowl system. Again, is the present bowl system — a workaround, really, that is not even particularly favored by fans — worth the risk?

The open structure that a 16-, 24-, or even 32-team football playoff could afford would, like the basketball tournament, be more immune to antitrust challenge. It could include an automatic bid for each conference and several at-large bids with selection and seeding by a committee. Where would be the anti-competitive effects of an open system? The playoff could be modeled on both the successful and longstanding Division I Football Championship Subdivision and Divisions II and III playoffs, and the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, where direct corporate sponsorship is more muted and thus less likely to draw scrutiny for its tax-exempt status — although still lucrative through selling official sponsorships…

“Open structure” means lesser teams – it’s Cinderella time! – which of course means the dilution of the impact of the regular season. And gosh, who could be against “more muted” corporate sponsorship? The idea that a playoff is somehow less commercial because corporate logos would be replaced with the NCAA’s is laughable. But look for Myles Brand and Company to try to sell that.

There’s more:

… But last year, the presidents, through the NCAA, allowed programs to add a 12th regular-season game to enhance revenues — hardly a move in the direction of reform. The additional game does not even please fans, who must endure another uninspiring, usually lopsided “guarantee” game with a smaller program visiting a larger one solely to collect a check.

Umm, no. At least at Georgia, the AD has taken the opportunity to add some real meat to the schedule, with opponents like Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Colorado and UCLA. The PAC-10 added another conference game to its members’ schedules. Again, this is so much bullshit.

Then we get the banner of “reform” raised here:

… An automatic playoff bid for smaller conferences and perhaps even a weekend of play-in games to begin the tournament could replace the revenue and exposure from the guarantee games. Their participation in the tournament also could be used as leverage in addressing another issue requiring the attention of those interested in reform. Now regular weeknight and Sunday evening games suggest the more commercial attributes of college football more than its legitimacy within higher-education institutions. These games disrupt the workday on campus (practically inviting students to sleep through their classes the following day), force those who participate on the field to miss additional days of class time and inconvenience many spectators.

Basically, this is nothing more than substituting one set of preferences for another.

And so we come to the payoff:

… It is safe to assume that a playoff would be popular with fans, approaching the basketball tournament, if not exceeding it. The roughly $450 million in annual rights fees paid to the NCAA for the men’s basketball tournament is more than double the gross yearly revenue from the BCS, according to Knight Foundation data. The guarantee games represent intercollegiate athletics at its most crassly commercial. What are these about if not the money? They can be reduced or even eliminated with the revenue from a playoff — resources now needlessly left on the table. The same is true of the weeknight television games. Presidents can trade a playoff for increased rationality and thus decreased commercialism in college football.

We do at least get a number tossed into the mix. But it’s comparing apples (five BCS games) with oranges (a 64 team tournament over multiple rounds). And, again, we see a series of unsubstantiated assumptions about how this will benefit everyone:

… So, what if presidents framed the debate differently, arguing that a playoff could rationalize and thus diminish some of the commercial and professional tendencies in college football? They would satisfy reformers, including their interested faculty; maintain the advantages as well as the ideals of amateurism; and even please college football fans.

Everyone’s a winner! Woo hoo!

The idea that college presidents are some uniquely qualified group of wise men perfectly suited to fix this “problem” is wishful thinking at best and potentially disastrous for those of us who distrust what a playoff system would do to college football at worst.

For some reason, I am reminded of the old Vietnam War catch phrase, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it”.

I don’t like where this seems to be headed.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Godzilla versus Mothra

  1. MJ

    It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out. Most people either forget or don’t even know that this battle over ownership has been fought all the way to the US Supreme Court. The NCAA lost, mainly because it was successfully argued that the NCAA operates as an illegal cartel, and that it violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

    My guess is, there are dozens of law firms lining up to represent the conferences, and hundreds of economists willing to testify on their behalf. Try Googling “economists universally agree the NCAA operates as a cartel” for some interesting reading.

    You wrote, “Basically, this is nothing more than substituting one set of preferences for another.”

    It runs deeper than that. What we are talking about is the economic notion of Creative Destruction presented by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942… replacing one monopoly with another under the guise of “competition”. It is the very thing that has brought us Wal-Mart: low prices while destroying everything else in its path.

    Look what happened to the NIT in men’s BB. To settle out of court, the NCAA recently purchased the NIT for $56.5 million, then promptly reduced the number of teams to “right size” the tournament. Now that the NCAA literally owns the men’s BB post-season, who is left to argue its practices are a monopoly?

  2. Those are some good points, MJ.

    A concern I have is that the NCAA is going to try to manipulate Congress into taking a position that an NCAA-run playoff for D-1 is for the best and then using that to get what it wants.

    Given the likes of John McCain’s shameless intervention in baseball’s steroids scandal (“Major league baseball players and owners should meet immediately to enact the standards that apply to the minor leagues, and if they don’t, I will have to introduce legislation that says professional sports will have minimum standards for testing,” McCain said after returning from a European trip late yesterday. “I’ll give them until January, and then I’ll introduce legislation.”), I don’t think that’s an unreasonable fear…