Life, the universe, the BCS and revenue sharing

One of the things about blogging that fascinates me is that I can rarely tell when a post of mine will resonate with readers and other bloggers.  Oh, I’m not talking about the obvious attempts at pandering (Tim Tebow Photoshopped in a pair of jorts remains the most popular item I’ve ever posted, and by a wide margin), but the stuff I post where I pretend to have a brain.  There are posts that I’ve labored over convinced that I’d see a huge reaction to but got nothing more than the sound of crickets and there are pieces that I liked and posted without expecting much of a reaction to that have instead generated a healthy reaction.

It turns out that this post from the other day in which I let my paranoid side out a little falls into the latter category.  There have been various responses at Team Speed Kills, Dr. Saturday, College Football Talk and Capstone Report that I’ve come across.  Take a few minutes and read ‘em all.  I don’t agree with everything they’ve written (nor they with me!), but there’s a lot posted that’s thought provoking and worthy of your attention.

As my thoughts were further provoked by these guys, I thought I might post a few more random points on the matter.

1.  The BCS is two-faced. It’s easy to perceive the BCS as this monolithic fortress that needs to be stormed and conquered by the forces of economic fairness and competition, but it’s a bit more diverse than that.  The reality is that the BCS is dual natured:  there’s one set of criteria for the title game and another for the remaining BCS games, and they’re very different.

In terms of eligibility, the title game is truly democratic.  Whichever schools wind up ranked#1 and #2 in the final BCS standings play for the title, no ifs, ands or buts.  Now you can argue about opportunity and voters’ perceptions and anything else you want here, but the fact remains that there’s nothing in the criteria that prohibits Utah from playing Boise State in the BCS title game, if that’s how a season plays out.

But that’s decidedly not how the D-1 postseason works for the rest of the BCS.   In that arena, there are limits on how many schools from a given BCS conference can participate, Notre Dame receives special dispensation and only one non-BCS conference school need apply.  Why?  Because for the bowls, asses in the seats trump all other considerations.  And the schools that can deliver the butts want to be compensated accordingly.

That’s why you have this dichotomy in the BCS/playoff discussion going on now, as highlighted in the recent congressional hearings.  In his defense, the MWC commissioner isn’t talking out of both sides of his mouth so much as he’s trying to walk a tightrope stretched between the goals of the top schools in his conference who want the process for the title game amended and the goals of the lowlier schools who are simply looking for a financial lifeline.  The problem is that his audience last week couldn’t comprehend the distinctions.

That was my point in my original post, no doubt poorly stated.  As you watch the debate continue to unfold, make sure that you cast playoff proponents in one of two camps – the fairness camp and the competition camp.  Their goals are different, and so are the means to accomplish those goals.

2.  There is no way that the BCS conferences are going to share revenue on a voluntary basis. Sorry, but anybody that thinks differently about that is living a pipe dream.  Remember Bernie Machen’s bravado a couple of years ago with his playoff proposal?  Lots more money, and lots more money to share with the have-nots of the college football universe (Machen came from Utah, which explains his sympathy for the have-nots).  Not only was he shot down by his SEC peers, he was forced to backtrack and vote against his own proposal.

That’s why Craig Thompson is in Washington, DC, folks.  He doesn’t want Congress to design a playoff, but he does want Congress to force college football to design a postseason that will result in a significant redistribution of the wealth.  Is that a far-fetched hope?  Maybe.  But, as I noted before, the Feds have some sticks and some carrots that, skillfully played, could make the powers-that-be in college football amenable to change.

3.  The “c word” is overplayed. “C” as in cartel, that is.  The BCS isn’t OPEC, as much as its opponents like to throw out that term.   Admittedly, it’s been a long time (please don’t ask how long) since I’ve sat in my college economics courses, but I recall discussions about the fact that organized sports are by their nature somewhat anti-competitive from a market standpoint.  Ironically, that’s because of competition – sports, not economics.  The Yankees can afford to assemble the greatest team on paper, but unless they’re willing to settle for barnstorming, they’ll have nobody to play and no means to charge fans for the privilege of watching them compete.  It’s the structure and organization of a formal league and league opponents that gives them value in the minds of their consuming public.

So there has to be some banding together in any organized sport.  But that doesn’t translate into complete helplessness on the part of some of its participants.  Nor does it mean that all decision making is distorted as a result.

Along those lines,  I think the Doc and Keith Arnold at College Football Talk get off track a bit when they try to compare college football with MLB.  Keith finds that college football finds itself in a situation, financially speaking, similar to that of MLB, circa early 90’s.  Except that baseball’s financial predicament was between teams, not leagues.  And with the passage of time, it turns out that most of baseball’s financial problems were the result of ownership’s inability to adapt to changing conditions – in this case, the result of a labor market unshackled by the reserve rule.  Eventually, ownership learned more efficient behavior.  Remind me – when was the last time the Yankees won the World Series?

Unlike baseball, college football does, in effect, have a salary cap in the form of scholarship limits.  The financial disparities that have been generated are thus the result of uneven levels of income between conferences.  But if you can’t make San Diego State or Rice more attractive revenue generators as a result of the product they put on the field, where else can you turn for more money?

That to me is why ultimately I expect the big boys to walk away from the rest of D-1 and create a new football division, unless the Feds find the right leverage to move things in the “fairness” direction.  And contrary to what the Doctor surmises, that won’t be a death sentence for college football.  The minor leagues in baseball to which he analogizes didn’t become irrelevant because they are feeder systems to MLB, but because they’re vassal states, totally subjugated by the major league teams that own them in every sense of the word.

If the Gwinnett Braves were locked in a tight race for the International League title with a big series against their closest competitor coming up, but the Atlanta Braves wanted to call up Tommy Hanson to see how he looks against major league competition, that’s the end of the story – he’s getting in the car and driving to Turner Field.  If the Detroit Lions had called Mark Richt in the middle of the season last year and suggested that Matt Stafford be deployed differently, Richt would have politely told them to get stuffed.  Competition is irrelevant in minor league baseball.  It’s everything in the SEC.

4.  The competitive camp is somewhat lazy. Year2 spends a good deal of time comparing the situations of Miami and Brigham Young and argues that BYU gets something of a raw deal because it’s a better home draw and because it’s been a better team recently than the Hurricanes.  Yet Miami gets access to the BCS pot of money that BYU doesn’t and the latter really doesn’t have a means of redressing the situation.  Color me unimpressed.

Let’s face it – Miami’s situation in the mid to late 1970’s wasn’t any different than BYU’s now.  In fact, it may have been worse.  Yet in less than a decade, the Hurricanes were a national power.  Now I’m not saying the two are totally comparable, but one factor in Miami’s ascent was that the school played a number of high profile regular season games – it didn’t win all of those, but it won more than its fair share of them.  How many games like that can you recall that BYU has participated in over the past few years?  There were a couple of games against Southern Cal (both losses), but that’s about all.  That’s why there isn’t much of a national profile there, despite the fact that this is a school with a national championship and a rich heritage in coaching innovations.

If you want to be perceived as a legitimate national power, it can be done.  Miami did it.  Florida State did it.  The catch is that it takes time, it probably means you’re going to lose a home game or two every year because the high profile teams you’re chasing won’t come to you until your cachet is sufficient and it’s going to cost you some money in the short term.

Or, you could simply try to jerry rig the criteria for BCS eligibility.  There’s certainly less short term pain going that route.

5.  The fairness camp is just warming up. The arguments aren’t as refined and as numerous as they’re going to be.  Expect Miles Brand to continue his hand-wringing over competitive fairness, as if Alabama really has a stake in Idaho becoming a top 25 team.  Title IX concerns will never be too far away.  And this one has started to crop up every year.  It’s all part of the rich mosaic that we all want college athletics to aspire to!  Never mind that there’s no guarantee that the schools would spend any moneys received under a new distribution regime wisely.

Anyway, there you have it.  This still has a long ways to go before it plays out and I’m still clueless as to where the final destination will be.  But it certainly bears watching if you’re passionate about your college football.

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14 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, Political Wankery

14 responses to “Life, the universe, the BCS and revenue sharing

  1. The Realist

    The Capstone Report makes a good point about how teams derive their value. Alabama is a moneymaker because of its affiliation with the SEC. The SEC has an incentive for all of its teams to be competitive, because each member institution’s profile and revenue-generating ability is dependent to a large extent on the successes of its peers.

    The best way for mid-majors to gain credibility and prominence is for the top teams from each conference to consolidate. Boise State should join the MWC. Maybe bring along Fresno State or Hawai’i. Drop San Diego State. Drop the teams that don’t have the ability to make the transition to the big time. A conference lineup that included Utah, BYU, TCU, Boise State, Fresno State, Air Force, maybe Nevada, New Mexico, Houston, and Tulsa would produce good television every week.

    If you develop a stronger conference affiliation, and then start to regularly win games against major competition, the seat at the big boy table will come the good old fashioned way… earning it.

  2. Lee Munger

    Great post Senator. All points are dead on in my opinion. Fair is giving equal opportunity to earn something, Welfare is giving support to those who have not earned it, from those who have earned it.

    They don’t want fair, they want welfare. And with the way the country itself does business these days, its not surprising they are demanding it in the big money world of Sports.

  3. Non-BCS schools should play 3-4 BCS games a year. Even if it means 2 for 1s or 1 for none.

    If you can’t win 3-4 BCS games a year…..how can you argue that you’re as good of a program as the elite schools who have to win 7 or 8 a year?

    PWD

    • It’s a good idea, but most can’t find 3-4 BCS opponents willing to play them each year.

      And even if they could, it may not be economically feasible. Times have changed since FSU and Miami were coming up (who came up as independents, incidentally, with no conference obligations like today’s mid-majors have), and to be a big time program you have to spend like a big time program. To spend like one, you have to earn like one. That means even Fresno State, whose coach Pat Hill is famous for his “anyone, anytime, anywhere” attitude must play a cupcake or two each season.

  4. Thanks for the opportunity at the “re-test” Senator. Although it’s no excuse for neglecting the blogosphere, work has been crazy this week. This is a great post.

    As I read I kept going back to one of your comments about the fan being a non-factor. There’s no question that the ones generating the press here and the ones spending the benjamins are at two diametrically opposed ends: wanting things to be “fair” and wanting a product worth watching/spending/traveling to.

    Any step in a direction away from the wants and needs of average Joe Alumni, is a travesty. They dabble in worthless legislature and I write letters. They screw with my income and I adjust my voting habits. But when they eff up my college football…it gets personal.

  5. Dog in Fla

    Surgical analysis by Senator. Baseball. Football. Astronomy. The Two Faces of the BCS. Seminoles. Hurricanes. BYU. Bernie. Machen. Making. Bacon. Complicated. Team Speed Kills Dr. Saturday College Football Talk Capstone Report. Tommy Hanson. Gwinett Braves. Richmond Braves. Matthew Stafford. Detroit. Big Three. Fiat. Head hurts. Need Dietz slide rule to slap self with.

    Wishes Bama had shown up for Sugar Bowl. Mountain West Commissioner and Orin Hatch could get back to thinking about polygamy not playoffs or bailouts. Or both. President O could get back to thinking about his most excellent adventures of bailing out Wall Street, Banks, and disrupting Taliban heroin supply lines in Afghanistan not playoffs. Rep. Joe Barton (Communist-Texas) would quit crowing like a banty rooster about what a capitalist badass he is. Big Guy Swofford (BCS-Czar/Commissioner-Basketball Conference) would stop thinking about how much he would have liked to deck Barton’s during the hearing. Dazed. Confused. Cannot remember now if Senator is for or against BCS or playoffs. Or both. All because of the lack of an Andre Smith. If you believe what the Bamaliens say.

    Focus regained. Thinking superficially within normal limits. Wonder how hard Lane’s writers are working on his lines for his Media Day gig. Lane knows act before him is The Hat. Big. White. Don’t Fit. To psych his fellow Tennesseans, Lane was to appear in a Davy Crockett coonskin hat with Coach O as Tonto but Layla Two reminded Lane that it could be a bad vibe because Davy was among those patriots slaughtered at the Alamo by the Mexicans just before we took Texas from them so Rep. Joe Barton (Communist-Texas) would probably want a piece of the action from the Media Day gig.

  6. Dawg1

    Senator, do you think that the big name non-BCS teams (BSU, BYU, Utah) would be smart to go independent? Where they could customize a schedule with a SOS high enough to get some recognition?

    • JasonC

      Not the Senator, but my thoughts are: no, it wouldn’t help if the goal was to get into a big-name or BCS bowl.

      Notre Dame is the only independent that has a way into the BCS bowls. Most of the bowls of any distinction have tie-ins with conferences. So even if BYU decided to go indie and play a schedule of decent Pac 10 teams + Boise St, Utah and 1-2 other national teams… and could survive the gauntlet, they probably wouldn’t do better than the Independence Bowl provided the SEC couldn’t field 7 bowl eligible teams. Unless of course, they could persuade the BCS to give them ND-favored status.

    • JasonC

      Like the Realist mentioned earlier, probably the best way is to get the WAC and the MWC to pool its best teams and kick the SDSUs to the curb. Then, it might have a chance of becoming the Big East of the West.

    • It would be tough to go independent these days, I would think. No TV revenue, for starters.

      I think Realist’s suggestion about forming a conference out of the best of the mid-majors is a more promising way of becoming nationally relevant.

      That being said, these schools can beef up their schedules if they try. BYU has games with both Oklahoma and Florida State this year.

      Of course, they’ve got to start winning some of these on a consistent basis if they want to be taken more seriously from a national perspective.

  7. roadtogameday

    Just wanted to touch on your thoughts about my comments at CFT. My biggest issue with the economic inequities is the role that the NCAA plays in all of this. All sports, revenue-earning or not, fall under the umbrella of the NCAA. All of these sports are played by amateurs, and because of that (and many other) distinctions, the NCAA doesn’t see a difference between a scholarship athlete playing football at Alabama or a scholarship athlete playing girls volleyball at Northern Iowa. They are all held to the same rules, and because of things like amateurism and Title IX, they are supposed to be held equal.

    Yet the insane amount of money that these conferences and prestige programs generate, as well as things like the NCAA basketball tourney and the BCS, they have forced the NCAA to divide the pie in a specific way, many times not in concert with the ideals set forth by the entire entity. It’s only a matter of time before someone like Sam Keller with his lawsuit, or more likely, the Utah Attorney General show that the NCAA isn’t a Non-Profit organization, but a corporate entity. If I’m the NCAA, I’d much rather work to find a way to distribute the revenues evenly than risk losing my antitrust exemption.

    • Two things here – first, the NCAA has nothing to do with the D-1 football postseason. That’s negotiated directly by the conferences and Notre Dame.

      Second, the NCAA doesn’t currently enjoy an antitrust exemption, although it would love one. It does have non-profit status, which is why our athletic department contributions are tax-deductible. You’re right that that’s another stick at the Feds’ disposal, although I’ve been told by folks that there would be a mother of a fight if Congress ever tried to yank it.

      I did get a lot out of your article and appreciate the link to mine.

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