My perception of Matt Hinton is that for a full-throated supporter of a D-1 football playoff, he’s been quite rational about recognizing the flaws and limits associated with it. So I’ve always assumed that his support for political hacks like Shurtleff and Barton as they showboat on the issue has been tinged with a little tongue-in-cheekiness.
But I’m not so sure about his latest post on the subject.
BCS apologists — and sometimes critics, or mere observers — like to point out that, whatever its flaws, at least the Series is obviously better than the mishmash of split champions and frustrating conference tie-ins that preceded it. So heinous was the old way of doing postseason business that Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, new chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, possibly feeling the heat emanating from Congress again this week, trotted out its corpse during a local interview as the ultimate warning to BCS critics:
What I think most people don’t understand is that the alternative to the current system is not a playoff. The alternative to the BCS is going back to our traditional relationship with our bowl partners.
Oooh, you’re scaring us, Dr. Perlman. Run for your lives — it’s the ghost of Robbie Bosco!
Of course, this is an idle threat: The BCS, or whatever it morphs into under external pressure, isn’t going anywhere…
And this is an idle threat because… why, exactly? If anything, it seems to me to be an easy task to carry out, it ends the antitrust posturing from pols like Hatch and Shurtleff and it has the likely added benefit of concentrating the wealth even more strongly in the hands of the BCS conferences (well, that’s a benefit for the BCS conferences, anyway).
This is where I think playoff supporters are on thin ice in this debate. It’s very easy to focus on what I call the competition side of this – making sure that every deserving school has the chance to play for an MNC – and downplay the economic side, the side that pushes for a redistribution of the wealth that college football generates. You can satisfy the former with a small scale playoff; you can’t satisfy the latter without an extended playoff controlled by the NCAA or some similar entity making sure that the moneys are spread more broadly throughout D-1. And an extended playoff is death to pretty much everything that makes college football unique.
It’s shortsighted to brush off the financial considerations here. Next week’s hearings are being conducted by the Senate Antitrust Committee. Whether it matters to its members or not, antitrust law isn’t about whether Utah gets to play in a title game. It’s about business practices, monopolies and money.
Ultimately, guys like Jim Delany don’t care nearly as much about Utah playing in that title game – and don’t forget that there’s nothing in the current BCS formula that prevents that from happening – as they do about having their conferences’ revenue streams reduced. That’s what’s at stake with these antitrust threats and that’s why I don’t think the Harvey Perlmans of the college football world should be so easily dismissed when they promise to defend their turf.
That’s why I don’t get Hinton’s blithe dismissal of Perlman. (I also don’t get why he blithely dismisses the one true improvement the BCS has wrought, namely, that it’s impossible for a clearly unqualified team to sneak into an MNC, as BYU did in 1984, but that’s a discussion for another blog post.) These guys are gonna fight like hell to hang on to every last cent. We all know they’re greedy bastards. That’s what greedy bastards do.
Orrin Hatch knows that. That’s why he he says in his Sports Illustrated piece that:
If “those with the power to reform the system” don’t do so voluntarily, Hatch writes, then “legislation may be required to ensure that all colleges and universities receive an equal opportunity.”
So if you’re a playoff proponent and a fan of a BCS conference school (which I think covers most of my readers), forget about political philosophy, forget about competition, but ask yourself this simple question instead: how much money am I willing to see my school give up in order to have a playoff? Because if guys like Hatch are willing to push hard enough, that may be the choice you wind up with.