Go ahead, make his day.

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.

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9 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery, The Blogosphere

9 responses to “Go ahead, make his day.

  1. Lowcountry Dawg

    “better than the mishmash of split champions and frustrating conference tie-ins that preceded it”

    I don’t think so. The current BCS national championship game is a contrivance that serves the dual goals of naming one MNC and making more $$$. But the game hasn’t been ‘accepted’ yet; its somewhat like the Players Championship in golf trying to be a major.

    In the good old days (don’t we all love any kind of good old days) the weird invitations caused by the tie ins and the split champions created interest. And besides, Tech’s last and final MNC will forever be diluted.

  2. Maybe I’m channeling my inner Hootie Johnson here, but I believe that the BCS conference commissioners and University presidents refuse to be forced to act “at the point of a bayonet”.

    I sincerely believe that if Congress presses these guys, they are going to take their collective ball and go home. I typically enjoy Hinton’s analysis, but I think he’s far offbase with the assessment that the BCS will never go away. If the presidents have to make a choice about giving up money and having a revised system, or keeping all the money and just blowing up the system, what do you think they’re going to do? My gut’s on the money.

    • You’re absolutely right.

      It’s also the answer to the question, “why doesn’t D-1 football have a playoff like every other sport?”

    • I have a feeling though that they make more money with the BCS than they would by reverting to the old system. Otherwise, why not revert to the old system straight away and forget about this BCS thing?

      I think Hinton’s assuming that Congress will not actually pass anything that requires immediate and substantive action. Take Joe Barton’s bill for instance – all it requires is removing “national championship” from the name of the final BCS game. It doesn’t actually require restructuring anything.

      So if Congress isn’t going to force a real move, then there’s no reason to worry about a return to the old bowl system.

      • I suspect the money would be a near wash for the big boys and a loss for the non-BCS schools. They’d lose the title game, but the power conferences would no longer automatically share the loot with the smaller fry.

        Maybe I misinterpreted what Matt posted, but it seems to me that if he’s taking the position that there is no real Congressional threat, it would make sense to mock Perlman for even bothering to respond to the political rhetoric. Instead, I came away with the impression that Matt was mocking the substance (or lack thereof) of Perlman’s response, rather than the response itself.

  3. Nola Dawg

    Kind of a tangential piece of info, but here is the website for the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary:

    http://judiciary.senate.gov/about/subcommittees/antitrust.cfm

    Grassley (Iowa), Cornyn (Texas) and Hatch (Utah) are the only Republicans. Of the 7 Democrats, it will be interesting to see (if we get to) what such Senators as Ron Wyden (Oregon), Herb Kohl (Wisconsin) and Arlen Specter (Penn) will say, simply due to their respective states’ interest in football

  4. JasonC

    All I know is Corrine Brown has Corch Meyer’s back in this fight.

  5. CFR

    Specter’s going to get voted out next time through, I could see him grandstanding in a desperate attempt to earn back the goodwill of PA voters. Penn State fans are miffed to have five undefeated teams and just two championships so I’m sure there’s lots of red meat for Specter in this hearing.

  6. CFR

    I think your question at the end brings up an even more interesting discussion that’s basically being skirted around.

    Do people want a more egalitarian vision of college football or do they want this more open system we have now (yeah, I know, scholarship limits, etc.)?

    Part of the attraction of college football, for me, is seeing domination happen with regularity. I’ve got a million other sports I can watch if I want to regularly see even-matched teams, revenue sharing, all that.

    Whats unique about college football is that you’ll occasionally see teams break out, USC from 2002-2005, Florida State for much of the 90’s, Nebraska’s run in the mid-90’s.

    I don’t think that happens or anything close to it in a different environment.

    In the meantime you still have plenty of room for the Boise State’s, the Utah’s, those guys make a dent in our consciousness of the game and get plenty of hype. But whats great about it is they rise not so much because of systematic propping (such as with say, the Tampa Bay Rays in the MLB who had endless top five draft picks) but through their own organization and competence, hiring the right coaches, implementing the right systems, recruiting players the bigger powers overlooked (Ian Johnson was in USC’s backyard) and attacking the margins.

    And at the end of the day the big guys who are the big draws get their fair share. Maybe its the conservative in me but at the end of the day ITS THEIR MONEY.

    As a Pac-10 guy I’m not angling toward getting the system to pull money from the SEC. They earned that, they hired the right coaches and did the things to keep their fans interested and buying and this amazing influx of cash is their reward.

    Its the Pac-10’s job to keep up or find ways to thrive with what economic conditions they’re in, not to steal from the SEC just as the Mountain West needs to find ways to make more money and then come to the table and ask in with the big boys.

    You can’t go to a bank asking for a loan without some promise of being able to repay, just the same the less profitable conferences need to understand the bowls are looking at them suspiciously and thinking they’re nowhere near as rewarding for them to invest in which is why they’re not among the automatic invites.