Michael Elkon elaborates on something that’s bothered me about this whole playoff debate, or at the least the money side of it.
American sports are not now and have never been an exercise in capitalist, free market activity. Our pro sports leagues are heavily socialized, from the fact that there is no promotion and relegation to salary/spending controls to revenue sharing. If the BCS violates the Sherman Antitrust Act because it treats the six major conferences and Notre Dame better than it treats the five smaller conferences, then what do we say about the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball? If I were a wealthy man who wanted to start and fund a pro football team in Columbus, Ohio because Ohioans love football and their two NFL franchises are pathetic, I would not be able to do so because the NFL restricts the number and location of its franchises. My only option would be to find like-minded rich people/entities to start a competing league, an option that is also available to the Mountain West Conference if there was, you know, a major market for their product.
I think that’s exactly right. The NFL is monolithic. “College football” ain’t. It’s made up of conferences with their own rules. Revenue sharing takes place within a conference, not between conferences. (Which is why Hatch and Young sound idiotic when they complain about lowly members of Big 6 conferences getting all that loot.)
If the Mountain West wants to ensure a healthy revenue stream for the likes of a San Diego State, the most dependable way of doing so is to create a conference with members that capture the interest of the marketplace. If SDSU develops a fan base of 45,000 rabid fans who will travel to bowls the way that Virginia Tech fans or West Virginia fans do, the bowls will be throwing open their doors for them. It really isn’t rocket science we’re talking about here.
Thus, when Matt Hinton tells us
… Big schools overwhelmingly a) Have no interest in tough mid-major games outside of the conference, b) Raise the standard for mid-majors to enter the roped-off, big-money bowl games that determine the so-called championship, and c) Won’t let mid-major teams into the conferences, an exclusion that costs the smaller schools millions of dollars every year…
my immediate response is “So?” I mean, even if it all were true (I’m thinking of the Big East’s raid of necessity on Conference USA from a few years ago here), when did the Big 6 become financially obligated to take care of the remaining conferences? (Never mind the fact that, as Barnhart pointed out the other day, the mid-majors have fared far better both money-wise and exposure-wise when it comes to the post season under the new regime than before.)
I also think Matt’s overly pessimistic when he writes this:
… But the question from there is: How could Utah, TCU, BYU or Boise State improve its schedule to match a Big 12 or SEC-worthy gauntlet? And the answer is: They can’t. Even if they’re ambitious enough to go looking for goliaths to slay, smaller schools are still lucky to score one national power in the non-conference lineup, and those teams can turn out to be enormous disappointments. Utah last year, with regular season wins over a traditional power (Michigan), a solid, ranked contender from a “Big Six” conference (Oregon State) and two ranked teams from its own league, played the absolute maximum of a schedule for a team in its position; the only way it could have been better is if the Wolverines had held up their end of the deal by not descending into the worst spiral since the Great Depression. Still, there was zero talk about Utah as a snubbed contender prior to the Sugar Bowl, because it was abundantly clear just how watered-down the bottom half of their slate was; even after they vaulted onto the national map with the pounding in New Orleans, the heads on the Utes’ wall still didn’t measure up to the other contenders.
The only possible solution for a mid-major program to play a major schedule is to actually join a major conference. And we can be sure that will not be happening at any point in the near future…
BYU’s got Oklahoma and Florida State on its schedule this season. Boise State previously announced it’s going hunting for visitor paychecks to meet a budget crunch. Hey, it’s not an optimal approach – mid-majors don’t like giving up home games any more than Georgia does – but these are the kind of things you have to do to raise your public profile and strength of schedule. (And if they want to spend their time lobbying about something useful, how about pushing the NCAA to prohibit D-1 teams from playing more than one 1-AA opponent per year? That would open up games on the schedules of half the teams in the ACC. And Mississippi’s.)
Of course, consistently winning some of these games would help, too.
That’s not the only thing the Boise States and Utahs can consider. Gary Patterson’s play-in game proposal makes terrific sense, as I posted the other day. Best of all with that, the mids don’t have to wait on the largesse of the BCS to get that underway; they just need the NCAA’s consent to a thirteenth game.
Or if they want to pursue something more radical, they could splice together a new conference out of the best from the MWC, the WAC and Conference USA. That would certainly eliminate the watered-down part of their schedules that Matt alludes to above.
If that all sounds like hard work, that’s only because it is. Nobody said that building market share and value wasn’t. But the goal should be to get away from a situation where Harvey Perlman can’t be challenged when he says things like this:
“The payments we make to these conferences are in fact a subsidy because they have not increased the overall market value of our product…”
The good thing is that they’ve got four years – the length of the current BCS/ESPN contract – to get their act together and create conditions that force the decision makers to recognize them as viable partners. To need them. Whether they’re shrewd enough to grasp the situation remains to be seen.
Of course, we could always have more hearings.
UPDATE: Brian McCormack thinks we ought to be asking some questions about the guys writing the checks.