Relying on the kindness of strangers

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.

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18 Comments

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

18 responses to “Relying on the kindness of strangers

  1. Jferg in NC

    Senator,
    What’s keeping two of these teams from joining the Pac-10 and creating a 12 team conference with a conference champ. game?
    I think the Pac-10 would benefit from adding Boise State and BYU or Fresno State….and that would definitely help Boise State, BYU or Fresno State by getting those schools into a ‘legitimate’ conference. Adding the Conf Champ Game would give further legitimacy to the Pac-1o conf as a whole.
    Thoughts? Comments?

    • The Realist

      The Pac-10 wants no part of that. Notre Dame doesn’t want to join the Big Ten either.

    • A conference isn’t just about football – sacrilege, I know – and I’m not sure else what those schools bring to the table. My guess is not enough right now.

      Besides, the Pac-10 plays a round robin football schedule. I think that’s plenty of legitimacy for the conference winner.

  2. Macallanlover

    I don’t think the BCS violates the anti-trust laws in this country. There is nothing to exclude a mid-major from being rated highly enough to make the “title” game, and several mid-majors have made BCS bowls. How can they argue exclusion?

    As to the play-in game, that is a terrific idea IF we ever get the 8 team playoff passed. Without a playoff, there is no need for it. The two highest rated mid-majors could play the 1st weeekend in December for the right to play in one of four first round games to be played the 3rd weekend in December. I think that adds even nore credibility to the 8 team playoff I have always wanted. This would raise the acceptance of our first “true NC” from 98% to 99.5%. How can we not move forward now” Oh wait, Tom Delany is in the point 5 %, now I get it. He holds all of CFB’s collective nuts in his dirty little hands. Sounds like someone else who lived in Chicago and thinks he is king.

    • As to the play-in game, that is a terrific idea IF we ever get the 8 team playoff passed. Without a playoff, there is no need for it.

      I disagree. Even without a playoff – even without a guaranteed slot in the BCS – I can give you three good reasons for it:

      1. A thirteenth game means more money for the mid-majors.
      2. If it’s packaged right, it’s great exposure for the mid-majors as a whole and for the participants in particular. Anything that raises their standing in the public eye is a plus for them.
      3. The winner’s SOS will improve, making it a more attractive candidate for a BCS game.

      I think they should jump on this. There’s no downside at all, since the BCS only takes the highest ranked mid-major, anyway.

      • Macallanlover

        I am not opposed to it Senator, we always need more CFB, I just don’t want it to guarantee them a spot into a BCS Bowl unless their play and schedule warrant it. Clearly there is an economic reason for it, but they had better be careful about scheduling it against one of the three conference playoff games or the naive Senator Hatch may get a real live lesson about why mid-majors aren’t very attractive outside their own campuses. Let me see, UGA/Bama, Oklahoma/Nebraska, FSU/Va Tech, or Utah/ Hawaii? Tough choice, huh?

        • You can backstop some of that by putting in a BCS standings floor, or by requiring that the eligible mid-major be within a certain number of slots of the lowest rated BCS conference winner.

  3. Pete Holiday

    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?

    The argument that the BCS couldn’t be in violation because the NFL isn’t has a major flaw: the NFL does run afoul of the Sherman Antitrust Act. So much so, in fact, that congress had to give them an exemption. They did that in the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961. MLB had an exemption long before that.

    • Pete, you’re right about the exemptions, but I didn’t interpret what Michael wrote as you did.

      I think his point was to question why everyone’s knickers are in a wad over the BCS, when the pro leagues do things as bad or worse and nobody rails about them. I doubt that’s because fans or pundits sit back and blame it on the antitrust exemption. ;)

      • wheaton4prez

        Nobodies knickers are in a wad over the NFL because they have a play-off system and no subjective determinations for match-ups. Merit is measured on the field.

        The NFL does a great job of delivering an open competition based on football terms while also generating tons of revenue for all parties. And fans respect that.

        The BCS (or any organization seeking to administrate college football) faces challenges that the NFL does not. However, there is no reason that the BCS cannot strive for the same basic goals achieved in the NFL (namely to create as much access as possible, based on objective football terms). In my view, they have a complete disregard for that objective.

  4. 1) College football is made up of entities that received federal funds and are state government entities. The NFL is private.

    2) The anti-trust argument is irrelevant to me. I want a playoff because determining a champion on the field is what I want to see. I want to see the media/coaches and their voting made a nice side show, nothing more.

  5. wheaton4prez

    [quote]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.[/quote]

    The problem is that all of these things go hand in hand. The best way to “capture the interest of the marketplace” is to win games. The best way to win games is with good players and staff. Good players want expensive facilities and good coaches. Good coaches want expensive salaries.

    A program can’t simply decide to develop interest in the marketplace. They have to earn it on the field, over time.

    The BCS, for economic reasons gone over at length now, actively works against smaller market programs by not equally or consistently granting the on-the-field rewards that are key to generating greater interest in the marketplace.

    • My friend, that is a load of crap.

      The BCS does one thing that works against the interests of the mid-majors: it restricts their participation to a maximum of one school per year. And even that would go by the way-side in the unlikely event that mid-major schools finished one and two in the final regular season BCS rankings.

      The BCS has nothing to do with regular season scheduling, with conference configuration, with regular season TV contracts,with coaching, with recruiting or with marketing. For you to pretend that opening up the postseason would magically change all that is illogical to the extreme. Or do you think that every school playing D-1 basketball operates on a level playing field? Or course they don’t.

      I’m not denying that this is hard work. It is. But there are schools who have pulled it off. The Mountain West just doesn’t feel like it should have to go down the same road. We’ll see if that works.

      • wheaton4prez

        You didn’t address my argument.

        I’m not saying that “opening up the post-season” would be a night and day difference across the board. However, it does have a substantial influence on all of those matters. Playing in an NC game creates a lot of interest, generates revenue, makes the program more marketable, etc. Is that even debatable?

        The BCS has a lot to do with a program establishing greater interest in the marketplace. Therefore, their chances to establish or maintain a “healthy revenue stream” are diminished by the BCS when it does not afford them the same opportunities. It not only treats conferences differently. It allows the bowls to choose some participants on criteria completely unrelated to merit on the field.

        I can’t speak for the Mountain West. But, I don’t believe that they want a free ride to the top. I believe they simply want the opportunity and reward they are due when they do pull off a great season. There is no economic excuse for why any team shouldn’t be afforded that.

        • Playing in an NC game creates a lot of interest, generates revenue, makes the program more marketable, etc. Is that even debatable?

          The BCS rules don’t prohibit a mid-major from playing in the title game.

          • wheaton4prez

            They just make it more difficult for them to do so than other conferences and programs.

            What more can they do beyond winning every game they play?

            • Play a tougher schedule to enhance their standing. Raise public demand so that the bowls and networks want them on board. Just like all the other schools that have worked their way into the national picture over the last four decades.

              • wheaton4prez

                Raising public demand comes with winning bigger games, something the BCS influences.

                Playing tougher schedules is also influenced by how much market a program brings to the table.

                Just because other schools have climbed up doesn’t mean that they didn’t have to overcome unequal obstacles. In my view, the BCS has been particularly adept at throwing out just enough of a bone to protect their milking of the system. Fans are just finally wising up to it in the face of blatant failures such as the case of the Utes.

                If a team goes undefeated and ends the season ranked #2 in the nation, the system has failed.