1. Why does the Football Bowl Subdivision not have a playoff, when so many other NCAA sports have NCAA-run playoffs or championships?
2. What steps, if any, has the NCAA taken to create a playoff among Football Bowl Subdivision programs before or during your tenure? To the extent any steps were taken, why were they not successful? What steps does the NCAA plan to take to create a playoff at this time?
3. Have you determined that there are aspects of the BCS system that do not serve the interests of fans, colleges, universities, and players? To what extent could an alternative system better serve those interests?
– Letter from Christine Varney to Mark Emmert, May 3, 2011
Okay, it’s only three questions instead of four, but the Jew in me who’s sat through innumerable Seder dinners immediately boiled Varney’s letter down to this: why is this postseason different from all others?
The reality is that the Department of Justice already knows the answer to that question. What Varney is really asking is this: do you people (and, no, that doesn’t include Mark Emmert, if you’re wondering) want to run the risk that you lose control over shaping a college football postseason? While there’s an obvious answer to that, the path that college football’s movers and shakers might take to address the DOJ threat isn’t so simple, although there are plenty of pundits out there who will insist otherwise.
I have an economics degree and a law degree, but I am not an antitrust attorney. I am also someone who passionately values the unique importance of the college football regular season who also believes that a power division of NCAA football of 64-80 teams with a playoff composed of conference champions would be killer. So read the following observations with that in mind:
- Limited government, my ass. I think it’s a stretch for Matt Hinton to make an assertion as broad as “A billion-dollar enterprise being run through taxpayer-funded, nonprofit institutions is a legitimate area of governmental concern”, but at this point it really doesn’t matter. The government is here; get used to it. And they say bipartisanship is dead.
- If you think this is about anything other than money, you’re nuts. Fans, they’ll trade on your name for support, but you don’t count in the final decision and you never have. Hint: nobody makes antitrust threats to “settle things on the field”. This is about the almighty dollar, nothing more, nothing less. Everything else is a sideshow.
- Be careful what you wish for. As I posted yesterday, there is a boatload of money at stake here for the Big Six. It’s incredibly naïve to expect someone like Jim Delany to give that up, even under threat of litigation. The odds that we’ll wake up one day soon with an NCAA-run 16-school playoff is unlikely unless the BCS conference commissioners are faced with a situation in which they have no other options. I doubt that’s where things wind up. Screwing the mid-majors by taking away what BCS money they get now by means of a radical restructuring of current D-1 football or the elimination of the BCS, on the other hand… yeah, I can see Delany going for that. Especially with the way the Big Six are being showered with TV money these days.
- And isn’t that ironic? There is something truly rich about projecting a role for the NCAA in this. First of all, the present situation grew out of an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA over TV broadcast rights. Second, if there’s an actor in college athletics that operates a monolithic cartel, it’s the NCAA, which, if you’ll recall, bought the NIT to avoid an antitrust threat over its basketball tourney. Say what you will about the conferences, but at least they are competitors in the marketplace when it comes to regular season broadcast rights. And over the past three decades, that’s something which has been a clear benefit to fans.
It all boils down to two things, I guess. Can the government force a change to the D-1 football postseason? I’m thinking yes. While most of what Wetzel posted is little more than wishful thinking on his part, there is some validity to his point about BCS “fatigue”. It’s one thing to force a change and another to dictate the terms of that change, though, and therein lies the rub. Folks like Obama, Hatch, Shurtleff and Varney may all hope that good things will come from the power conferences becoming weary of the fight, but the mid-majors have to fear the power conferences becoming weary of them, too.
UPDATE: It’s hard to top this Ray Ratto piece as an exercise in cynicism. But I can’t say I disagree with much of what he writes.