This sounds serious… at least a serious as a letter from a bunch of academics can sound, I suppose.
A group of law and economics professors and practitioners has asked the Department of Justice to investigate college football’s Bowl Championship Series under antitrust law.
In a letter, a copy of which was provided to The Wall Street Journal before it was made public, the 21 signatories—who include Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago and Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College—assert that the BCS is a cartel that “secures market access and revenue” for its favored members…
“But the core issue is that six conferences have bearhugged the goodies and agreed to run things for their mutual benefit,” said Len Simon, a San Diego antitrust lawyer who also teaches at the University of San Diego and is one of the signatories.
The hard part about this, as always, is the fight between advocating how the money is spread around versus what the fans care about. Thus, we get these competing observations:
… The professors claim that the BCS’s control of access to the most important postseason games shields major-conference schools from competition and injures schools in the five non-major conferences, whose champions aren’t guaranteed a BCS berth and have never appeared in the BCS title game. Consumers also are being harmed, the professors allege, because college football’s lack of a playoff limits output. “Consumers aren’t getting what they want,” said Dan Rascher of the University of San Francisco…
… Berri, one of the antitrust letter’s signatories, said he’d like to see a postseason system that distributes revenue and opportunities more evenly. “There are a lot of things wrong with college sports,” he said. “This is just one of them.”
That “consumers aren’t getting what they want” complaint is a bit of nifty footwork. How do you price that? (That matters in the context of an antitrust claim.) The other piece of nifty footwork there is bootstrapping a title game appearance onto the BCS AQ-berth rules. As I’m sure the signers know, there is no AQ requirement for the BCS title game.
There’s a part of me that’s starting to wish that this whole bluff would get called. Because the Big Six, if pushed by the Justice Department or some other political entity, would just pick up their ball and go home, leaving what mid-majors they didn’t cherry pick to join them on the outside looking in. And that would be just fine by me.
Which is what is implicit in the threat that Jim Delany makes that goes right over Matt Sanderson’s head.
… Lately, college football’s major conferences have hardly sounded like they’re in a mood to give more ground to the smaller schools. In December, when Karl Benson of the Western Athletic Conference spoke of getting chances to play “on the big stage” during a panel discussion of conference commissioners in New York, the Big Ten’s Jim Delany said, “The problem is your big stage takes away opportunities that my teams created in 1902.”
“That’s a remarkable statement, because it’s not apparent why non-automatic qualifying conferences should pay tithes to the AQs for fielding championship teams in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” said Matt Sanderson, co-founder of Playoff PAC, a political-action committee dedicated to replacing the BCS with a playoff.
That’s not what Delany means at all. What he means is that conferences like the Big Ten have built an enormous amount of value in the market place that’s reflected in what is paid for things like television rights and season tickets, things which aren’t reflected in most cases with non-AQ schools. Delany quite rightly wonders why he should be forced to share the wealth with schools and conferences which haven’t earned it.
Ironically, if things play out, it’s possible that Sanderson and I would find ourselves happy with the outcome, at least if we take his wish for a playoff at face value. If D-1 football were to blow up and the power conferences went on to establish a new structure, there would be a good opportunity for them to shape a postseason with a playoff format.
Of course, while that would make fans happier, it wouldn’t do much for those who think that Sun Belt schools deserve a bigger piece of the pie.