My baby just wrote me a letter.

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.



Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Political Wankery

21 responses to “My baby just wrote me a letter.

  1. Puffdawg

    “assert that the BCS is a cartel that “secures market access and revenue” for its favored members the schools who generate the revenue in the first place…”

    There, I fixed it.


  2. Mayor of Dawgtown

    What pisses me off about the BCS is not the antitrust implications (which may very well be a legitimate issue–I make no comment on that either way in this post) but the fact that under the guise of creating a system to determine a true national champion for NCAA D-IA football to be decided on the field (a noble ambition) , the BCS has become only a money making proposition. Doesn’t anybody ever do anything just for the good of the game any more in any sport?


  3. Dog in Fla

    “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.”

    As an aside, Len hopes to soon be able to help USD bearhug more goodies for its football program during the basketball program’s hiatus


  4. fuelk2

    I agree that it would be a good thing to do away with AQ’s. You could leave the existing structure in place otherwise as far as I’m concerned, but some of the AQ stuff is ridiculous. The Big East and ACC hardly seem fit to hold a spot every year. The SEC champion is going to be in a big bowl game regardless.


    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Excellent point. Just let the chips fall where they may. The Big East doesn’t have a single team as good as TCU or Boise State. Why should it get a berth automatically?


      • TCU will be in the BE in another year.


        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          Exactly. It doesn’t have one this season nor has it since Miami et al left but still gets the AQ. The BE had to go out and buy 1 good team to try to gain respectability for the whole conference.


      • Puffdawg

        I don’t think the point here is who has the best teams per se. It revolves more around the fact that the giant money these small time programs are after is only there because of the reputation and followers of the large conferences. So why would the larger conferences want to share that money? If the Orange Bowl thought they could make more money having a contract with the MWC, believe me, they’d dump the ACC in a heartbeat. All these games are just exhibitions anyways.

        And as for the MNC, the little guys are on equal footing there. Watch where Bosie State begins the 2011 season. Based on what exactly? They didn’t even win their own lousy conference last season. I think they are absolutely a top 15 program right now. But if they play in the SEC they lose at least 3 games a year.


  5. Zero Point Zero

    I for one kind of like the BCS system. It’s as close to good as we’ve ever had. Remember the system before? Why screw up the game we clearly love.


    • Biggus Rickus

      I kind of miss the old system. You could have three or four different bowl games with national championship implications, depending on how they played out. Also, and maybe this is just me, a top 10 finish felt like a bigger deal before there was an official national championship game.


    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      The Plus-One Game is the easiest way out of the thicket. Minor change-solves most of the problems.


  6. shane#1

    Tonys idea of the top seventy teams forming their own division looks better and better.


  7. Bad M

    Maybe the non-BCS schools should pick up there ball and go home. They can play their own Championship and sell it to a network. I bet they could negotiate a TV contract for hundreds of dollars for that game. I bet ESPN 8 would jump all over that.


    • Maybe the non-BCS schools should pick up there ball and go home. They can play their own Championship and sell it to a network.

      Nothing in the BCS prevents them from trying exactly that. All the people that assume the DOJ is gonna blow up the BCS over an antitrust issue seem to miss this point. You can call the creaters of the BCS many names (greedy/manipulative/seedy all come to mind), but you cannot accuse them of being dumb. The language of the BCS agreement was written to prevent any kind of antitrust issues and that’s why the DOJ can’t do anything about it.

      If Boise State and Co. want to break off and negotiate their own postseason contracts, they are more than welcome to do so and they know it. They don’t do it because they know they can’t get the kind of money that riding on the coattails of the more established powers provides for them in the current system. Plain and simple.

      /not ranting at you, Bad M. Just used your comment to make a point


      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        Not disagreeing with you AD (’cause I think you are right about the money) but isn’t it a little pathetic that this is what it has come to in intercollegiate sports? Only the $$$$ matter not who is best on the field.


  8. JaxDawg

    My parents favorite song around the time I was born.


    • shane#1

      Written by my good friend Spooner Oldham. Spooner is one of the old heads from Muscle Shoals and he is playing keyboards now for the Drive By Truckers.