This is what you get when football fans argue about antitrust law.

I don’t know if you had the chance to catch it, but there was a pretty lively Twitter discussion yesterday inspired by Mark Shurtleff’s long-standing threat/promise to bring an antitrust case against the BCS.  (Bill Connelly laid out some of the early give-and-take here.)

There were a variety of comments that I found interesting.  See what you think about some of them.

To start with, there were a number of observations about damages.  I’m not sure how you go about quantifying how much consumers have been financially damaged by college football’s postseason, if by consumers you mean fans.  Those who thought Shurtleff’s position might have some legs tended to focus on how mid-major programs were damaged by having their access to the BCS restricted.  Here’s something Stewart Mandel tweeted in response to that:

Then, there’s the barrier to entry argument – that the BCS is structured such that it prevents mid-majors, or any other group of schools from going out and creating their own postseason with its own revenue stream.  To which LA Times’ Chris Dufresne responded,

He also suggests the real barrier to entry.

(Neither Dufresne nor Mandel are big BCS proponents, by the way.)

That last comment of Dufresne’s echoes the Delany rebuttal to the MWC commissioner that expanding the D-1 playoff dilutes the value of the brand which Delany’s conference has built over more than a century.

The discussion moved on to what a post-lawsuit world might look like if the power conferences felt they had to respond to the Shurtleff lawsuit by remaking the postseason into something non-BCS.  Both Dan Wetzel and Andy Staples dismissed the possibility that the schools would return to the old free-for-all system with no title game because there wouldn’t be enough money in it to satisfy the schools.  As Wetzel put it in response to a question of mine,

I’m not sure I completely buy that, for two reasons.  First of all, who’s to say what a new bowl market might look like if it weren’t tied to a formal arrangement between the major bowls?  What might a Jerry Jones try to spend to bring the Cotton Bowl back to a first-rank position?  Second, what’s the alternative?  If it’s a playoff that’s controlled by whatever association the power conferences rearrange themselves into, I agree that’s got the possibility of generating more revenue for the schools.  But if the alternative is an NCAA-run postseason where the revenues are shared throughout D-1 in its entirety, forget about it.  The pie isn’t big enough.

Before you pooh-pooh me about that, keep in mind this is something I’ve posted about before more than once.  Quite a bit more, in fact.  The bottom line is that football generates a lot more money for colleges than basketball, March Madness or no March Madness.  Take a look at the breakdown of the 2008-9 moneys for the SEC, for example:

… the $132.5 million was derived from $52 million from football television, $25.4 million from bowls, $14.3 million from the SEC Football Championship, $13.6 million from basketball television, $4.1 million from the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament and $23.1 million from NCAA Championships.

The football regular season generated roughly four times as much as the basketball regular season did.  And that’s under the old SEC contract.  Beyond that, the SECCG almost doubled the money from the basketball tournament and the conference took in more from the bowls than it did from March Madness.  There’s nothing there that suggests spreading the wealth though the auspices of the NCAA is going to benefit any SEC school financially.

The last time I looked at this subject, I only found two Big Six schools which generated more money from their basketball programs than from their football programs, Louisville and Duke.

So I can see the old system being more attractive to the power conferences than Wetzel does.  What I don’t argue with is Andy Staples’ position that a return to the old system would hurt the mid-majors in the pocketbook hard.  He takes it further, though, and argues that the ACC and Big East would also take hits.

… I could keep going, but you’ve probably already picked up on the trend. First, you’ve probably noticed I’ve barely mentioned any conferences from outside the Big Six. In a reversion to the old system, those conferences would be harmed. But they would be rolling the dice for reasons that will become obvious in a few paragraphs. You’ve also probably noticed that I barely mentioned the ACC and didn’t mention the Big East at all. In an open market, at best, the ACC champ is equal to the No. 3 team in the SEC as a purely economic choice for a bowl game. The Big East champ falls far below that.

So while the ACC and Big East enjoyed equal footing in the BCS, they would occupy their own caste in a reversion to the old system. They wouldn’t be the Mountain West or Conference USA, but they wouldn’t be the SEC, Big Ten or Big 12, either. Call it bowl purgatory. The real difference would be the money. Even if it the system equaled what the BCS brings in now, the lion’s share would be split among four conferences instead of six.

From that he concludes in such a brave new world, the ACC and Big East would find more in common with the MAC and the Sun Belt than with the SEC.

… Essentially, that would add 20 schools to the have-nots list. The 2011 season will begin with 66 haves and 54 have-nots in the FBS. Under the system outlined above, have-nots would outnumber haves 74-46 and would win any vote that didn’t involve the top revenue-generating schools breaking free from the NCAA.

Ehhhh… maybe, maybe not.  One thing he glosses over with his argument is the regular season money.  The ACC in particular landed a very nice TV deal last year.  Would an NCAA-sponsored extended playoff muck with that money?  That’s the $64,000 question.

And I just find this scenario that Staples spins laughable.

… So if the newest have-nots decided they could make more money with a playoff, they might band together with their former serfs and call NCAA headquarters. The following conversation might take place.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto: President Mark Emmert, please.

Emmert: John, how are things?

Marinatto: I’m not going to lie, Mark. It’s not nearly as much fun at the kids’ table.

Emmert: How can we help?

Marinatto: Well, my league rakes in a ton from that basketball tourney you run. Any chance we could do something like that in football?

Emmert: Well, John, I’ve always said we know an awful lot about running championship tournaments.

Yes, Mark Emmert bests Mike Slive and Jim Delany in a battle of wills convincing conference commissioners to do something.  That’s gonna happen.

Ultimately, that’s what I find most unconvincing about all this “it’s so easy” playoff speculation:  it’s predicated on the stupidity and passivity of people who have proven themselves to be anything but stupid and passive.  Read Delany’s explanation of how he came to the decision that the Big Ten would begin playing hockey as a conference with six members, and this in particular:

“So, I would say whether you’re dealing with hockey or college football or formations of conferences, the change is natural. A: We thoroughly discussed it with our presidents, ADs and coaches; B: We reached out to the two hockey conferences in our region of the country. We have offered to collaborate and we will play them a lot, but I think once you have, in our conference, six members to play a sport, serious discussions occur about how to do that.”

That is not the mindset of a man who takes no for an answer.  Or leaves things to chance.

As much as they may be rivals, you can be sure that the Delanys and Slives of the college football world will have thoroughly gamed things out before proceeding, if circumstances dictate such.  If Staples is right about his 74-46 split, I find it far more likely that they pick off a few stragglers from the ACC, the Big East and the mid-majors and politely tell those left out and the NCAA to go to hell.

To paraphrase Staples’ last thought, happy lawyering, Mark Shurtleff.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs

7 responses to “This is what you get when football fans argue about antitrust law.

  1. Connor

    It would be ironic if this litigation was the push that sent the domino’s falling in that ultimate direction, where the big boys walk away from the NCAA. I doubt that this case will do that, more likely it just fizzles out, but it would be funny.


  2. Stoopnagle

    There’s also the idea (fact?) that, you know, had Ball State made it into the BCS (was that ’08?) they would have been completely trashed by whomever they played, would not have sold many tickets, and been the last at-large selected. But mostly, they would have lost by a billion points.

    Also, Georgia ’07 has misgivings with the barriers in the system. But that was mostly the fault of circumstance. And Tennessee. *sigh*


  3. The Big Conferences should just go ahead and leave the NCAA and form another ruling body, it will probably be difficult, just may be possible with enough determination.


  4. Hogbody Spradlin

    You mean you get blog posts longer than the average 54 year old’s attention span?


  5. Mayor of Dawgtown

    Keep what thw BCS already has, get rid of the AQ (anybody can play their way in if they are good enough) and go to a true Plus-One Game format (#1 plays #4; #2 plays #3; and the winners play in the BCS Championship game). Gets rid of 90% of the problems of the current system.


    • Macallanlover

      Sorry, while doubling the number of teams has to be better, it doesn’t solve anything except satisfy two more fan bases that they had a shot. It just doesn’t make sense, it is “half-assed”. The present BCS is better than what was there before it, but that doesn’t make it the best answer. The +1 is another half step, let’s fix it.