Begging the question(s)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery, The NCAA

29 responses to “Begging the question(s)

  1. Joe Fleming

    Senator, you crack me up.

  2. Derek

    What are the potential outcomes, absent status quo? Is it a choice between the BCS and the old bowl system? Or is it a choice between a playoff and the majors leaving the NCAA? If the BCS is declared illegal I would think the majors would want to revert to the pre-BCS system and would rather walk than be forced into a playoff system, especially an all-inclusive one. Therefore doesn’t this fight end up hurting the mids

    • Biggus Rickus

      That’s exactly what I think will happen. The old bowl system will be in place until the particulars of the split are worked out. And it will hurt all of the mid-majors but those invited to participate in the new division.

  3. crap sandwich

    You would think just the treat of Govetrnment intervention into this whole BCS mess would be enough to effect change, however this threat has loomed for many years now.

    Money will likely draw us toward a playoff system, but what compromises or lack thereof will be made to the mid majors? You are quite right this is where the screaming will begin as more schools now are falling into red ink at the mid major level.

    • Jonathan

      I would hope that the threat of government intervention would make the fans wake up and tell the government to focus on the important things. This is a discussion about the sport side of universities. It is driven by the market and the big 6 own the market (with the big east being arguable). Talk to a large number of mid-major grads and you will find they also support a team from one of the big conferences.

    • Clemson

      Why do to assert that “money will likely draw us toward a playoff system?” Didn’t you read the post? If anyhting, money is the reason we are NOT going to have a playoff. Just curious about your supposition.

    • fuelk2

      You and I may be scared of the government, but I seriously doubt a consortium of the Big Six is. Yes, the government has unlimited (debt) funding, but the Big Six has a few dollars of its own to make sure this comes out the way it wants.

      Plus, I’ve yet to see anything that leads me to believe that the government has anything close to an iron-clad case against the BCS.

      • Krautdawg

        Actually, the government doesn’t have unlimited debt funding. The exec branch has potentially unlimited payment obligations due to the mandatory spending and appropriations Congress has passed, but Congress has limited the amount of debt the Exec can incur to satisfy those obligations. Incidentally, Congress has also limited the amount of tax revenue that the Exec receives to satisfy those spending mandates. And between ’01 and ’07 it passed numerous spending mandates it neglected to provide funding for.

        Anyone still wanna run for president?

  4. JasonC

    It’s days like today that I wish the faux title ‘Senator’ was a real one.

  5. Wonderful-Ohio-on-the-Gulf Dog

    Even the most ardent strict constructionist would have to concede Congress’s power to regulate college football. College football is the epitome of interstate commerce, after all.

    But can you even imagine the abomination college football would be after the political class gets through with it? Politicians could screw up an orgy.

  6. simpl_matter

    My money is on a Plus One adjustment comes out of this. If that happens, I’ll be happy. Who doesn’t want to see the top 4 face-off? Gives me a (nearly) guaranteed 3 great post-season games to watch. These damn traditional bowl conference match-ups rarely manage more than that in any given post season.

    • I can live with a plus-one, but I don’t think it solves anything on the money front. Which means it’s not a viable solution to this fight.

      • simpl_matter

        Hmmm, I don’t know. I agree that the money is the rationale but, it’s politics and popular sentiment pulling the DOJ in. It seems to me that the biggest political waves form when a politician’s alma mater or state school goes undefeated (or close to it) and gets left out of a shot at the MNC. The plus-one ~probably~ gives that undefeated school a shot (obviously, I’m thinking Boise State, TCU…Conf. USA and their like will still largely remain personas non grata).

        It’s no silver bullet but, it’s the minimum amount of change that would keep the status-quo more or less intact and quiet a large section of detractors.

        • First off, it’s more accurate to say that a plus-one gives a mid-major a greater shot at the MNC, as there are no AQ rules for the title game now. So a Boise State wouldn’t have to finish in the top two to have a crack, just the top four.

          But I think you’re wrong about what’s motivating DOJ and Shurtleff. It’s about the money. It’s always been about the money. If it was merely about getting a shot at the big game, wouldn’t Shurtleff be mollified by Utah moving to the Pac-12?

          • simpl_matter

            Okay, greater is more accurate than ~probably~ when we are talking undefeated (mid-major) teams getting a title shot.

            I claim blissful ignorance to the finer details of the argument. In my macro view, I see money only as the vehicle of justification for action. The fuel (specifically Auburn ’04, Obama/Utah ’08) is the general discontent with the current BCS system’s ability to cope with more than 2 teams claim to top two in the nation. You are right, there is no vaible solution to the money issue. But, expanding the playoffs will at least relieve a great deal of discontent and allow both sides to claim some measure of victory.

            • Jonathan

              I think the discontent is what drives the fans desire for change, but would agree with the Senator that money drives the schools and conferences in the discussion.

  7. I think Delany is pretty clear: the mid-majors have gotten all they are getting. If there is further change, it will not be good for the mid-majors. I think the mid-major conferences that are pleased with the current deal should speak up and tell guys like Benson and Shurtleff to politely shut their collective traps before they end the gravy train for the whole lot.

    I totally agree with Biggus Rickus. I think the near-term result of change is reverting back to the old bowl system until a new divisional split in football can be achieved. Doomsday for the WAC & Co. is coming, and they have brought it upon themselves with their sense of entitlement and greed.

  8. Dog in Fla

    In related BCS news, The Coalition of One may double soon

    “Hawaii would be a logical state to join in such a suit, given that its flagship university is in a non-BCS conference, and received a disproportionately small share of revenue for its 2008 Sugar Bowl appearance.”

    Shorter Hawaii: It wants to be like Rick.

    • Normaltown Mike

      Shouldn’t you receive a disproportionate share if your QB is crying by the 3rd quarter?

      • Dog in Fla

        That’s a very good point. I think a humanitarian like Rick Perry would do it.

        But after looking at the film again (killshot at 4:08), I would still stay with what one commenter wrote, “welcome to the SEC bitches” and you get no more money.

        By the way, did they fire this guy?

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          Desmond Howard is a complete fool. The only reason he still has a job is that most of the other ESPN announcers are fools, too. If firing a fool became a requirement at ESPN the network would have to get rid of so many of its announcers that it would not be able to put on a single telecast.

          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            P.S. That ’07 Dawg team was the best team in America by the end of the season and would have won the BCSNCG if it had been allowed to play in it instead of being back-stabbed by ESPN with a smear campaign orchestrated by Lou Holtz and Jesse Palmer.

            • Normaltown Mike

              Hey, at least we got to see that “Jumper” graphic on the field ad nauseum.

            • Dog in Fla

              Amen to being the best team. We were peaking like a Denny Crum Louisville basketball team at tourney-time that’s for sure.

              Can’t remember exactly what Lou and Jesse were doing but do know that Lou has never been a friend of ours. Jesse seems more subtle about it. But compared to Lou anyone would be subtle I guess.

            • Biggus Rickus

              Eh, Georgia was playing better than anyone else, but I’m not going to argue about taking the 11-2 SEC Champ and the 11-1 Big Ten champ over 10-2 Georgia. If Georgia had shown up against Tennessee or Vandy could kick a field goal, they could have proven they were better than those. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.