DOJ and BCS Rant
The Department of Justice is investigating the BCS. It’s within the commerce rights of the federal government to investigate the BCS under the guise of anti-trust.
They sent letters to the NCAA demanding answers as part of their anti-trust investigation. This is what doesn’t make sense to me. In 1981, NCAA v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Oklahoma, the government already decided that NCAA having sole control of the television rights of college football violated anti-trust laws.
Since then traditional football schools and conferences have negotiated their own television rights. They’ve also created conference championship games to generate more revenue to avoid relying on the bowls.
Bowls have never been affiliated with the NCAA. The BCS has never been affiliated with the NCAA. The national champion was previously only crowned by the press voting at the end of the year.
In 1991 when a co-champion was crowned by the press, the Bowl Coalition was founded by a number of the bowls agreeing to match the highest ranked teams to determine a national champion beyond a doubt of the press. Following the Bowl Coalition was the Bowl Alliance in 1995 where more conferences joined and agreed to the same terms; however the Pac-10, Big 10, and Rose Bowl held out.
No one had an issue with this until the BCS formed in 1998. With all the major football conferences involved, suddenly the press was squeezed out. The national championship game was put into place without NCAA involvement or press involvement (with the exception of their poll being in the BCS formula for the earlier years of the BCS).
Since the AP disagreed with the BCS over USC/LSU during the 2003 season, it seems the press has been on a full assault against the BCS. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this type of widespread cry for a tournament wasn’t around when the press was in control of the national champion.
Then Utah had an unbeaten run through the season, played in a BCS bowl, and was not crowned national champion. (I hate to break it to Utah, but the University of Oklahoma and their Heisman winning QB Jason White/future best running back in the NFL Adrian Peterson and USC and their Heisman winning QB Matt Leinart/future Heisman winning Reggie Bush were the two best teams in college football that season.)
Still they felt slighted and people started clamoring louder for a tournament. Since then, Utah’s Attorney General and their legislature has been in the pursuit of a playoff and has alleged anti-trust violations by the NCAA, BCS and the major conferences because the BCS provides the majority of the money to the conferences. All of which is funny since Utah’s performance over time opened the door for it to join the big boys table with an invitation to the Pac-10.
Directing the investigation at the NCAA doesn’t even make sense since they aren’t involved in the BCS. Furthermore, when the NCAA tried to control college football and tried to bargain the TV rights by itself, it was hit with anti-trust violations by the federal government.
The truth is the BCS wouldn’t be able to get the major conferences to agree to this without providing them the majority of the money since they have traditionally generated the majority of the money. The major networks wouldn’t bid hundreds of millions of dollars if they might possibly end up with some very unfriendly TV viewership matchups.
I honestly don’t see how it is an anti-trust violation when the federal government has already enabled colleges and conferences to bargain on their own behalf television rights and money. These colleges and conferences used their tradition and popularity to leverage huge TV deals for their conferences and huge TV deals for the bowls they are affiliated. Then they agreed to form the BCS to determine a national champion.
None of this is under the NCAA’s control. I honestly don’t understand why smaller conferences and colleges are being so angry (or maybe just portrayed by the press as being angry). They aren’t traditional football schools. They don’t have large groups of alumni who support it. They don’t have financial backing to do it. Suddenly when the football schools leverage their sporting teams’ popularity in millions of dollars, everyone is angry. “It’s not fair! They have more money! If we had more money, we would win too!”
Really? Fact is that these schools, programs, and alumni have spent countless hours and millions of dollars to build their programs. Yet these middling schools want on the gravy train now?
Harvard and Yale have leveraged their schools’ academic reputation and generated endowments of $27 billion and $16 billion dollars respectively. No one is angry at them for using their position in academia to make money for their school. The total economic impact of the BCS is $1.2 billion dollars. While the impact is kinda big, the reality is some schools like UConn LOST money by participating in the bowls. The BCS itself only received $124 million or so for each year. In a time where the Federal Reserve hands over $900 billion to Goldman Sachs, how important is that $124 million dollars really?
In a time period of state budget cuts and lack of education funding, colleges will find any way that they can to generate revenue. If that means leveraging their football tradition for money, so be it. Little known fact, only 22 programs are self sustaining.
I don’t understand how talking heads like Woody Paige and Michael Wilbon can get so angry that there is no tournament. Everyone compares it to the college basketball and the NFL, but it’s not a fair comparison and it’s a comparison that doesn’t work.
A large tournament like March Madness can be done in a short time period because the logistics and reality of the sport. Football is an impact sport. You can’t play multiple games in one weekend without jeopardizing the health of the players. The logistical difference between a dozen basketball players, coaches, staff, a couple balls, and uniforms and 5 dozen football players, coaches, staff, and two 18 wheelers worth of equipment is vast.
In the meantime, let’s ignore cost, even though it is a huge issue, because people claim that the tournament system will generate enough money to cover the costs. I won’t even dive into the student-athlete issue because I’ll just go along with the idea that they can pull off a 16 team playoff the last 3 weeks of December and 2 weeks of January with very little harm to schools in the semester system (completely ignoring the great harm to schools in the quarter system).
Then there’s the logistics of accommodations. If each week of this imaginary tournament is a neutral site (former bowl site), teams can have their accommodations pre-booked by the host. That however becomes a huge issue for fans. This system would force college football fans to follow their team from location to location and week to week. College students can’t afford to follow their teams like that. Most fans can’t afford to follow their teams like that. Fans budget for year end bowl games and conference title games. If you think UConn had a problem selling their allotment for a BCS BOWL GAME, it’s going to be an even bigger problem selling tickets week to week.
The location of these bowl games are in major cities and not college towns. Why exactly would an unattached local person attend a matchup between two college teams when the NBA/NHL regular seasons and the NFL playoffs are going on? At football stadiums and games of this magnitude, you want 70,000-90,000 fans to show up. Will that many show up for neutral site games?
I’ve attended opening round March Madness games at the Sprint Center that were mostly empty. I was offered tickets to all 3 Final Four games for $120. How ridiculously cheap is that? Will you make up the on-site revenue by TV advertising revenue in the age of DVR/Tivo and 400 other channels as entertainment options?
Sure, this tournament idea would be great for the casual fan with no rooting interest, but it takes away from the very different experience of college football. If you do neutral site games, you end up with extremely corporate feeling events since the school’s fans will be hard pressed to attend. How awful is the crowd at the Super Bowl every year? Aren’t the crowds a big part of college football’s appeal?
If the tournament games are held on campuses, the bowl system completely dies, but the fans will pack the stadiums and attend the games. The logistics become a major problem for the football teams. Let’s say Div.1 FBS member non-BCS University of Wyoming has 6 days to prepare and get to the University of Miami. How exactly are they supposed to pull that off? Is the NCAA going to provide tournament jets and tournament cargo planes?
Then there is the issue of playing outdoor games in possibly some of the worst weather in the country in some very old stadiums. NFL has the luxury of building new stadiums and having indoor stadiums. Go ahead tell Michigan to dome their field for an early January game. Do you remember how hard it was to plan a game outdoors in Minneapolis when the Metrodome ceiling collapsed? College football doesn’t have the infrastructure to play outdoor games north of the Mason-Dixon in late December and early January.
Then try to convince traveling fans to book a last minute flight to Oregon in the dead of winter. You can pretty much kiss goodbye to the traveling student contingent.
Also by holding it on campuses, you will have 35 bowls litigating against the NCAA. You will also have all the major football schools filing the same anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA for interfering with their bargained contracts with the associated bowls.
The other lovely argument from the talking heads is that the NFL is able to pull of a playoff why can’t college football. In a time where the NFL is a fiercely battling their players over the issue of safety and health, you put the still developing bodies and brains of teenagers into a more rigorous and dangerous schedule. These players don’t get compensated as much as NFL players do to risk their lives on the gridiron. Good luck with the first class action lawsuit that comes from NCAA players’ concussions.
Let’s just assume the NCAA overcomes all the litigation on the merits.
In a time where NFL football is making more money and is more popular than it has ever been, how is it possible that college football is also making more money and more popular than it has ever been? You can’t merely say that it’s the sport. That it is merely football. That it is merely competition. Because in that case, arena football, UFL, XFL, CFL, etc. would have been tremendously successful.
The truth is college football is successful because it is different than the NFL. They have a built in audience. They don’t need to attract new fans. They have people physically and emotionally attached to the schools’ names. They follow because it’s their tradition. It is a college town driven, alumni driven, and student driven event. They are more passionate about their sport than any other sports fans in America. They love their school. They love their tradition. They love their tailgate spots. They love their stadium. They love their announcers. They love being able to afford to bring the whole family. They love to party all weekend. They love planning their winter vacations to warm weather cities to see their teams play in bowl games. They love knowing they grew up tailgating at the same spot their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers did. They love knowing that generations of students before them sat in the same student sections, doing the same cheers, partying the same way, and alumni love knowing that once upon a time they did that too.
People love their college bands. They love hearing those same songs and seeing those same uniforms. They love singing their alma mater. They love their old rivalries. They love the silly trophies with rich traditions. They love bragging about when their school beat their friend’s school. They love that every game that they play matters. They love that every week determines where they might vacation, where their team might play, and what that means for the school.
The media is so ready to dismiss tradition for the benefit of national media and for the benefit of the casual fan, but the problem is… that’s part of the essence of college football. That’s why it can be successful parallel to the NFL when no other football league is.
So many of these anti-BCS types didn’t go to a college football school. They don’t understand what going to tailgates were like as a little kid, going to your school’s football camp, going to college there, if you’re lucky a friend ends up on the team, graduating from that school, becoming an adult, going through the same rite of passage as your family and friends, and knowing that those guys on the field are growing up like you did on that campus, in that town, with the same traditions.
Our college football players that I cheer for…. chose us. They chose our school. They chose our tradition. They aren’t some drafted professional players who are forced onto a team. They aren’t some mercenaries that got offered the highest contract as a free agent. College football players choose their school and choose their tradition. They want us and we love them back.
If you institute a large playoff system, you take the piss and vinegar out of all of that. Do you know what regular season matters the least in sports? The very same sport with the most glamorous tournament: college basketball.
Why would my alma mater LSU risk the millions they generate from packed 92,000+ fans each week? Why would Oklahoma? USC? Texas? Auburn? Ohio State? Alabama? Michigan? Notre Dame? Tennessee? Florida? Oregon?
And you know what matters to me? The 2005 Capital One Bowl. It doesn’t matter to the casual fan. It doesn’t matter to the media, but it matters to me and my friends. I sat in the stands and watched Drew Tate heave a Hail Mary towards my end zone seat and watched my LSU Tigers lose. Why is that important? Because anytime my friend Aaron, an Iowa alumnus, wants to piss me off, he says, “Drew Tate”. Put a value on that. Put a value on that memory and those bragging rights. You can’t. The media act like those games don’t matter. I got to spend that weekend with 3 of the best people I know. We partied like rockstars in an Orlando club for New Year’s Eve. I loved every bit of it until the bitter loss, and each time I almost forget about it… one of my best friends gets to rub it in.
You know what else matters to me? Josh Booty throwing 4 interceptions against UAB in regular season game in 2000. That game mattered to me. It matters to my UAB friends. You know what matters to me? The 2001 end of the regular season game to Auburn where I got to storm the field with my friends. You know what else matters to me? My collective group of friends held that same spot in the student section for the better part of 8 seasons.
The sport might need some tweaking, but if DOJ and the media forces the NCAA to overhaul it and destroy the essence of it, it’s no different than minor league sports. You can talk me into a plus 1. You can talk me into a 4 team playoff, but the moment you stop the regular season from mattering, I’m gonna be angry. The moment you get rid of my warm weather vacations for football bowl games, I’m gonna be angry.
And at that point, the fans who make college football different won’t be there. All for what? To please the casual fan? Or the media that is spearheading this?