Friday, July 3, 2009

Anti-Trust in College Football Gets a Hearing

Wilder Penfield, world famous neurosurgeon, also played football at Princeton

You're not going to find many converts to the idea that the Bowl Championship Series is a good thing. If you're for it, chances are, your university is making money through the system. If you're against it, you're probably just another regular joe in America who just wants to see some worthwhile games at the conclusion of the college football season.

When I played football at Princeton in the early 1960s, I will confess that the best days of Princeton football had passed and larger schools in the south and west of where we were had begun to make their ascent to dominance. To this day, however, no school rivals the number of championships won by Princeton.

In my day, there was a chance, at least, of a return to the national championship for Princeton. An outside chance, at best, but there was still a chance. Today, there is virtually no chance whatsoever of that happening, and that is because of the Bowl Championship Series, also known as the BCS, which all but precludes an Ivy League team from participating.

One U.S. Senator thinks that the BCS has a few anti-trust issues:

RCS [Real Clear Sports]:Most college football fans wouldn’t know it, but you may represent the best hope to reform the nearly universally detested BCS. Other than the President, you have been the most prominent and outspoken BCS opponent in Washington. In fact, you’ve previously held hearings about the BCS and you’re on the record calling the BCS “Un-American.”

But, although loathed, the BCS is the status quo, has some powerful support and has proven resilient. Practically speaking, what can Congress do bring about BCS reform?

Sen. [Orrin] Hatch [R, UT]:As far as I’m concerned there are antitrust issues involved here, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that college football fits as a commercial enterprise. These BCS schools – in fact all of the schools of any size – market there teams like they would a commercial product. In the case of BCS schools they receive substantial revenue in return. Some of them outside of BCS do too, but certainly they get an advantage if they play in a BCS conference. Also, it isn’t just the schools and conferences that are involved here. There are the TV networks, the corporate bowl sponsors, and others as well.

Our antitrust laws are designed to prevent people from acting in agreement and coordination to reduce competition. I think that’s precisely what we have going on with the BCS.

I’m a member of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, and its Ranking Member. We already have plans to hold another hearing to look into the antitrust implications of the BCS. Hopefully we’ll be having that hearing within the next few weeks. And we’ll look at these issues very soon. Like I say, I think there’s a pretty clear case that the BCS is exclusionary. There’s no question that the way they’ve designed it, has a negative impact on the schools left on the outside. So I think it’s important for us to determine whether or not the system is legal, and personally I don’t think it is.

There is a larger article for Sports Illustrated written by Senator Hatch here, and it says this:

Although there seems to be a fair amount of public support for these efforts to expose and potentially remedy the unfairness of the BCS, some have questioned whether, given all the challenges our nation faces, it is appropriate for the federal government to expend time and resources on college football's bowl system. However, I believe the case for government involvement—whether from Congress, the courts or the Justice Department—is compelling.

First and foremost there are serious questions regarding the legality of the BCS. The Sherman Antitrust Act prohibits contracts, combinations or conspiracies designed to reduce competition. I don't think a more accurate description of what the BCS does exists.

Under the current plan six conferences, which include slightly more than half of the teams in Division I-A, receive automatic bids to play in the five most prestigious and lucrative bowl games—even if teams from the other five conferences have had better seasons. For instance, in 2008 the only two undefeated I-A teams (Utah and Boise State) were from non-BCS conferences. And two other outside teams (Brigham Young and Texas Christian) finished higher in the BCS rankings than at least one of the champions of an automatic-bid conference. Yet only Utah was invited to play in a BCS game. And although the Utes had plenty of big wins, the BCS system denied them the chance to play for the national championship. So while every conference is technically part of the BCS agreement, the existing arrangement intentionally and explicitly favors certain participants.

In addition, every team from a preferred conference automatically receives a share from an enormous pot of revenue generated by the BCS, even if they fail to win a single game. On the other hand, teams from the less-favored conferences are guaranteed to receive a much smaller share, no matter how many games they win. The numbers are staggering. Last year the Mountain West Conference had one team qualify for the BCS, Utah, as did three of the automatic-bid conferences. Yet under the BCS formula the Mountain West received $9.8 million—roughly half of what the three bigger conferences got. And despite having the nation's only other undefeated team, Boise State, the Western Athletic Conference received just $3.2 million in BCS revenue.

This disbursement scheme places teams from these smaller conferences at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring staff and improving facilities. Because of their increased visibility and status BCS schools also receive an unfair advantages in recruiting top players and coaches. These inequities also extend far beyond the football field, as many schools in the country depend on the revenue generated by their football teams to fund other athletic programs and academic initiatives.

I don't think Senator Hatch is being a regional pest or showing his bias for the rough treatment that Utah received, I think he genuinely gets it that the issue of the BCS could be a winner for the Republican Party.

This speaks to a belief that I have long held that Democrats don't get football; they prefer soccer where the scores are not kept and where everyone gets a trophy. In football, men are beaten and left to roll in their own sick on a field in plain sight of all. Bones are snapped, minds are bent, fingers float on shattered hands, knees are bent back in ways they are not supposed to be bent, crowds are wowed, careers are ended, fortunes are made, and women get to watch and that's about it.

Is it football season yet? Is it just around the corner? Good, I cannot wait.

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