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Wednesday, January 09, 2008
BCmesS: The 2008 Edition

The BCS has gotten old, or at least talking about it has. No, it's still not legal. No, the accomodationist reforms introduced in 2006 have not solved things. No, it's not all that interesting. After crowning a two-loss "champion" this week, the BCS system is something not even its creators and enablers seem to love.

In what can only be described as a cynical ploy to appease disgruntled boosters, UGA President and NCAA Executive Committee leader Michael Adams has now abandoned his 20 years of opposition to a playoff system and called for reform. SportsProf has some good analysis, concluding by asking the question, "What does the BCS really do?" (Think about how the lack of any real answer to this question would translate in terms of procompetitive justifications for trade restraints in an antitrust case).

In other amusing BCS news, Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), my former U.S. representative, has demonstrated why it is useful to have a law degree if one wants to be a lawmaker, declaring last month that the BCS was an unconstitutional antitrust violation (HT Lion in Oil via Hawaii Supreme Court blog):
Hawai'i Rep. Neil Abercrombie is prepared to propose a bill that would declare the Bowl Championship Series as unconstitutional and call for a playoff system.
* * *
Abercrombie said a system that limits automatic berths to six conferences "is restraint of trade. The automatic qualifiers are still taking care of themselves. I'm saying regardless of what good intentions may be behind this, it's restraint of trade. It's illegal. It's unconstitutional."
The amusing part of this is, of course, the labelling of anything one doesn't like as "unconstitutional."

The sad thing is that things almost worked out for the perfect antitrust claimant against the BCS this year. For a time, it seemed possible that Hawai`i would go undefeated yet miss the BCS. Had they done so, the WAC or the school itself would have been ideally situated to raise an antitrust objection to the current system. For better or for worse, the team made one of the big games, losing its ability to challenge the current system in court. Although last year's Boise State WAC victory over Oklahoma was thrilling, it may have been a fluke. From here out, one can safely expect that any WAC or Conference USA (and maybe even MAC) team which manages to end up undefeated will be given a BCS spot and then destroyed on the field. Once a school has a choice between the easy money for playing bowl patsie, or the long saga of litigating against the BCS cartel, it's hard to turn down the money.

Who is the next best hope? It seems to me like the Mountain West Conference has both the biggest gripe with the current system (among non-BCS conferences) and the best chance of effecting change. For some reason, the Big East is an "automatic berth" conference, and the Mountain West isn't. This is the case even though the top teams in the Mountain West (BYU and Utah) could likely compete in the PAC-10 against everyone but USC (which is a pretty fair description of most NCAA schools). One scenario: an undefeated Utah or BYU team gets a BCS bowl, while the other team, with one loss (to the undefeated team) and a win over a PAC 10 school, is excluded in favor of a one loss (or two loss) SEC team. Or what about a situation where an undefeated BYU or Utah team is excluded from a national title game in favor of a one or two loss "tie-in" school? Remember, BYU and Utah are not Hawai`i -- BYU has won a national championship and Utah has won a BCS game and gone undefeated. To be sure, Utah did not complain too loudly when it was excluded from the title game at the end of the 2004-2005 season (when both title contenders, as well as also-excluded Auburn, had perfect records), but should the Mountain West be happy with just a BCS berth every 2-3 years? It would seem that the current system would make it virtually impossible for a non-automatic berth conference team to ever earn a spot in the title game.


You use the language, "For some reason, the Big East is an automatic-berth conference."

The Big East was, by one metric, the second-best conference in college football this year, and the fourth by another. A better question might be whether the Big Ten belongs in the BCS, as it was, by nearly all formulas, the worst of the six conferences awarded automatic bids.

There is this meme about the Big East being undeserving, and I don't quite understand it.

Regardless, the cartel excludes access to non-BCS conferences, and at the very least this precludes the possibility of those conferences earning two BCS bids -- a system that funnels tens of millions of dollars to the athletic programs that need it least. As long as all FBS programs pay the same dues to belong to the NCAA, the NCAA should not endorse or certify any system that arbitrarily shifts money to the richest teams and in effect prevents 50% of its membership from competing for the subdivision championship.

The long and short of it is that FBS is the only athletic organization in the world in which teams can start the season knowing that even perfect play will not result in an organization championship.

Anonymous tim -- 1/09/2008 3:56 PM  

BYU's national title came before the BCS existed (1984). And the Utah outcry over their BCS game was not over the game, but the opponent (a fairly weak Pitt team). That was a REALLY good team (11-0) that deserved a better opponent than an 8-3 Pitt team.

Blogger Scrumtrulescent -- 1/09/2008 4:27 PM  

All 11 FCS conferences are members of the BCS and I rather suspect that in signing off on the agreement they agreed to waive any anti-trust claim they may have.

As to the automatic berths, the current agreement gives automatic berths to the six highest rated conferences (using the six BCS metrics) at the time of the agreement and provides that the auto berths are to given to the six highest rated conferences (using I believe a two year rolling period). If the Mountain West were to pass the Big East over a two year period it would replace the Big East. The prior agreement provided for losing an auto berth if a different minimum standard were not met, but the Pac-10 was the only league to come close to falling short.

The BCS is not about crowning champions. It is about maximizing revenue. The new BCS agreement gives the bottom 5 conferences greater access than they would have under pure market forces. Would the Sugar have voluntarily selected Hawaii? No.

Let's imagine for a minute that the BCS is dissolved and with it the championship game. What match-ups would we have seen?

Using the AP Poll
#1 Ohio State vs. #6 USC
#2 LSU vs. #7 Missouri
#3 Oklahoma vs. #4 Georgia or #12 Arizona State
#5 Virginia Tech vs. #9 Florida or #8 Kansas

West Virginia and Hawaii get left out.

Obviously the Big East likes the deal they have as would the WAC, but so does the MWC, Sun Belt, MAC, and CUSA. Why?

Because they've got a better deal than what they had before AND quite likely a better deal than they would get from the NCAA. Only about half of the money generated by the Division I men's basketball tournament goes back into the hands of the Division I schools and it gets sent back by a convoluted formula. The BCS turns back roughly 97% of its revenue to the schools.

The bulk goes to the six auto leagues with bonus money of roughly $4 million for placing a second team in the series. The remainder goes in shares to the five non-auto leagues based on their rating at the end of the season sliding from about $1.8 million at the bottom to $9 million at the top. That towers over what most are getting back from the lucrative basketball tournament even though the tournament generates around 3x the revenue of the BCS.

Blogger Mark -- 1/09/2008 5:27 PM  

Non-BCS conferences are not part of the BCS. The BCS is the system of bowls organized by the Bowl Alliance, which is constituted by the heads of the six BCS conferences and (a representative of) Notre Dame.

Anonymous tim -- 1/09/2008 5:56 PM  

Gregg Easterbrook writes a very persuasive defense of the BCS...

Anonymous Michael Risch -- 1/09/2008 8:05 PM  

BYU's national title was actually the impetus for the creation of the Bowl Coalition and then Bowl Alliance, which preceded the Bowl Championship Series. The BYU teams of the early 80's were good enough to reach #1 once due to higher-ranked teams from traditional conferences losing above them. The "big boys" didn't want to see such a scenario developing again.

Blogger The Passionate Cougar -- 1/09/2008 10:10 PM  

The BCS membership is ALL eleven FBS conferences and Notre Dame. Army and Navy are the only FBS schools not members.

Blogger Mark -- 1/10/2008 11:41 AM  

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