Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, February 02, 2010
Is President Obama Serious about Taking on the BCS?
In a terrific column, Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples addresses President Obama's interest in replacing the BCS with a college football playoff. Andy interviews me for the column. Here's an excerpt:
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Second, the federal deficit will not rise one penny if the Justice Department investigates the BCS. The Justice Department employs people, and those people must do something. If they are ordered to investigate the BCS, there is an opportunity cost exacted -- they could have investigated something else -- but not a monetary one. Also, it is the government's responsibility to monitor the activities of a multi-billion business that involves more than 100 publicly funded universities.
Third, [BCS executive director Bill] Hancock's response doesn't actually answer the question; it simply misdirects. So, as a public service for Hancock and the bowl lovers everywhere, I called Michael McCann, the Vermont Law School professor who writes about legal issues for SI.com, and asked him to explain how the BCS might defend itself against an antitrust challenge.
"The people that support the BCS would say that we wouldn't have a national championship without it," McCann said. "All it does is reflect the college football standings. It doesn't do anything other than that."
McCann also summarized what the Justice Department might argue in an antitrust proceeding against the BCS. "It's arguably a cartel," McCann said. "It's producers and sellers joining together to control a product's production, price and distribution. ... In terms of anticompetitive effect, it affects prices. It also creates financial and recruiting disadvantages for some schools. There are economic disparities between BCS members and non-BCS members . . . ."
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Besides, even BCS leaders will admit that there's more money in a playoff. The NCAA basketball tournament brings in an estimated $545 million a year, and college football is exponentially more popular than college basketball. The BCS brings in only $150 million a year, but it funnels most of it to the most powerful conferences. Government intervention would strip those conferences of their power. After that, given a choice between less money and more money, here's betting college presidents forget about their arguments against a playoff and opt for more money.
There is another solution, and it probably will work. Compromise. Offer a plus-one -- a four-team, bracketed playoff -- and offer to split the revenue 11 ways. Then the president could declare victory, and the relationship with the most powerful bowls would be preserved. That could very well result in what Hancock calls "bracket creep," but one man's creep is another man's market correction.