I just want you to know how much better I slept last night.
Yes, the economy is the worst since the Great Depression.
Yes, people are losing their jobs right and left.
Yes, our 401-Ks are now 201-Ks.
But I slept better last night knowing that Congress is again going to look into the BCS.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a man I greatly respect, obviously doesn’t have enough to do. His constituents in Utah are upset that the Utes, at 12-0, didn’t get into the BCS championship game ahead of Florida or Oklahoma. So Senator Hatch does what a good politician does when his constituents are mad—he pushes for Congressional hearings.
So we are going to get another dog and pony show where some members of Congress, who don’t know if a football is inflated or stuffed, ask questions and fawn for the cameras back home. They will blame everything from global warming to the fall of the dollar on the BCS. They will claim that the BCS violates antitrust law and is a classic cartel.
Before that happens please allow your humble servant to inject some reality on the subject.
No. 1, if you want to have a college football playoff that is a discussion worth having. I personally believe that we will have a “Plus-One,” which is the politically correct name for a four-team playoff, after the 2013 season when the contract between the BCS and ESPN comes to an end. In fact, I favor the four-team playoff and hope it happens sooner rather than later.
But that’s not what’s going on here. Regardless of how you feel about the BCS, it should concern you that you will have members of Congress trying to score cheap political points on the back of college football. They are making arguments that are patently untrue. Specifically:
Utah was NOT denied a spot in the national championship game. There are 113 voters in the Harris Interactive Poll, 61 voters in the coaches poll, and six computer polls whose job it is to determine who plays in the national championship game. Those 174 people looked at Utah’s body of work (12-0) and determined that Florida (12-1), the SEC champ, and Oklahoma (12-1), the Big 12 champ were simply better. In fact, they had Utah at No. 7 in the human polls. The six computers looked at the data and had Utah with an average of No. 5. The overall BCS Standings had Utah at No. 6.
So is the argument that the “fair” thing would have been to say that all of those people and polls were stupid and to put Utah in the game ahead Florida, Texas, Alabama, or Southern California? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
The five Coalition (non-BCS) conferences have more access to the system than ever before. In three of the past four seasons a Coalition team has EARNED spot in a BCS game. All a coalition team has to do to get in is finish in the Top 12. Now you can make the argument that Boise State (12-0) should have also gotten in because it finished No. 9. And in the future maybe the Coalition conferences deserve two in the field if they have two teams in the Top 10 or Top 12. That is a point that can be negotiated.
But understand that at its inception, the BCS was a private contract between ABC and the six original BCS conferences (ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10). If ABC had not guaranteed a spot for each of the six champions, the deal does not get done. Now maybe the government can come in and break that private contract by popular demand. But is that the right thing to do?
And finally, the BCS doesn’t violate antitrust law and the folks who will investigate the BCS already know that. If you’ve ever cracked a law book you know that.
Tom Rhodes of the Atlanta firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell is one of the best antitrust lawyers in the country. He could barely contain his amusement when I asked him a while back if the BCS violates antitrust law.
“If this was illegal somebody would have already sued them a long time ago,” Rhodes said. “Tulane thought about suing in 2002 but they got their lawyers all cranked up and didn’t file.”
Remember when Tulane president Scott Cowen, in all of his righteous indignation, talked about hauling the BCS into court? Why didn’t Tulane sue the BCS? First of all the BCS conferences decided that, even though they would likely prevail in court, the fight wasn’t worth it. The BCS expanded access for the Coalition conferences by adding a fifth game. In retrospect, it was a bad business decision but kept peace in the Division I-A family for a while.
But the main reason, gentle readers, Tulane and the other schools didn’t sue and haven’t sued is that the law isn’t on their side. Maybe emotion is on their side. Maybe even popular opinion is on their side. But the law is not. I haven’t read all the headlines this morning, but last time I checked we were a nation of laws, not popular opinion.
“It’s a loser,” Rhodes said of the antitrust charge against the BCS. “When you claim antitrust, you’re claiming there has been a restraint on the amount of product that is on the market.
“The fact is that the BCS actually created a product that did not exist before. Therefore trade was actually expanded, not restrained.”
Rhodes’ comments beg another question: Don’t you think the lawyers who work for the BCS conferences kind of checked this thing out ahead of time? Don’t you think that they made sure there were no antitrust issues before they put it together? Don’t you think they are (at least) as smart as the lawyers who work for Congress?
Again, if you want to have a playoff, then let’s have that argument because there is a good debate to be had. And if the presidents and CEOs in Division I-A decide that a playoff is in the best interest of their respective institutions, it is completely within their power to make it happen.
But do you want Congress, which hasn’t done much of anything right lately, TELLING college football how it can and cannot play?
There will eventually be a playoff, folks. But this is not the way to get there.