Does the BCS violate Antitrust Laws?
by Paul Grossinger
I know, I know, it’s a stale issue. Everyone from Barack Obama to my great uncle Joe has voiced their displeasure with the structure of the BCS system to no avail. Indeed, Barack Obama’s pledge to use a drop of his post-electoral political capital to pursue a playoff system came to an embarrassing halt last spring before it had even really started.
However, I must thank Orrin Hatch, the Senator from the great state of Utah, for rescuing my article from the trash bin of dead issues. This morning, the President publically asked the President to open a Justice System probe into the BCS’ violation of anti-trust laws. Hatch apparently told Obama that a “strong case” can be made that the BCS is in violation of anti-trust laws and, in any case, “the BCS system is in dire need of reform .”
Does Hatch’s antitrust case in fact have any merit? Let us examine the bedrock of any potential anti-trust suit and, in the process, switch to a formal writing style that might convince the reader I know what I’m talking about. The prosecutor’s points would likely be that, first, some conferences get automatic bids while others do not, the BCS actively works to limit the ceiling for mid-majors regardless of actual performance, and, finally, that the system controls all of Division I College Football and has no competition. Given these three primary contentions, does the case have merit?
I would argue in favor of Hatch’s case. The main reason for this is because the BCS has no rival and completely controls Division I College Football. Considering the billions of dollars in college football and the millions of viewers, this qualifies as a major antitrust issue. Furthermore, the BCS clearly does favor certain conferences based on their money draws rather than their merit. For instance, despite its status as the weakest of the major conferences last year, the Big 10 received two BCS berths. Predictably, both lost and Penn State was defeated by USC in convincing fashion while more deserving teams were sitting by their TV sets in early January.
Ultimately, I think everyone would prefer to see the BCS reform itself. Anti-trust suits are messy; particularly when they involve something as dear to Americans as college football. However, the BCS has shown itself to be completely opposed to any kind of reform, even at the insistence of the President of the United States, so its hand may have to be forced.