Annotated Letter to Obama on the BCS

November 21, 2008

Yesterday I reported on the revival of the congressional anti-BCS bill. came up with a letter addressed to President-Elect Obama from the sponsors of that bill. I have annotated it helpfully to show how little these guys know about the sport which they are trying to change.

If you haven’t been around here long, just know that I am a playoff proponent. I just don’t think these guys have a clue of what they’re talking about. My comments are in bold.


President-elect Barack Obama
Presidential Transition Team
Washington, DC 20270

Dear Mr. President-Elect:

In your recent interviews on 60 Minutes and Monday Night Football, you indicated that the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is not the way that our National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) national championship should be decided. We agree, and earlier this year, we introduced H. Res. 1120, which we believe provides the basis for the NCAA to establish a football playoff to determine the national championship. [Until you put a money value on it, you’re meddling. Congress is charged to keep the flow of money equitable, but not titles such as “champion.”]

H. Res. 1120 rejects the BCS system as an illegal restraint of trade, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has applied the Sherman Act to collegiate sports, as they became more commercialized. This is among the reasons why the NCAA withdrew from sponsoring postseason Division I-A football. [The NCAA has never once sponsored postseason play in I-A/FBS football. The bowls are and have always been separate, and the NCAA does not recognize an official champion.]

The BCS cannot withstand application of the Sherman Antitrust Act. . The test most applicable in this case is the rule of reason analysis. When applying this test, the Court weighs anticompetitive effects against procompetitive benefits, and determines if there is a less restrictive alternative to meet the objectives sought in the issue at hand. In both tests, BCS fails.

The anticompetitive effects of the BCS far outweigh its competitive benefits. The most obvious anticompetitive effect is the vast difference in revenue generated in the postseason between the BCS and non-BCS schools (members of Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and Western Athletic Conferences), which do not have an annually-guaranteed slot in a BCS game. [They agreed to the contracts and system though. Unless you can prove they did so under duress, then there’s no case here.]

The current BCS process is fundamentally unfair. Non-BCS schools are at a competitive and financial disadvantage prior to the first kickoff of the season. [They always have been and always will be due to differences in fan base size, tradition, brand strength, and so on between the BCS and non-BCS schools.] This has repercussions far beyond their restricted access to the national championship. [Which as it is a title, its assignment is beyond Congress’ jurisdiction.] The BCS generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually, and this money is disproportionately awarded to the six BCS conferences. Sixty-six bowl-eligible schools—just more than half of the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision — shared 85% of the $217 million generated by the 2006-2007 post-season bowls, about $185 million. [Could it be possible because those schools and conferences drive the vast majority of the interest in the sport, and that interest in the sport drives TV ratings and revenue? Maybe?]

Money generated by the postseason games helps schools cover costs for their athletic departments, facilities, equipment, recruitment, and other sports programs. Non-BCS schools must use their general funds to cover the costs of their athletic departments, which takes funding away from academic and administrative needs. [No one is forcing them to play I-A football, and if they want to compete they must find boosters to pay for it.]

The lopsided distribution of BCS revenue results in two tiers within the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision: those with access to the BCS, and those without. [The winners of 5 of the 6 BCS conferences have auto bids to specific BCS games via contract. Aside from the top-4 auto bid rule and top-14 to be eligible rule, nothing keeps bowls from selecting non-BCS schools as at-larges except perfectly legitimate capitalistic reasons.] Those without are unable to change their situation as the money and prestige associated with the BCS makes it highly unlikely that a non-BCS school will be able to compete for the same recruits, coaches, sponsorships, national television exposure, and the revenue it generates. This disparity locks them in the second-class status. [Except for schools like Boise State and Utah, who are rapidly gaining in all those categories as we speak. Why? Because they win, that’s why. The model is Gonzaga in men’s basketball, who is considered a power despite playing in the WCC. That took them less than a decade.]

To defend itself, the BCS claims that its system fosters competition and allows the best teams in the country to compete for the national championship. They claim this is enough of a competitive benefit to outweigh the anticompetitive effects. [The point of the big bowl games before the BCS came around was to match up the best teams. That goal has not changed.]

However, even [some] BCS schools and coaches do not believe the BCS system is the best way to determine the national champion. [But most of them do.] Recently, Pete Carroll, head coach of the Pac-10’s University of Southern California Trojan football team, whose team regularly plays in the BCS bowls, was supportive of your remarks and of a playoff system.

Others who have recently expressed reservations about the BCS include Michael Adams, President of the University of Georgia, and James Bernard Machen, President of the University of Florida. Both schools are members of the Southeastern Conference. Their schools have been very successful in the BCS system. However, they realize that the BCS does not necessarily place the best schools in the championship game.

The BCS itself has changed its system in the past when pressed. The last major change came in 2004, which allowed the possibility of one non-BCS school per year to participate in the BCS bowls. [False – there was no restriction before 2004 that specifically barred non-BCS teams from participating. And even before the agreed upon fifth game and provision for an auto bid for non-BCS schools went into effect, Utah broke into the BCS under the old rules.] This happened when the Presidential Coalition for Athletics Reform, consisting of the majority of non-BCS school presidents, demanded reform. The Coalition’s actions, as well as Senate and House Judiciary Committees hearings on the legality of the BCS that year, brought the BCS to the table to negotiate. [At which point all of them agreed on the current system. Yes, everyone, including the non-BCS school presidents who had been complaining.]

With the support of the U.S. Department of Justice, we believe the BCS system could be replaced with a fair, inclusive playoff system.

An NCAA Division I FBS Championship playoff would be a much less restrictive alternative. The NCAA would have to retake control of the postseason for Division I FBS. [Retake? I think you mean just “take.”] The NCAA could determine the logistics of the playoff, as it does for 88 other team championships, including Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formerly Division I-AA), II and III football. [Except that the NCAA has never expressed interest in doing this. You’d have to force them to do it, and I don’t know if Congress can legally.]

The playoff would be less restrictive, as it allows all the teams an even start at the beginning of the season. A playoff takes away the obvious advantages BCS schools enjoy simply for being members of the right conferences. While BCS schools may still dominate at first, [Dear sirs: Who said? Sincerely, Boise State and the MWC.] it would immediately give non-BCS schools an opportunity to become a “Cinderella story,” as happens nearly every March in the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament. It also removes any doubt as to whether the best teams competed in the championship, which the BCS currently fails to do. [Categorically false. The best teams do not always play in the championship rounds of playoffs, and if the theoretical best team is a non-BCS team that plays a lousy schedule, there’s no way to guarantee it will make whatever playoff you set up.]

Our resolution calls for the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to investigate and bring appropriate actions against the parties of the BCS. This, we believe, is the best way for the federal government to take action to end this illegal system.

We have seen the BCS alter itself in the past when legitimate inquiries are made about its structure. With the prestige of the Presidency and vigorous pursuit by the Department of Justice in support of fairness and equity, we are certain the BCS will be persuaded to resolve the issues involved to the benefit of the nation’s colleges and their fans.

Thank you for your attention. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance. [Barack, please don’t. Just do it yourself and leave these clowns out of it.]

Neil Abercrombie Mike Simpson Jim Matheson
Member of Congress Member of Congress Member of Congress
1st District, Hawaii 2nd District, Idaho 2nd District, Utah