Department of Justice questioning the BCS

Submitted by aawolverine on May 4th, 2011 at 5:00 PM

"In a letter this week, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, Christine Varney, asked NCAA president Mark Emmert why college football doesn't use a playoff system to determine its national champion while other NCAA sports do; what steps the NCAA has taken to create one; and whether Emmert thinks there are aspects of the BCS system that don't serve the interest of fans, schools and players."



May 4th, 2011 at 5:05 PM ^

I was in the midst of posting this and someone called at work needing my assistance.  I mean, the nerve of some people!

It's not like this is a new subject... but I do find it interesting that the DOJ has decided to put the new-ish NCAA president on the spot a bit.

I also find Hancock's quote rather funny.... in a nervous-as-a-kitten sort of way.


May 4th, 2011 at 5:16 PM ^

Seriously, the government is the only thing in existance that gives people like me who pray for a football tournament any hope. I know how slow and ridiculous the government is at getting anything done, but it's the only hope that I have. These fat cats are just raking in money and don't care about really giving us a real champion. They just want the best possible ratings so everyone at the top can swim in money for another year. Scrooges, all of them!!!

Zone Left

May 4th, 2011 at 6:42 PM ^

Actually, I think most of the bowls make money because 1) ESPN is desperate for programming in December and 2) because lower tier games have somehow convinced conferences to make their teams sell huge allotments of tickets at significantly inflated prices and eat the cost of any they don't sell. The Big 10 and SEC shouldn't let the bowls strongarm them into these types of arrangements. What's the alternative, Sun Belt #3 vs WAC #5?

Sgt. Wolverine

May 4th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

the attendance at the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament isn't much higher -- there are scores of empty seats at early-round basketball tournament games.  I'm fully in favor of significantly cutting down the number of bowls, but bowls aren't the only major college sporting events with attendance problems.

And yes, I'd be in favor of cutting the basketball tournament down to 32 teams.


May 4th, 2011 at 6:58 PM ^

I agree, but I was talking more about the BCS level bowls, where championships are decided. If the BCSCG took the teams that conventional wisdom has pegged as the bigger moneymakers, they would actually lose money.

Michigan and Texas make for a good example. Nobody would watch a CG with the 2010 versions of those two programs compared to viewership for the Auburn/ Oregon game. The BCS would destroy its product if it simply went with the biggest schools, and they have an interest in keeping their championship viable; that was my point.

Zone Left

May 4th, 2011 at 7:14 PM ^

I think the incentives are a little more complicated than that. Given championship level teams at Oregon State and Texas along with a slightly sub-championship level team at Alabama, the BCS probably wants Texas and Alabama to play because Oregon State isn't very interesting on its face. Fortunately for the BCS, the pollsters have no idea what happens in the games, so Oregon State would probably struggle more than Boise State to make the title game.


May 4th, 2011 at 7:19 PM ^

They are, but in effect you have them wanting the best possible product to put on the air and sell tickets to the stadium. The system isn't perfect (11-1 M in 2006 vs. 11-1 MSU in 2010) but I can only think of a couple times that I actually believed a team got screwed, and I think that is outweighed by having the bowls for less successful teams. No doubt that in, say, 2007 I got more enjoyment out of the Capital One Bowl than I would have watching a fairly low seeded M team get blown out in round one of a playoff.

Ultimately I think I like the BCS system and I can certainly say that if the BCS gets taken down, the Boise States of the world will not like the result, because it likely means going back to the days of no access for them.

Zone Left

May 4th, 2011 at 7:36 PM ^

I'm on your side, I'd rather have the BCS than most of the playoff proposals. Furthermore, I think it's probably in the players' best interests to play a single bowl game rather than potentially play 17 college games following a four game playoff. Ultimately, there's enough access that I really doubt that the new MWC can claim that they aren't getting access.

M fan in Cincy

May 4th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

As long as Emmert and his merry band of college presidents can continue to line their pockets nothing is going to change. The NCAA cares about one thing and one thing only, money.... 


May 4th, 2011 at 5:46 PM ^

The government doesn't have bigger issues?  I listened to Holder testify before Congress yesterday and he seemed ill prepared to answer several questions and needed more time .  On top of that they were talking about the lack of resources, budget cuts and other unmet needs.  Yet they are sending out letters about a damn game?   


Cool One

May 5th, 2011 at 9:29 AM ^

A game to millions. Billions of dollars for some. The government doesn't need to be wasting time on this. Eric Holder is a racist anyway. There's my perspective.


May 4th, 2011 at 6:57 PM ^

To be fair, the current system prevents schools like TCU or Boise from having an opportunity to play for the millions that come with playing in a bcs championship game. This isn't that much different than any other monopoly that screws the little guy from an opportunity to compete. Just because it's football doesn't mean it can't also violate antitrust laws like any mega corporation.

Zone Left

May 4th, 2011 at 7:09 PM ^

If you count the system as schools wanting to guarantee wins by playing crappy teams three or four times a year, then yes, the system prevents Boise from making the title game. Unfortunately, they're all alone now. TCU and Utah are in BCS autobid leagues now and BYU decided to go it alone. Without them, it's pretty hard for Boise to be a credible challenger.


May 4th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

Sure, for now.  You think there won't be another example of a team (like Fresno, Nevada, etc) who will have the same story of an undefeated season and no opportunity to play?  I hear what you are saying, but the current system requires those teams to play a crap schedule, because ONE loss to a team like Alabama takes them out of the BCS conversation, while they have the outside chance of sneaking in if they schedule cupcakes.


How bout you make it like Basketball, where you get teams like butler playing teams like Duke in the nonconference, and reward them for a strong loss rather than punsihing them for not going 12-0 against cupcakes?

Anyways, I'm out.  All this talk of of cupcakes is making me hungry


May 4th, 2011 at 5:47 PM ^

If the DOJ is investigating this, then I guess we've already solved all of the other problems vexing our country.


May 4th, 2011 at 6:27 PM ^

Emmert wants a playoff too. The BCS could be loosely called an NCAA event only because there are NCAA teams involved. The NCAA runs playoffs in every other intercollegiate sport and does a fine job of it. The BCS is a media partnership with the major conferences. It isn't an NCAA playoff in any way, shape, or form.

The government should be investigating this because we have state supported schools all around the country operating their athletic departments in the red. So basically, taxpayers are ultimately subsidizing the underwhelming economic results of the current system. A true system maximizes everyones dollar so that the non-revenue sports can continue at every school in Div.1A. The current system hordes a lesser dollar among a few conferences with media clout.

Even Delaney admits that the revenues from a playoff system would be far greater than the BCS.  The issue that is being properly looked at here is: If that is the case, then why on earth aren't we doing it?

We could talk all day about how awesome the whole thing will be. I say will because the current system isn't making enough money to sustain itself. Worse, the fans see through the fancy titles and are left to watch 25 plus meaningless games.  They want more and eventually they will get it.

The Big conferences would do a playoff in a heartbeat if they could expand it and keep everyone but the Big 6 leagues out, without getting pounded in Court.  They know the current system is crap too.

Death to the BCS.

Zone Left

May 4th, 2011 at 6:58 PM ^

You could be even more accurate and say that the ACC, Big 10, SEC, PAC-10, Texas, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame would love to set something up.

The only answer to public schools running huge deficits in their athletic department is to de-emphasize sports. Eastern Michigan doesn't need a football team at the FBS level.


May 4th, 2011 at 7:14 PM ^

I'm only posting on this because it's probably rare for you to hear, but I've heard you say that about EMU and other programs in the red before and I wanted to say that I agree. I don't think it benefits the educational mission of an institution to charge students a fee to subsidize a sinking athletic program. To use public policy terminology, a user fee is definitely okay, but Division 1 athletics aren't a merit good, IMO.

Zone Left

May 4th, 2011 at 9:36 PM ^

Thanks, I can't figure out why more folks in Michigan aren't voicing concerns like this. I know people who protest education cuts and tuition increases that think EMU should play D-1 ball.

Personally, have it be a club team that plays at a big high school field in the area on Sunday against the club team from WMU or Toledo. Maybe some actual students would benefit from the sports.


May 5th, 2011 at 9:57 AM ^

Speaking as an Eastern grad, I'm kind of conflicted with this one.  I like the prestige that comes with being a Division IA school (I still can't get my head around FBS And FCS...they sound stupid) but I would like to see them competitive in Football.  I don't think they will ever be competitive in Football because there is far too much pressure on their recruit pipelines.  For Michigan recrutis, they basically get the scraps left over from Michigan, Michigan State, Western, Central and some of the lower tier schools.  For other states, they have to compete against other schools that have a shot at making a BCS bowl.  With 85 scholarships, they have a chance because they can offer a scholarship when another school may not be able to but it is still tough. 

But then on the focus with football, I loose sight of the fact that Eastern is pretty competitive in the other sports at a Division IA if they bumped down in football, wouldn't they have to bump down in the other sports?  I will confess, I'm not knowledgeable in how that all works.  I think if the NCAA starts to enforce the rules with Division IA attendence records, Eastern will have no choice because they have problems filling Rynearson in a good season.  A couple of the games I went to last year weren't bad but you could still see lots of holes in the crowd but it is nice for photography as I can wander the stadium....:)


May 5th, 2011 at 10:11 AM ^

Just FYI, they could drop to FCS or drop football all together and still be division one in other sports. This would likely ease a lot of the financial burden on the AD because FBS football is about the most expensive sport ever conceived. From your school newspaper, the AD is supported to the tune of 83% from student fees. Take out FBS football, and you're a lot closer to being in the black.

Montana recently did a study about moving up a division, and they estimated the cost difference between FBS and FCS at $6.8m. I'm not sure what EMU's AD budget is, but I wouldn't hesitate to say that $6.8m is a good chunk of change for any school.


May 5th, 2011 at 11:14 AM ^

But wouldn't that also mean they would drop from the MAC as well?  Like I said, I'm not sure how all of that stuff works.  I have to believe the MAC would be an all or nothing proposition.  Or maybe they could drop to IAA for a while, build up the team and become competitive and jump back up when they do this?   Who knows.  All I know is that EMU football is pathetic and has been for a long time.  The last time they were above 500 was 1995.  The last time they went to a bowl game was my freshman year (they won the Cal Bowl that year).  I don't think they have ever sold out Rynearson Stadium (even before they expanded it).  If the NCAA starts enforcing the attendence rules, they may have no choice in the matter though and I suspect that would be a set of rules the NCAA might actually enforce.


May 5th, 2011 at 11:32 AM ^

Valid point about the MAC. I do know that the Big East has non football members, but I don't know much about the MAC. Good reasoning, I hadn't thought about that, but if EMU is more competitive in other sports than in football, they might still have a lot of value to the conference even if football needed to drop down.

Ultimately, I don't see it as a hating on smaller football teams (my school has a B1G team only because it gets subsidized heavily by M/OSU/PSU) but when student fees are increasing at such a huge rate and the AD is in the red, that should be the first place they should need to go before cutting educational elements of the institution.


May 5th, 2011 at 11:42 AM ^

I don't disagree with you at all about this.  As I said, I'm torn.  I like the prestige of EMU being a Div IA school and I suspect the regents do as well but how much prestige is it when your team can't compete at that level?  Again, in this case, I am speaking about the football program and not the other sports.  So I don't see anything changing here unless the NCAA forces the issue.

I don't think it is a case of hating on the small schools, it is just an acknowlegement of certain realties.  Like I said, it is tough for Eastern because1)  It is mostly a suitcase college.  People stay on campus during the week and go home for the weekends.  2)  It is in the shadow of Michigan 3)  It is tough to compete for players.


May 4th, 2011 at 6:26 PM ^

The problem with a playoff is that the last team out will always complain.

If you go to 4 teams then team 5 will complain.  The same criterion that people complain about like strength of schedule, blah, blah, won't change.  What if you have a situation with 2 undefeateds and 3 one loss teams.  how do you decide which one loss team gets left out?

go to 8 teams and teams 9 and 10 will complain.  Imagine if we had an 8 team playoff and sparty got left out.  the horror of having to hear them complain about how they got screwed would be unbearable.


May 5th, 2011 at 6:23 AM ^

That's not a problem that's unique to a playoff.  We already had to listen to MSU whine about how they didn't make the Rose Bowl this year.  Therefore, that problem exists under the BCS system as well.  As long as they keep the mini bowls for those who don't make the playoff (lookin' at you, Beef O' Brady's), the first team out will still have somewhere to go.  FWIW, I can't see them totally gutting the bowl system, as it makes them far too much money.  They'd just work in a playoff somehow.  Are you going to run into people whining because they're ranked ninth and only 8 teams make the playoffs?  Sure.  But you'll never end up with nine undefeated teams, so at least you're ensuring that the teams that do everything they're supposed to (read: win all their games) should make the playoffs.

Basically, people are going to whine regardless.  I want a playoff because I want to feel like the national championship means something.  The BCS NCG is essentially just another bowl game, between two teams that sportswriters have arbitrarily decreed the best in the nation (especially if no one's undefeated and there are a million 1-loss teams... then the SEC gets #1 almost by default).


May 5th, 2011 at 1:32 PM ^

A better system would be to not release any preseason rankings, which are so arbitrary, and not release any human polls that count towards the bcs until mid october.  That way teams won't have to fight an uphill battle to get ranked highly and the pollsters won't be in a situation where they can't rank a certain ahead of another because one team hasn't lost.


May 4th, 2011 at 6:40 PM ^

A playoff won't solve the gripes that people currently have with the BCS.

Given that our team is greatly benefitted by the current system, I'm not exactly sure why Michigan fans would want to blow it up.


May 4th, 2011 at 7:08 PM ^

More people probably talk about college football on a daily basis than about whatever they're trying to do on Capitol Hill.

By sending a letter, the DOJ doesn't just say "Oh, hey, college football is now our nation's #1 priority.  In fact, we've halted all progress for everything else just to focus on the NCAA and the BCS system."

Things are happening in parrallel, and as members of this board you should know more than anyone else how important college football is ... to yourself, yoru family (perhaps), your fellow fans, and really the country as a whole.

It is a big deal, and it's something that needs to be dealt with.  I'm not advocating a playoff system [though it's convenient to use it for every sport, yet fenangle CFB into a money-making machine for execs] but I am saying we should analyze our current system, especially after all the crap happening with the Fiesta bowl.



May 4th, 2011 at 9:04 PM ^

Maybe they will ask Jim Delaney why the Big Ten doesn't allow schools like Ball State play in the Big Ten. 

Even if you support a playoff system - which by no means is certain even if the BCS is dissolved, having the cold, dead hand of government force change through intimidation s an abomination.


May 4th, 2011 at 11:43 PM ^

I say this every time the word "antitrust" gets thrown around so it's probably getting old for folks, but it needs to be said til everyone gets it.

1) there literally is no difference between, say, the ACC's autobid to the BCS and C-USA's autobid to the Liberty Bowl.  The Orange Bowl contractually takes the ACC champions.  The Liberty Bowl contractually takes the C-USA champion.  The only difference is that with the BCS, the "little guy" has a shot at playing in the Orange Bowl.  Without it, there is no shot.

2) the NCAA basketball tournament is far more "monopolistic" than the BCS.  Teams are obligated to play in the NCAA tournament or the NIT (which the NCAA bought out) if selected.  Football teams and conferences are free to sort out their own bowl affiliations in a free market.

3) antitrust doesn't apply anyway because the teams aren't the consumers, the fans are.  Can you imagine an English soccer club outside the Premiership suing because they don't get a shot at the EPL championship or playing in the Champions League?  That's the equivalent.


May 5th, 2011 at 2:38 AM ^

All of the rationalizations and excuses from the pro-BCS/bowl system people are fine and dandy, but the bottom line is that most people want to see the championship decided on the field like it is in every other sport and every other division.  

If their "franchise" sport isn't worth having a real champion, then why does the NCAA even bother to have champions in other sports?

Picktown GoBlue

May 4th, 2011 at 11:56 PM ^ other divisions?

Div I-AA: 127 members, 20 in playoffs (16%), 10 AQ's (8%) - actually 11 AQ's but Ivy League abstains and SWAC abstains so they don't even get offered an AQ

Div II: 146 members, 24 in playoffs (16%), 0 AQ's (0%) - all selected by committee

Div III: 213 members, 32 in playoffs (15%), 23 AQ's (11%) Basketball?

Div I: 346 members, 68 in playoffs (20%), 31 AQ's (9%)

Div II: 285 members, 64 in playoffs (22%), 22 AQ's (8%)

Div III: 411 members, 61 in playoffs (15%), 42 AQ's (10%)

So, Div I-A has 120 football members.  If we go with the 15% number at the low end of all these examples, that would argue for a playoff field of 16 or 18 teams.  There are currently 6 "BCS" conferences, 5 other conferences, and 4 independents.  Does winning a conference give you an AQ?  Do only some of the conferences get AQ's, or do they all?  At 11 AQ's (9%), the profile would be pretty similar to the I-AA setup, leaving 5 or 7 at large spots.  Or you could go the route of Div II, and pick all the playoff spots by committee.  Or drop the highest and lowest computer polls and average the rest ;*).  Going with just 8 in the playoffs will make it much more exclusive than any of the other examples above and will likely get much more outcry from the excluded 9th and 10th teams.  Note, with the BCS, there are 10 slots already being picked for the elite games, including 2 in the NC game, so going to 8 would be a contraction in some sense.

With a field of 16, 2 teams would play 4 games after their season finishes; go above that to 18 or more and you're up to 5 for the lower-seeded teams.  Div. I-A plays a longer season than the other divisions, so this does become an issue compared to the other divisions.

Pick your scenario, someone is not going to be happy.  But will more people be more happy than now?


May 5th, 2011 at 12:07 AM ^

Pick your scenario, someone is not going to be happy.  But will more people be more happy than now?

It's long been my contention that if and when a playoff is instituted, whatever the format there'll be many more people complaining that "this isn't what I wanted" than people who think any playoff at all is better than the status quo.

Can't really back that up, just the feeling I get from engaging in umpteen billion playoff debates.  People always seem to have their dream scenario and when you point out reasons why it's unworkable or just plain bad, they invariably respond with "well it has to be this way because of reason X that I wouldn't like it a different way."