The Unenviable Task of Being John Swofford
Public Enemy Number One: The Bowl Championship Series.
If you were to take an unofficial snap Gallup Poll specialized and enhanced through Quinnipiac University, I believe that you would find 95 percent of all people polled in favor of a Playoff System in College Football. The +/- Margin takes into consideration College Presidents who selfishly lobby for their own institutions on a seasonal basis (I'm looking at you Georgia). Yes, even our own President has been quoted that he dislikes the BCS system—perhaps the only thing he has said to make him popular in Texas—and short of Congressional Athletic McCarthyism making the BCS on par with Communist Activities in Hollywood of the '50s. The government truly lacks the power to do anything about it. Given the economic fortunes of the United States as a whole, arguing over who gets what slice of a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry probably would not make lawmakers very popular—not even in Utah.
So, imagine being John Swofford, head of the current BCS system. It is your turn to stand on the block and try to avoid the gibbet. And really, is there any one person in all of the NCAA as hated as the man who began the domino effect of conference realignment? Lets just say that Mr. Swofford had better not visit Morgantown anytime soon as there could be a couch with his name on it. So this man, who is already vilified in many institutions along the East Coast, gets to further be the face of College Football Evils. Why change villains mid-race? Only Calvin Borel is allowed to switch horses when going for a Triple Crown. A quick Google Search of "John Swofford" or the BCS would reveal just how "popular" he and BCS are, And yet, how soon we forget, it was John Swofford along with Mike Slive of the SEC who proposed change to the BCS system. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/01/sports/ncaafootball/01bcs.html)
The Commissioners of the ACC and SEC, seemingly with the most to lose by changing the current system, were the ones who proposed and supported changes to the BCS system to be more inclusive (i.e. +1 or playoff) to their member institutions. Now, that's not to say that somehow Swofford is a double-agent who has ascended to the highest office in the enemy camp: He has a duty to represent the academics who preside over their universities in lofty Ivory Towers. Many of whom are so pleased at positive revenue stream and Bowl Sharing that they do not wish to ruin a good thing. Why should they? Oh, they have heard all the arguments, they know that possibly more money could be made with a playoff system. But it is those words "possibly" and "could" that cause them to cringe. University Presidents, as a whole, are creatures of the status quo. Especially when either the status or the quo part keeps their institutions in the black. So why leave a good area of profit for the potential of more profit but weighed against unforeseen downfalls? No. The Bowl System is fine in their reasoning. Ask any President and he will say to the effect: "We are a school, not an athletics sideshow." And yet, as we all know, it is this sideshow that boosts the revenue and prestige of a University.
What sticks in the craw of all of us alumni, fans, boosters, and we unwashed masses, is that there is a logic to this argument. Presidents are responsible to their respective States or, if they are a private school, their "Mission." I get it. I don't like it, I don't agree with it, but I get it.
This brings us back to the head of the BCS. John Swofford made a move, a bold move, to "poach" institutions from the Big East. Why? Because he had an idea to make his member schools more money. The fact is—competitiveness notwithstanding—the schools HAVE made more money. The addition of a Championship Game, and better TV contracts gained some ACC schools a 50 percent bump in revenue or more. What Swofford took away from this lesson? 'Adding another game and more competition increases profits!' But now, here he stands, head of the evil system of status quo. A BCS system not controlled by the NCAA but in the private hands of business. His duty, is to defend the system and proclaim it fair, though I am sure that his personal beliefs feel otherwise.
I believe that if he could have done so without consequence he would have signed his name to the challenge made by the Mountain West against the BCS. And therein lies one of the most American responses to a problem: When the "have-nots" hit the "haves" with a Sherman Anti-Trust Action. (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=3814472)
For those not familiar with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, it is used to break up monopolies, cartels, and other organizations that discourage competition. This law and piece of legislature has been used for a hundred years and it's victims have been many—Standard Oil, Microsoft, ALCOA, AT&T—to name some of the biggest fish. Oh yes, if the Sherman Act could take down Microsoft, it could easily take down the BCS.
The Sherman attack on the BCS would focus on the finances, as opposed to competitive fairness. If the Mountain West can prove that they are the victim of a financial monopoly held by the BCS Conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC) and that their ability to compete in the same market is impossible or being unfairly impeded, either through overt or covert means, the BCS could be ruled a cartel, monopoly, and broken apart.
In this aspiring lawyer's opinion? It's one hell of an argument. John Swofford knows it. Swofford himself, in a perfect world, would be behind it. There is just one problem - BCS Commissioner John Swofford has to defend against it. So for all you people in Big East land, and for raided conferences everywhere you should feel a bit of satisfaction: A gun has been pointed at John Swofford, a gun he helped to load and hoped he himself would someday pull the trigger.
All that's left for him is to decide - Will he fulfill his duty to the BCS and do his best to stop the bullet? Or will it somehow find a way around him and take down the system we all hate? It is a task I do not envy anyone. Personal Beliefs vs. Professional Duties and Ethics. How do you pick a side? Good Luck, John Swofford.
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