Broken and Tacitly Unfair: The BCS and Antitrust

Derek HornerAnalyst IISeptember 30, 2008

Atlanta, Ga.—The BCS is the result of a old, unfair, traditional notion of college athletics to place the money and power of the system in the hands of a few, while offering scraps to the rest of the competition.

Before we begin, we have to start with a premise that has become more apparent with each passing year and each passing controversial national championship.  The College Football system is not about merit on the field.  It is about money and traditional favorites.


Keep in mind, I am a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, so I understand the benefits of being on the top of the food chain economically.  I grew up in Memphis, though, where I followed my parents’ alma mater, the University of Memphis.


I am in a perfect state of yin and yang in terms of the benefits and detriments of the broken system we call College Football and the BCS.


If we look at the system, we see that those with television contracts, major bowl affiliations, and access to the BCS are hoarding all of the money.  The average bowl for a non-BCS team generates $1 million, while the average BCS team takes in $5 million.


The BCS bowls pay out $14 million to the participants that are distributed among conference members of each BCS conference, while the Liberty Bowl, arguably the top bowl for a non-BCS team, pays roughly $1.5 million.


Why do some conferences feel entitled to receive the $14 million payouts while the non-BCS participants can only hope for $1.5 million, unless they are lucky enough to stumble into an At-Large spot in the BCS?


Ole Miss, with its BCS Conference affiliation, upgraded its facilities to the tune of $15 million, while the University of Memphis is struggling to raise a meager $1.5 million to upgrade its facilities.


There are numerous arguments that the old guard will make to keep the status quo, from the economic argument to the slippery slope argument that someone will always complain to nobody wants to watch non-BCS teams.


To understand how to the fix the system, we have to take a look at the BCS from a recruiting perspective.


If you’re a kid in high school, you look at a school for its success, its facilities, the education, the campus life, the television exposure, and how you fit into the system.


When you look at a non-BCS school versus a BCS school, you see campus life and academics, but you also notice the disparity between the facilities, coverage, and opportunity to play in a large bowl.


Even if you are enamored with your role in a particular school’s system, you would be better for an unsuccessful BCS team rather than playing for a successful non-BCS team.


Without players, you cannot get better.  To get recruits you have to be successful.  It’s the ultimate catch-22.


The probability of success is minuscule—otherwise the non-BCS conferences would be placing teams in the Top 25 and BCS bowls at an equal rate to the BCS schools.  The problem, however, is that the non-BCS schools do not have the talent, nor do they have the perfected offenses to consistently take down the BCS goliaths.


Once in a while you have the success of Boise State or TCU or Utah or East Carolina.  There is simply no access, however.  Because there is no access, teams cannot find recruits. Because they can’t find recruits, teams have more difficulty winning.  Because they have difficulty winning, they can’t attract large numbers of fans.


Because they can’t attract large numbers of fans, they can’t make their bowls lucrative or are not invited to bowls, because they don’t attract money.  Because non-BCS teams can’t generate money in bowls or among their fan bases, they can’t get lucrative television contracts.


Because they can’t get television contracts, non-BCS teams can’t attract fans or garner exposure that attracts recruits.  Because they can’t attract recruits, non-BCS teams can’t get better.


And so the vicious cycle continues.


Do you see how the blatant unfairness damages teams?  Do you see how it damages schools?  The entire reason a school wants to have a Division I football program is to generate revenue for the school.  Non-BCS teams can’t do this.


FedEx had to bail out the University of Memphis because it continued to lose money.  Why did it lose money?  Because the University of Memphis doesn’t have access to the money.


Conversely, the University of Notre Dame has access to bowls and money as an independent because it has a television contract, a national following, and generally good seasons upon which it built its financial success.


It is here where we apply Antitrust law to the BCS.  Antitrust applies to corporations and non-profits.  No matter how you categorize colleges, they are in the business of college football.  They generate revenue and profit on the backs of successful partnerships and successful football programs.


Antitrust law prevents practices that that restrict free trade and anti-competitive practices.  Additionally, a cartel is defined under the law as members who agree to work together in the same industry, agreeing to perform anti-competitive practices in unison with the aim of increasing individual members' profits while reducing competition.


Applying the facts to the law, it is easy to see that the BCS partnerships and practices are so facially and blatantly unfair that they do achieve the aim of increasing BCS members' profits while reducing competition.


Non-BCS teams can’t recruit because the rules aren’t the same for them.  They aren’t on a level playing field where they can compete with BCS schools.


BCS teams have successfully implemented practices and procedures that are unfair and have driven down competition while propping up BCS programs, allowing them to reap the benefits of their unfairness.


While this is only a topical treatment of Antitrust applied to the BCS, you can see why it is important that the BCS be torn down.  It is appeasement at best.


After filing a lawsuit on behalf of all non-BCS schools, the answer is a 16-team playoff with a guaranteed spot given to each conference champion and five at-large bids.  From there, you would find your winner in the same format college basketball already employs.


One argument is that this makes the season too long for the student-athletes.  My rebuttal is that no student athlete is studying over Christmas break, I-AA does it, the basketball season makes football season look short, and can you imagine how many more people would care about these bowls?


With access to a fair system, the non-BCS versus BCS disparity would level out.  Non-BCS teams would be able to attract players to teams where they could get early playing time.


Another argument is that a playoff won’t make money, but my rebuttal is that the games in the playoff will mean more and other bowls can run concurrent to the playoff games.  You are able to maintain a hybrid system that still employs the old bowl system while enacting a fair system to find a champion.


A third argument is that if you do a 16-team system, number 17 will always complain.  When does it stop?  I rebut this by saying there is equal access.  If you don’t like the fact that you were left out, then you need to go win your conference next year. 


We need to change the system.  I am tired of boycotting the BCS bowls unless Notre Dame is playing.


A huge concession for any Notre Dame fan is that I would support forcing Notre Dame to join a conference if we had a fair playoff as described above.  We should have a system that rewards your merits on the field, not your merits as a traditional power or your merits for having a lucrative fan base.


We need to mobilize an Antitrust lawsuit that will solve this problem.  Until then, I will enjoy Notre Dame’s ability to bring in more money than any BCS conference school in the country, while loathing the inability of programs like the University of Memphis to make a profit, have access to lucrative bowls, or attract recruits.