BCS Controversy: Why the BCS Will Be Dead After the 2013 Season

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BCS Controversy: Why the BCS Will Be Dead After the 2013 Season
*the Devil is in the details.

Money Is the Root of All Things BCS.

The Bowl Championship Series has officially existed since the 1998-99 season (the first BCS title game was in the January, 1999 Fiesta Bowl, with Tennessee beating Florida State). It is not sui generis, but the third step in an evolving system; the first step was the Bowl Coalition, which existed for three seasons (1992-93 through 1994-95), and the second step was the Bowl Alliance, which also existed for three seasons (1995-96 through 1997-98).

The true origins of the BCS, however, lie in the mid-1980s, when the Supreme Court decided the case NCAA v. Board of Regents (1984). This decision in favor of the plaintiffs resulted in the loosening of the NCAA's grip on regulating FBS (then known as I-A) football, and resulted in the near-complete commercialization of top-tier college football.

Some actually consider this a good thing. After all, don't the "big" schools (such as the original plaintiffs, the University of Oklahoma) deserve to be on TV more often than the "little" schools? Don't they deserve to make more money than the "little" schools? Isn't this supposed to be a free market? What's wrong with a university capitalizing on its image to make more money?

I would argue that the answer to all four of those questions is a resounding "NO".

There are multiple reasons, but the overriding reason is really what makes the BCS itself vulnerable to legal challenge (up to and including the Supreme Court): college athletics was not intended to be, nor should it be allowed to become, a professional (or even semi-professional) enterprise.

The fact that there are arguments made—primarily by those who would stand to benefit the most financially, and that does *NOT* mean the student-athletes—that college football (and perhaps basketball) players should be paid merely exposes the degree to which the original mission of college athletics has been lost within the Football Bowl Subdivision, and most dramatically within the Bowl Championship Series itself.

Playoffs? PLAYOFFS?!?!

It is no mere coincidence that this is the only subdivision of the NCAA without a postseason tournament; the explicit intention of the BCS is to avoid any such tournament.

Were the NCAA to implement a postseason tournament for FBS similar to the ones it already administers in FCS (formerly I-AA), Division II and Division III, the BCS bowls themselves would stand to lose their privileged status (and thus their considerable income).

In addition, the BCS schools—the six "major" conferences and Notre Dame—would stand to lose their preferential treatment (in part due to their inappropriate restrictions on "mid-major" conferences, but also due to bribery and kickbacks from the BCS bowls) in the postseason.

The fact that "this is the way it's done" is no excuse...and such a defense will definitely not pass muster in any court. If anything, the BCS schools will receive a taste of their own medicine.

In some karmic way, this is payback for when the "major" schools—as the College Football Association (CFA)—succeeded in wresting control of the airwaves from the NCAA in the Supreme Court decision referenced above.

 

So, What's the Problem?

If anything, it should be clear that instead of truly allowing for competition, the CFA/BCS has merely substituted itself for the NCAA, as it now dictates the terms of the postseason and effectively excludes about half of the Football Bowl Subdivision from free and fair competition, both on and off the field.

"Mid-major" schools can't possibly compete with the "majors" if the playing field isn't level. And for a multitude of reasons, the playing field is most definitely NOT level:

Every game counts. Well, not *every* game. And none of Houston's games count, either.

 

1. Automatic Qualification. This is perhaps the most obvious defect, and the reason why the BCS is considering a pre-emptive strike on the AQ system for the next BCS cycle, before legal action is taken that could end the BCS itself.

Currently, the winners of the six BCS conferences are given preferential treatment, not due to achievements on the field (merit), but because of their "legacy" or how well connected they are (nepotism).

This was and is a key element of the BCS itself. Were it to be removed (even if the BCS did so itself), the BCS would lose a large part of its reason for existence.

 

2. Lack of Equal Access. This is not in terms of the postseason (that's addressed by AQ), but in terms of access to the television market (the prime market considered in the Supreme Court decision).

The fact that the NCAA was *imposing* this equal access prior to 1984 does not excuse the BCS and its television partners from singling out particular conferences and/or schools for preferential treatment in terms of getting games aired. In other words, the BCS television market is not truly "free" or "fair."

This can be seen in terms of "public access." If one school or conference receives increased exposure due to an exclusive network, it stands to obtain an unfair advantage. This would not be a problem if the schools or conferences were actually professional sports teams (see: NFL), but this is not the case.

Every school within the FBS deserves equal treatment and equal opportunity in terms of its access to the airwaves (which are still considered a "public resource" and not a private commodity).

 

3. Conference Realignment. This is not in and of itself a bad thing. It's a tool. However, the way in which it's being used now is to further marginalize the non-BCS "mid-major" schools, and thereby to further tilt the playing field in favor of the "majors."

This is perhaps the most obvious case of the abuses that can occur in a non-competitive market; the competition is simply "bought out" so that the existing cartel consolidates its hold on the market. 

Because the business of higher education is... sports entertainment.

The BCS has been devouring itself internally since 2005, when the ACC first raided the Big East; that is continuing, with the likely result of "superconferences" akin to the "Big Three" in auto manufacturing. The best smaller competitors—those that prove to be the greatest threat to the cartel's stranglehold on the market—are "bought out" and absorbed into the cartel.

This does not increase competition, or make the market "free" and "fair." It's a deliberate attempt to reduce competition and keep prices (in this case, TV revenue) for the product artificially high, even as the quality of the product (Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl; UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game) suffers.

 

4. Institutional Corruption. The recent child-abuse scandals are only one example; they're just the most glaring example of the disconnect between major (read: BCS) college athletics and legal accountability.

The CFA/BCS effectively stiff-armed the NCAA aside back in 1984, and although there was obviously corruption before then, the scope and the scale of the corruption had become larger, along with the TV contracts, the money involved (both in booster contributions and in coaches' salaries) and the sheer audaciousness of the schools in condoning or tolerating not just NCAA code violations, but criminal behavior, on the parts of both athletes and coaches.

The BCS and its member schools aren't untouchable (coaches are fired, after all), but as a group, they're becoming increasingly less accountable to both their own academic missions (educating students) and to the public at large (abiding by the law). The recent example of the Fiesta Bowl is a case in point; the BCS effectively slapped wrists after that and proclaimed "problem solved."

The Fiesta Bowl continues with its privileged (and monied) position, and the BCS does likewise. Of course, being on the inside of a corrupt structure, it's not easy to see the corruption unless someone on the outside of that structure holds up a mirror to reveal it or lifts the rock and shines the light to reveal what's actually going on underneath, as it were.

Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker, before the fall.

 

Time for the Death Penalty (or a Mercy Killing).

The BCS has had its day in the sun, or more accurately, under the rock; it's come time to clean house and get rid of the vermin. Whether that comes through a Supreme Court decision (which may take a few years) or through legislative action (Congress has had a raised eyebrow directed at the BCS for several years now) is a matter of technicality.

What's important is that the BCS is not only flawed, but is now also mortally wounded and grasping for secure ground as its stranglehold on the top tier of college football slips. This next offseason will prove crucial, as negotiations will begin on the next "Four-Year Plan"...um, the 2014-15 through 2017-18 "BCS cycle."

It's imperative that the legal challenges to the BCS proceed apace, so that the question of the BCS' continued existence is before the public eye, and if necessary, before the court, by the end of the 2013-14 season.

As an individual fan of college football, I offer the following advice to my fellow fans who would like to see the BCS dead and buried:

  1. Watch the FCS playoffs when they're televised (and/or Div. II and III, if you prefer), and see that a college football playoff not only *can* work, but already *does* work. Call your cable provider or network when they're not. You can also follow the playoffs here.
  2. Check out the Playoff Political Action Committee, either at their website, or on Facebook.
  3. Call your favorite company...uh, school's CEO...uh, chancellor or president...and ask them just how long they will continue funneling their energies and efforts into providing a more entertaining semi-professional football team, instead of actually fulfilling their mission to provide a better quality education.
  4. Call, tweet, Facebook, or e-mail ESPN, and College GameDay in particular, and tell them you want to see the BCS replaced by an FBS playoff by 2014-15, and remind them that ESPN has the financial weight to make that happen;
  5. Call your congressman or senator, and tell him/her that since he/she is clearly not doing anything much of importance regarding the budget due to the gridlock, that they might as well do *something* productive with their time, and call the BCS before committee for the third-degree. If you don't know who your congressman is, you can find that out here (at the upper right of the page);
  6. Follow the continuing saga, "As the Fiesta Bowl Turns", and see how it exemplifies the following quote: "Tolluntur in altum Ut lapsu graviore ruant," or "Men are raised on high in order that they may fall more heavily"...i.e. "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." (Claudian, 4th-cent. AD poet)
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