House bill advances to the playoffs

A multitasking Congress takes a moment to clean up college football

On Wednesday, a House subcommittee approved a bill that would prevent the NCAA from marketing any postseason game as a âÄúnational championshipâÄù unless it was the product of a playoff system. Currently, the Football Bowl Subdivision of college football is the only NCAA-sponsored sport without a playoff to determine a champion. Instead, the NCAA has a contract with the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), in which certain conferences are guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl for their conference winners. Other teams are then chosen through a combination of computer polls and a jilted, arcane system of selection rules. This system has serious implications for competitive fairness on the field: instead of access to the BCS being determined only by team quality, it is weighted toward membership of privileged conferences. However, the more important implication of the BCS system is the denial of fair access to markets and revenue. Representative Joe Barton, R-TX, who is sponsoring the playoff bill, has made it clear that âÄúit is not aboutâĦcompetition on the gridiron. It’s about revenue sharing for the schools that are in the BCS conferences.âÄù Even Ari Fleischer, whose firm was recently hired to manage public relations for the BCS, says âÄúThere is more money to be made if we had a playoff.âÄù The problem? The six BCS conferences would not have guaranteed access to a huge proportion of it. This restricted access to BCS revenue has led Barton to refer to the BCS as a âÄúcartel to maximize revenue for members,âÄù and it is. Alan Fishel, an attorney whose firm represents a non-BCS conference, says, âÄúA group of competitors has come together and collectively agreed that they are going to use market constraints to get the vast majority of the revenues in this market. In any other context, that’s a clear antitrust violation.” Critics of the House bill say that the government has more important things on its plate right now. That is undoubtedly true, but just because the government also has several very important things to deal with does not mean it should shut down all other meaningful operations and prevent all other positive legislation from being passed. There is overwhelming consensus that the BCS is an uncompetitive system, both on the field and in the market; this bill would be extremely quick and simple to pass with a large bipartisan majority. Even the BCSâÄôs own executive director has not bothered to defend the system, instead merely reverting to the âÄúCongress has more important issuesâÄù argument. The bottom line is that a billion-dollar industry is engaging in monopolistic and uncompetitive behavior and will continue to do so until someone âÄî the government âÄî forces them to stop. Eric Murphy welcomes comments at [email protected]