Thursday, May 5, 2011

Speaking of football and antitrust...

The Blog of Legal Times reports that the Department of Justice has sent NCAA President Mark Emmert a letter asking him "to provide information about why college football does not use a playoff system to determine a national champion". The theory -- propounded most forcefully by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff -- is that the BCS system is set up to favor large conferences at the expense of smaller and midlevel schools. Stay tuned to see how this plays out; after all, the BCS system has critics from President Obama on down. That being said, don't assume that the BCS setup is illegal; Michael McCann has written than an antitrust challenge will probably fail and that the BCS actually may enhance competition in several ways. In any case, I'll keep an eye on things and let you know how things develop.


  1. How could the BCS possibly enhance competition? The way it is organized favors roughly 1/3 (at most) of the most privileged schools in the country. The only competition that exists is competition to get into the BCS.

  2. McCann's argument:

    The BCS enhances competition in a variety of ways. Most notably, it offers a national championship game and four popular bowl games, some of which may not otherwise exist. Keep in mind, in the 56 years prior to the BCS's creation in 1998, no system existed for the top two teams to play each other in the postseason. While a 16-team playoff, which is frequently suggested as an alternative to the BCS, may be preferable, colleges and conferences declined to use such a format for more than five decades -- what's to say that such a format would come into existence in the absence of the BCS?

    Advocates of the BCS also emphasize its promotion of regular season games, and the accompanying improvements in attendance at those games since adoption of the BCS. With the BCS, losing any regular-season game can prevent a shot at a national title, meaning every single regular game matters considerably; with a playoff system, in contrast, a team might underperform in one week but still know it can redeem itself in the playoffs. . . .

    The BCS also arguably enhances competition through its use of empirically-influenced rankings.

    . . . To be sure, this arrangement is complex and partially opaque -- private companies that run each computer rating can shield their formulas from public scrutiny. Nonetheless, the use of factual criteria to complement the subjective impressions of coaches and journalists can be viewed as a positive: they are designed to improve accuracy and fairness.

    The BCS also does not appear to raise consumer prices. . . .

    Read more:


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