BCS Faces Challenge From 21 Economists and Lawyers

A group of 21 economics and law professors has submitted a letter to the Department of Justice asking it to investigate the BCS on antitrust grounds. The Wall Street Journal got an advance copy of the letter and published a summary of it this morning.

If you've heard any anti-BCS arguments before, this missive will largely be redundant. It goes over how the BCS is a cartel, it favors some schools over others, it creates a barrier against non-automatic qualifying teams, its payouts don't correspond with consumer appeal, etc. It's a very well written argument against the institution.

It's not perfect, though. It compares the BCS against the old bowl system when convenient, and it compares it against a playoff when convenient. I wasn't 100 percent sure which of those two these guys prefer until the conclusion. It also ignores the fact that—and I can't believe I'm parroting a Bill Hancock talking point here—the BCS has indeed increased access to the big money bowls.

The last non-power team to play in the Sugar Bowl was Air Force in the 1971 game. For the Orange Bowl, it was Santa Clara in the 1950 game (depending on how "major" you believe Florida State was in 1979-80). For the Rose Bowl, and I'm a little foggy on the game's history this far back, I believe it was Washington & Jefferson in 1922. After the Fiesta Bowl dropped its WAC affiliation in 1978, it took a grand total of one non-power team (Louisville in the 1991 game) prior to the advent of the BCS.

It also takes a doozy of an assumption when it says, "On-the-field performance, which drives market preferences..." on the second page. Take a look at the 2010 attendance figures. The No. 5 team is Texas, who failed to make a bowl. No. 1 was easily Michigan, who barely made a bowl and fired its coach. Want to talk about percent capacity instead because of differing stadium size? TCU, who went undefeated on the way to the Rose Bowl, couldn't manage to average a sell out in its 44,000-seat stadium. In 2001, season favorite and eventual national champion Miami averaged 65.21 percent capacity.

Don't get me wrong, I wish these guys all the luck in the world as they push for a playoff. However, I don't think they can get there via this route. 

At worst, they'll see the BCS wiped away and get a return to the old bowl system. Instead of the BCS agreements centralizing the Big Six tie-ins with the major bowls, those bowls would go back to doing those tie-ins individually. Soon-to-be perennial MWC champ Boise State would seldom get to go to anything better than the Las Vegas Bowl in that case. That would certainly be a step backwards for the non-AQ leagues, no?

At best I can see them getting an overhaul of the BCS selection methods, which is long overdue anyway. No conference champion should get an automatic bid, the Coaches' Poll should be kicked out, the Harris Poll needs far better oversight (if a human poll is even necessary), and it needs to include computer polls that are all statistically valid.

Of course, nothing ever came of the congressional hearings about the BCS. Perhaps going to the DOJ directly will be more effective, but I'm not holding my breath.

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