Answers to the Justice Department's Three Questions to the NCAA

As covered yesterday, the Justice Department sent a letter to the NCAA regarding the BCS and the college football post season in general. The letter contained three questions for the organization specifically. I don't know what kind of incomprehensible legalese that will make up the official response, but I think I can give good answers to those queries.

1. Why does the Football Bowl Subdivision not have a playoff, when so many other NCAA sports have NCAA-run playoffs or championships?

Short answer: because university presidents in general have been opposed to holding a playoff on that level. If they say no, then it doesn't happen.

Long answer: because the bowls predate most NCAA championships. I made a timeline of postseason events in American sports a while ago, but let's go a little more specific. The Rose, Orange, Sugar, Sun, and Cotton Bowls all predate every NCAA championship except outdoor track and field (1921) and boxing (1932). By the time the NCAA got around to setting up most of the rest of its postseason events, several other bowls existed too. University presidents were satisfied with that system, so they did not make a change.

2. What steps, if any, has the NCAA taken to create a playoff among Football Bowl Subdivision programs before or during your tenure? To the extent any steps were taken, why were they not successful? What steps does the NCAA plan to take to create a playoff at this time?

If the NCAA has ever taken any steps to make a I-A football playoff, and I don't know that it has, they probably haven't gone much further than exploratory meetings. Individuals have pushed playoff plans here and there, but the NCAA doesn't regularly visit the issue on its own.

As to why any playoff movements in the past have failed, it's because of the answer to the first question. University presidents as a collective (and their surrogates in the form of conference commissioners) have shot down every playoff plan that's seen the light of day. To close it out, I doubt the NCAA has any firm plans to host a football playoff at present.

3. Have you determined that there are aspects of the BCS system that do not serve the interests of fans, colleges, universities, and players? To what extent could an alternative system better serve those interests?

It's possible that someone in the NCAA has done research on the college football postseason, and I'd be as interested as the Justice Department is to see what the conclusions were.

However it's largely a moot point because, here it comes again, university presidents are almost unanimously against a playoff. The NCAA ultimately servers at their approval, and it can't move forward with anything without them largely being on board.

We've seen cracks in their ranks in recent years with a few presidents speaking out in favor of a playoff. I doubt we'll see a complete change in stance though as long as football money keeps rolling into their athletics departments at ever increasing rates. Maybe a playoff would bring in a lot more money than the BCS does, but for most of the power conference schools that really run the show, what they're getting now (especially after the last round of regular season TV deals) is enough to keep them satisfied.

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