Dick Harmon: BCS finds more scrutiny for change

Published: Wednesday, April 13 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik answers questions during a news conference after the BCS National Championship NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 to capture the championship. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel ) Auburn head coach Gene Chizik answers questions during a news conference after the BCS National Championship NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 to capture the championship. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel )

After witnessing March Madness and a bunch of thrilling college basketball battles in our national playoff, once again we are reminded how unfulfilled we remain with the current BCS system for crowning our college football champion.

Granted, Oregon versus Auburn was a super game, but the system could have delivered much more. Undefeated TCU thinks so. Other should too. A Wall Street Journal article reports more experts are lining up to call foul on the BCS.

The NCAA could make gobs more money with a football playoff.

Universities and colleges could gain far more exposure for their athletes with a playoff.

It would be more fun.

And while a playoff wouldn't be perfect, it would be closer to being a fair affair, and it would be legal.

The BCS's legality continues to be questioned and pressure mounts for the NCAA to take control of its football championship and pry it out of the hands of the cartel this week.

This comes after a peek at embarrassing practices of the BCS Fiesta Bowl showed misconduct and misuse of money.

College football can do better than this.

This week the Wall Street Journal reported a group of law and economics professors and marketing experts asked the Department of Justice to investigate the BCS under antitrust law.

In a letter signed by 21 of these brainiacs, including Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago and Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College, the point is made that the BCS is a cartel that "secures market access and revenue" for its favored members.

If you're BCS folks watching all these Dominoes fall, this kind of heat can't be easy to endure. Criticism is mounting. Whether it is enough to shake up the university presidents who are empowered cowards to make changes is another matter.

The Fiesta Bowl scandal is a continuation of the debate: What is wrong with college football? UConn reported losing nearly $1.8 million on its Fiesta Bowl trip because of unsold tickets. Meanwhile, the bowl's executive director made a salary of $600,000 and entertained clients at a Phoenix strip club.

If you are a university president and have a vote on the NCAA's Board of Directors, how do you justify the Fiesta Bowl?

Well, they do. Major bowls, in partnership, own our NCAA football championship, not the schools, not the fans.

"The core issue is that six conferences have bearhugged the goodies and agreed to run things for their mutual benefit," said Len Simon, a San Diego antitrust lawyer who also teaches at the University of San Diego and is one of the 21 signatories in the letter.

Here are some bullet points to the letter:

"The BCS secures a fixed and dominant portion of market access and revenue for its founding members ..., regardless of their performance on the field or in the marketplace. These acts injure schools in major college football's five other conferences ... and also harm consumers by restraining output, fixing prices, and reducing quality. We believe the case here for government enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act is strong and potentially pursuable under multiple legal theories.

"Market-access rules and conditions for BCS Bowls result in a system that is at odds with consumer preferences, as shown by BCS Bowl selection decisions, television ratings, and attendance figures.

"The BCS revenue scheme is objectionable ... because financial rewards do not correlate with consumer appeal. In three of the past four post-seasons, non-AQs earned either the highest or second-highest game attendance figures of any BCS Bowl. Furthermore, for three years in a row, BCS Bowls featuring non-AQs have garnered significantly better television ratings than contests between only AQs.

"On-the-field performance, which drives market preferences, also fails to justify the BCS's disparate revenue allocation. AQs boast only a meager 1-4 record against non-AQs in post-season BCS Bowls. And in 2010, a year recognized as the high-water mark for "outsider" participation, the BCS handed each AQ conference that placed one BCS Bowl team $17.7 million but gave two non-AQ conferences just $9.8 million and $7.8 million, respectively, for accomplishing an identical feat."

Yes, this is more pressure on the U.S. Department of Justice to do something.

Will something happen?

The BCS fears nobody — except the government. It has the majority of university presidents voting their way, even as major bowls cost their respective athletic programs money every year.

The BCS stronghold is feeling the scrutiny. The Fiesta Bowl fiasco didn't help.

The Wall Street Journal article had an interesting quote from a Southern Utah University sports economist.

Dave Berri said that on the first day of class every semester at SUU, he asks his students: Who is the national champion in football? Berri tells his students they can use any statistical method they choose to produce the answer — but no one ever gets it right.

"The answer is, you're all wrong," Berri said. "There is no answer. They only play 12 games; they don't play the same teams; the sample size is too small to begin with. It's pointless."

Berri is one of those who signed the letter to the DOJ.

"There are a lot of things wrong with college sports," he said. "This is just one of them."

email: dharmon@desnews.com

twitter: Harmonwrites

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