Leave the BCS Alone!

In the past, I’ve seen Rep. Joe Barton of Texas and Senator Orrin Hatch’s efforts to crack down on the BCS as a quixotic effort to appease their constituents that would never go anywhere. But somewhat surprising to me, Barton’s bill which would prohibit a bowl game from calling itself a “national championship unless it was through a playoff, advanced through a House Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Barton’s BCS bill provides an example of exactly what’s wrong with the Republican Party. They’re against intrusive government regulation, except when they are. They denounce a government take-over of health care, but don’t seem to have much of a problem with a government take-over college football. Barton’s bill isn’t exactly that, but I have feeling that a lot of “small-government conservatives” in Congress wouldn’t mind the government mandating an eight or sixteen playoff that the major conferences and college presidents have refused to implement.

Michael Wilbon and others frequently call the BCS a cartel. But who does this cartel consist of? The major conferences, the conferences that bring in the most money, get the highest TV ratings and send the most fans to bowl games. Why then shouldn’t they get the biggest slice of the pie? What has the inclusion of the minor conferences into the BCS done anything to improve it economically? Nothing, the four BCS bowl games involving minor conference teams have all been among the eight lowest rated BCS games since the inception of the system. If anything, the minor conferences should be grateful for the BCS’s existence because it’s given them access where there previously was none. Under the old bowl system, the bowls selected whatever teams would get them the most money, regardless of how good they were. When BYU won the National Championship in 1984, they were stuck with a mediocre Michigan team in the lesser-paying Holiday Bowl. Now, they would have been guaranteed access to one of the major games, such has been the case for Utah, Boise State, Hawaii and now TCU.

It’s been often pointed out that the major conference and schools would stand to make more money with a playoff system. If that’s true, then why do we need the government to force a playoff? I would argue that the mediocre ratings for the lower-tier BCS bowl games might also give a pretty good free market incentive for a “plus one” system or a playoff. The Capital One Bowl, which features teams from the TV-friendly SEC and Big 10, has received higher ratings than the Orange Bowl two years in a row and considering the Capital One’s match-up of Penn State and LSU versus the Orange’s Georgia Tech and Iowa, I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that it will happen again. However, if the second tier BCS games where to become national semi-finals, the interest of casual sports fans would be much higher. Personally, I’m in favor of a “plus-one” system where the top four teams play in a first round bowl game and then the winner play for the National Championship. But if the BCS wants to continue in an irrational direction that limits their profits, that’s their business, not the government’s.

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