From the Wall Street Journal:
Be honest: What would you actually do if you didn't have the ludicrous college-bowl system to complain about?
Brian Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes on the BCS does just that.
The nervous defenders of the Bowl Championship Series' bogus "national championship" think they have gotten it right this time. No muss, no fuss, no uncomfortably awkward idiocy like last year when the wrong team (Oklahoma) ended up in the title game.
Alabama vs. Texas.
...While I'm fairly confident that No. 1-ranked Alabama is the best team in the country, why not let a playoff format decide it, not a convoluted computer program? And while we're on the subject, who's to say Texas really is the second-best team in the country? That ugly struggle against a 9-4 Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game didn't inspire much confidence now, did it?
Why shouldn't 12-0 TCU, the third-ranked team in both polls, get a chance to prove its worth in the title picture, or 13-0 Boise State? I don't want to hear anyone say that they know for sure that Texas is the second-best team in the country. Why? Because the Longhorns didn't beat a single team that finished in the Top 20 until the Big 12 championship game.
Then he breaks out the antitrust language:
So until Congress can break up this power-conference cartel, I will not accept it as the national title game and neither should anyone else.
The BCS is and always will be about the business of preserving a monopoly of the power football conferences, which have little if any interest in sharing the wealth with everyone else. A true playoff system would certainly provide an opportunity for an enormous payoff for everyone, just like the NCAA basketball playoffs. But that would mean sharing all that cash on a more equitable basis with the entire upper tier of Division I football schools.
It won't be the first time that the NCAA has run afoul of antitrust laws. Remember your monopoly theory from Principles of Micro. Monopolies, because they face no competition by definition, restrict the access to a product and, in so doing, drives the price higher than otherwise.
Similarly, cartels between businesses limit competition between themselves which results in higher prices for consumers.
But without an effective enforcement mechanism, there is a strong incentive for members to cheat on the cartel agreement. By cutting a side deal and, the cheater can capture a larger market share than agreed upon and, of course, higher profits. Without a way to punish members for cheating, the cartel falls apart.
When it comes to college football telecasts, the league (or the teams, depending on the league agreement) is the supplier and the consumer are media providers. Back in the 1970's and early 1980's, people would be lucky to find three games on television on a given Saturday.
According to Rod Fort's Sports Economics text (second edition, chapter 13 table 13-10) there were 28 games on television in 1982 and in 1983. The price paid for media rights per game in 1982 was $4.09 million (all prices quoted in this post are in real 2004 dollars). In 1983, that price was $4.3 million per game.
Nowadays conferences such as the Big 10 and the Big XII have nearly every game televised. What happened?
Back in the early 80's, Oklahoma and Georgia didn't feel their programs were on the telly enough. Unable to convince other schools that they should have their games on the telly more often, they sued the NCAA, a suit that made it to SCOTUS. In short, the NCAA lost in a landmark 1984 case.
What happened in the market for media rights? Almost immediately, the number of games on the telly increased and the price paid for media rights fell. In 1984, there were a total of 36 games on television and the price per game paid by media providers fell by over $3 million per game to $1.1 million.
One year later in 1985, there were 42 games on television and the price per game was at $1.12 million. Ten years later in 1995, there were a total of 71 games on television and the price per game paid by the media was $1.07 million.
The NCAA television case was a textbook case not only of monopoly power but also of how individual interests tend to chip away at the power of cartels. It's a classic prisoners' dilemma game.
Now, I'm not so sure that the federal government (i.e. congress or the executive branch) should busy itself with a playoff system. Like they say, there's still no cure for cancer. Instead, it seems that the judicial branch is the way to go given the antitrust laws already in place.
Then again, in order to run afoul of antitrust laws, the NCAA needs to be sued. Which member school is up for that given what happens when a cartel gets broken up?