As Though Government Were Not Already Intrusive Enough . . .

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 30, 2010

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I am as much of a non-fan of the current BCS system in college football as any genuine college football fan would be. The rankings are silly, capricious, subjective, prone to controversy, and encourage big-time programs to put a whipping on small-time programs every time they meet, so as to ensure that the big-time programs continue to be ranked highly. So much for sportsmanship in these games; there is something fundamentally distasteful about watching the University of Texas–to take one prime example–annihilate and run up the score on some almost-community college simply because its rankings would suffer if it doesn’t.

So I would really like to see college football reformed. But query: Do we really need the federal government to be the reforming agent?

The Obama administration is considering several steps that would review the legality of the controversial Bowl Championship Series, the Justice Department said in a letter Friday to a senator who had asked for an antitrust review.

In the letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, obtained by The Associated Press, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the Justice Department is reviewing Hatch’s request and other materials to determine whether to open an investigation into whether the BCS violates antitrust laws.

“Importantly, and in addition, the administration also is exploring other options that might be available to address concerns with the college football postseason,” Weich wrote, including asking the Federal Trade Commission to review the legality of the BCS under consumer protection laws.

Several lawmakers and many critics want the BCS to switch to a playoff system, rather than the ratings system it uses to determine the teams that play in the championship game.

“The administration shares your belief that the current lack of a college football national championship playoff with respect to the highest division of college football … raises important questions affecting millions of fans, colleges and universities, players and other interested parties,” Weich wrote.

The claim that the BCS violates antitrust laws focuses around the following contention:

Weich noted that several undefeated teams have not had a chance to play for the national championship, including TCU and Boise State this year and Utah last year.

“This seemingly discriminatory action with regard to revenues and access have raised questions regarding whether the BCS potentially runs afoul of the nation’s antitrust laws,” he wrote.

So, government is getting involved because some teams didn’t get a chance to play for the national championship? And it is claiming antitrust violations to do so? If one configures a playoff system–which is what is wanted here in place of the BCS system–there will still be some teams that are prevented from playing for the national championship. Do those teams get to argue that there were antitrust violations at play as well? What if the NFL suddenly decided to eliminate wildcard playoff games, thus preventing certain teams from gaining entry in the playoffs. Does the NFL get slapped with an antitrust violation in that circumstance?

It is blatantly obvious that the federal government is sticking its nose in this affair so that the Obama Administration can win the votes of sports fans who believe that college football should adopt a playoff system. The antitrust argument is just a means to a political end, not a valid legal argument. And lest I seem exclusively hard on the Obama Administration, it is just embarrassing beyond measure that Orrin Hatch, a conservative, small-government Republican, is buying into this nonsense simply so that he can play to the folks back home.

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