Thursday, September 04, 2003

Antitrust News: Congress Takes on College Football

As I write this the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on "Competition in College Athletic Conferences and Antitrust Aspects of the Bowl Championship Series". If it sounds like a political effort to exploit popular discontent with college football's postseason format, that's because it is. Testifying at this morning's hearing is NCAA President Myles Brand, Big Ten Conference Commissioner James Delany (speaking for the BCS), former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young, and Tulane University President Scott Cowen, who heads a coalition of non-BCS, Division I-A football schools.

The Judiciary Committee's press release notes: "The projected revenue for the four 2004 BCS games is $90 million. An estimated $6 million of this will go to the 55 non-BCS schools while over $80 million will go to the 62 BCS schools." What is left out is that it's the 62 BCS schools that generate that revenue. ABC is not paying to televise a matchup between Tulane and Montana. They are paying to see Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami, etc., the major football schools. The real problem is that under the current NCAA structure, you have half the schools producing revenues, while the other is spending themselves into debt to try and compete. If the non-BCS schools would come to their senses and scale back on their money-losing athletic programs, all this talk of antitrust and the BCS would cease.

Of course, the BCS schools could force the issue by taking their football programs out of the NCAA entirely. Somehow I doubt that option will please would-be congressional regulators.

It's also worth noting that Tulane's Cowen, the anti-BCS leader, has said he doesn't want Congress involved, that it was up to the NCAA members to figure this out for themselves.

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