Keeping Score

Antitrust Allegations: Can the Feds Crush the BCS?

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The Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS), that college football oligarchy that stands in the way of a long-desired college football playoff, is facing its biggest threat: the Department of Justice.

Christine Varney, anti-trust chief at DOJ, has sent a letter to the NCAA, questioning why college football does not have a playoff system. “Serious questions continue to arise suggesting the current Bowl Championship Series may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in federal anti-trust laws,” she wrote. This letter follows an announcement from the Utah attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, that he plans to file an antitrust suit against the BCS.

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What should we make of this? First, expect BCS defenders — there actually are a few of them — and good government groups to question whether taxpayer funds should be used to probe college football. At a time when governments can’t afford enough teachers and cops on the street, we’re going to worry about a pigskin postseason?

But this federal investment could net a positive return. The lack of a true, fair college football playoff could be costing public universities millions of dollars in additional revenue. So a playoff could add much more to the public coffers than any investigation or suit would cost. Further, even the threat of an investigation or suit could cause the BCS to wilt. An internal probe into the Fiesta Bowl, for example, revealed that officials spent lavishly, going so far as to bill strip club visits to the bowl. Do other bowls have similar shameful secrets? Will they want to mount an expensive legal defense?

In time of distress, it’s hard to justify government meddling in sports. But when it comes to the BCS, it’s about time that justice is served.

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