Does College Football's BCS System Violate Anti-Trust Laws?

The Justice Department is asking the NCAA a question football fans have asked for years: Why don't you have a playoff?

The difference is that when fans don't like the NCAA's answer, they email Bill Simmons. If the Justice Department doesn't like the NCAA's answer, it files an antitrust lawsuit:

The Justice Department ... says there are "serious questions" about whether the current format to determine a national champion complies with antitrust laws.

Critics who have urged the department to investigate the Bowl Championship Series contend it unfairly gives some schools preferential access to the title championship game and top-tier end-of-season bowls.

In a letter this week, the department's antitrust chief, Christine Varney, asked NCAA president Mark Emmert why a playoff system isn't used in football, unlike in other sports; what steps the NCAA has taken to create one; and whether Emmert thinks there are aspects of the BCS system that don't serve the interest of fans, schools and players.

"Your views would be relevant in helping us to determine the best course of action with regard to the BCS," she wrote.

"Serious questions continue to arise suggesting the current Bowl Championship Series system may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in the federal antitrust laws," Varney said.

Why should the Justice Department are about the Rose Bowl? Because the kind of money awarded to the schools that make the official BCS games is extraordinary, and extraordinarily subjective. The championship teams of large conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-10 automatically go to the BCS and receive about $20 million for their appearance, win or lose. A team like Boise State University that finishes with an identical record but has no chance to compete against a big market team to boost their national credence gets less than a million. Read the full story in ESPN.


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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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