Sunday, November 22, 2009

College Football and Free Markets

As the logic-defying, anti-fair-competition college football bowl season approaches for one more frustratingly dissatisfying end to the year, it is worth noting to all of those who have called for a national championship playoff (like they have in every single other sport, including lower level football), that this mess of a non-system has been produced by none other than a free market. No government forced this process to be what it is. No law rigged the game so that schools from small conferences like Boise State, TCU, and Cincinnati would be disqualified from the national title game before it started*. You all want free, unfettered, laissez-faire capitalism? Well look what it got us.

College football, I'd argue, is a natural monopoly, as are most of the major sports leagues. Competition in the form of alternative leagues or systems does not increase the quality of the product, it reduces it. But as a monopoly, it cannot be allowed to function according to market principles, or something like the bowl system is what we are going to get. Once certain entities, like the Big Ten and PAC-10 get enough power within the system, they will arrange things to their benefit, not to the benefit of all. A playoff, which would be better for everyone overall, is kept from happening because those with the biggest share of the pie under the current system refuse to change. An oligarchy of the major conferences has cut off a disproportionate share of the pie for themselves, and the remaining conferences and teams have no power to stop them. This is inevitable in such a situation, and as such, requires more government regulation than an ordinary market.

We should support any efforts on the part of politicians to bring a playoff to college football by breaking up the monopolistic stranglehold of the antiquated bowl system. This is one of the things government is for. IANAL, but I suspect there is merit via anti-trust laws to force a system that, at a bare minimum, gives equal opportunity to every competitor to reach the championship game.

In the meantime, fans should do the only thing they can to help facilitate this change: boycott the bowls. Go ahead and watch the conference championship games, and the national title game (a one game playoff is better than none). But as for the rest, they are nothing more than exhibition games, for money and recruiting and little else. We should place no more importance on them than we do NFL preseason games. Don't buy tickets, and if you must watch them on TV, DVR them so you can zoom through the commercials and cut off the value of that funding. This annual travesty must end.


*When the BCS system forced the computer ratings to not use point spreads in their analysis, it effectively made them a measure of strength of schedule only. No more could a team with a weak schedule make up for it by consistently winning impressively. Winning by 1 point and winning by 50 points make no difference now to the computers. Thus, a team in a weak conference, like Boise State, cannot possibly earn the top spot in the computer ratings, even if they beat everyone 100-0. they are 7th now in the computers, and that is as high as they could possibly get.

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