Out of Control Policy Blog

Government in Everything: Now College Football

Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution and George Mason is fond of pointing out that there are "markets in everything" while linking to some obscure story. Unfortunately, we are now facing an era that is more likely to produce stories of increased government intervention in everything. The most recent foray: college football.

Rare is the link to an ESPN story, but here is one. Congress is planning hearings to review the Bowl Championship Series to see if a playoff system might be better.

"The current system "leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year," the Senate Judiciary's subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights said in a statement Wednesday announcing the hearings...

The subcommittee's statement said [Republican Senator Orrin] Hatch would introduce legislation "to rectify this situation." No details were offered and Hatch's office declined to provide any."

Unfortunately, now I'm gonna have to defend the BCS.

Typically, it would be okay to ignore this kind of thing. The government has pulled shenanigans like this before. The Congressional investigation into steroids is a recent example. But at least that was health related (not that the government has a role there anyway). This is just pure jealousy on the part of Senator Hatch.

See, Senator Hatch is from Utah, and the University of Utah didn't make it to the national championship game last year, even though they were undefeated. Instead, the current BCS system (a complicated mesh of human and computer ranking of football teams based on wins, strength of schedule, quality of performance and other factors) ranked Florida and Oklahoma as the top two teams, even though they both had once loss. Sen. Hatch says this is unfair--and he is going to use the power of the Federal government to interfere with a completely independent alliance of universities that come together annually to form their own tournament, in their own style.

The fact is that the BCS system is flawed. Everyone knows it. Every year the BCS managers tweak the system a little bit, trying to work out the kinks. But its not like anyone's life should depend on how they run it. So what if the system didn't rank Utah in the top two. It didn't ranked Texas as #3... and Texas beat Oklahoma during the regular season. How could that be fair? Maybe its because Texas lost to a worse team, Texas Tech, who in turn lost to Oklahoma. Its all one complicated mess. Its not a perfect system. But why should the government care?

There is an attitude developing in America. It is led by this progressive movement that so easily supports bailouts, stimulus packages, universal healthcare, oppressive union rules, and protectionist trade policy. And while Senator Hatch is not a protectionist and probably will vote against Card Check, he has been infected by the normalization of Federal intervention in private affairs.

College football teams should not be forced to "give everyone a chance." Their system will always leave someone out. They leave me out for lack of talent. They left Utah out because they thought the team was overrated. For all the college football fans reading this, if you had Utah play the same schedule as Florida, Oklahoma or Texas would they have been undefeated? No, maybe a one or two loss team, but not undefeated. They played a bunch of small, less athletic schools the whole season. A line will be drawn somewhere.

Even if a playoff system were created, what about the 9th team that doesn't make the final 8, or the 17th team that doesn't get into a pool of 16? The NCAA tournament let Temple University in to its field of 64 as low seed (11 seed in the South Bracket), but not Balyor University or Penn State University, both of whom are in the Final Four of a secondary tournament. The United States Senate can not fix this problem. Nor should they waste time and tax dollars trying. 

The BCS system generates millions of dollars for countless companies and schools every year. One reason a playoff system hasn't been adopted is that it might not make as much money. Does the government really want to stop wealth creation in an economic downturn, thus reducing jobs, all for a perceived inequality? Perhaps there is a pattern emerging....

Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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