Last week, Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff announced he would sue the BCS in coming months on antitrust violations. Much of analysis, understandably, has been about whether Shurtleff can win the case.
I have no idea how a judge would rule. We spent just a paragraph on antitrust in Death to the BCS because the issue is so uncertain. I’ve spoken to highly regarded lawyers who are convinced the BCS is vulnerable. And I’ve spoken to highly regarded lawyers who are convinced the BCS is safe.
What I do know is the case doesn’t have to get anywhere near a courtroom to have a significant impact on — and even serve as the crushing blow against — the BCS. Any analysis that focuses solely on the endgame completely misses the important road that would takes us there.
Here’s what the BCS is most susceptible to: exhaustion.
Insider after insider in NCAA power circles has told me the same thing: Even the chief defenders of the BCS are sick of the constant assaults.
Propping up the BCS is trying, frustrating and never-ending. Those who do it are an aging group of administrators whose numbers are dwindling. The next generation of athletic directors is not married to the bowl system. The group is overwhelmingly open to some level of postseason reform. The status quo is finally being questioned.
One example: Per the request of new West Virginia AD Oliver Luck, the Big East’s annual meetings this spring will include what Luck hopes will be “a legitimate and intellectually honest discussion about bowl finances.” Luck sees little reason for schools to continue to be forced into money-losing deals with bowl games.
Seems like a reasonable position. And it is to most people
So who wants to be the BCS defender to argue against it?
The BCS makes no business sense. It underperforms financially. It’s extremely unpopular with fans and players (don’t be fooled by the ridiculous claims of the BCS). It’s been stained by corruption at the Fiesta Bowl.
Now ethical questions plague members of the NCAA subcommittee and BCS “task force” who are supposed to regulate bowl games because many accepted gifts and travel from those very same games.
A lot of those people didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. That they should’ve isn’t the point. They’re paying for it now, one humiliating PlayoffPAC press release at a time. No one enjoys defending himself against corruption charges.
Really, the entire thing isn’t very fun right now. Even Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, the BCS’s chief proponent, has complained about “fatigue.” Penn State president Gerald Spanier acknowledged to the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “all of the debate about the BCS is certainly wearing to some.”
Well, an antitrust case isn’t exactly going to lighten the mood.
It’s going to stir up an already-active hornet’s nest. Let’s start with the costs. Two antitrust lawyers I spoke with pegged defending the case at a minimum of $3 million, with costs possibly running to the $5 million range.
Who is going to argue for the allocation of so much money to defend a postseason that already costs their schools so many millions? And would a single one of his peers back him?
Then there are the real hassles. The discovery process. The details that will no doubt emerge. And the depositions. The Fiesta Bowl investigation was embarrassing enough. Imagine the whole system stripped naked.
We have no idea about the finances of the BCS. It might have to release them now. And as much as tax documents provide a loose picture of expenditures of some bowl games, the in-depth look at just one game provided an eye-popping reality.
The Fiesta taught us about $27,000 car allowances and $33,000 birthday parties and John Junker’s $4.8 million in expenses over 10 years. That’s a lot of gentlemen’s club visits.
Anyone want to risk repeating that? Over and over and over?
“I think the Fiesta Bowl is the tip of the iceberg,” Shurtleff told USA Today. “I’m pretty confident from my research that there’ll be more problems with other bowls.”
That Shurtleff quote should prove he isn’t some overmatched publicity seeker. It was no off-the-cuff remark. It was a cannonball across the bow of the BCS, a flex of the muscle designed to warn conference commissioners of the mud ahead.
The BCS defenders are stubborn, but they aren’t fools. They all fear another Fiesta Bowl scandal because they realize it isn’t just possible, it’s likely. Is anyone really so naïve they believe John Junker was the only one who misused the tens of millions these games bring in annually?
Shurtleff is all but promising more of it, only this time he’ll have the opportunity to put the commissioners and presidents under oath, grill them about the culture of cronyism and then have their answers spread to the public.
An antitrust suit is a nightmare for the BCS, an endless headache long before it ever goes to trial, let alone judgment.
The dizzying media accounts of corruption, the increased questioning by ADs, presidents and even fans about why the sport outsources its most profitable product and the relentless stream of PlayoffPAC work has tested everyone’s will — all kids’ stuff compared to what Mark Shurtleff can deliver.
Do a bunch of commissioners on the edge of retirement still want to fight? Do they want history to remember them as the last dinosaurs? Or do they just choose one of the myriad playoff options, come up with a compromise and make it all go away?
Not all lawsuits are designed to reach a judge. This one won’t have to.