Why Does the BCS Exist?

Why does college football's Bowl Championship Series exist? Inquiring minds, including those in the Justice Department, would apparently like to know. Following is a letter sent to Mark Emmert, the President of the NCAA, by Christine Varney, head of antitrust with the Justice Department, on May 3 of this year:

Mark A. Emmert, Ph.D.
National Collegiate Athletic Association
P.O. Box 6222
Indianapolis, IN 46206

Dear Dr. Emmert:

Serious questions continue to arise suggesting that the current Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in the federal antitrust laws. The Attorney General of Utah has announced an intention to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS.

In addition, we recently received a request to open an investigation of the BCS from a group of twenty-one professors, a copy of which is attached. Other prominent individuals also have publicly encouraged the Antitrust Division to take action against the BCS, arguing that it violates the antitrust laws.

On March 2, 2011, the New York Times reported that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was "willing to help create a playoff format to decide a national championship for the top level of college football." In that context, it would be helpful for us to understand your views and/or plans on the following:

1. Why does the Football Bowl Subdivision not have a playoff, when so many other NCAA sports have NCAA-run playoffs or championships?

2. What steps, if any, has the NCAA taken to create a playoff among Football Bowl Subdivision programs before or during your tenure? To the extent any steps were taken, why were they not successful? What steps does the NCAA plan to take to create a playoff at this time?

3. Have you determined that there are aspects of the BCS system that do not serve the interests of fans, colleges, universities, and players? To what extent could an alternative system better serve those interests?

Your views would be relevant in helping us to determine the best course of action with regard to the BCS. Therefore, we thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.


  1. Good find! What do you think the chances of something finally coming of this are? Will real anti-trust legal action against the NCAA re: BCS be the only manner with which change is facilitated?

  2. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for the comment, and thanks for reading. I think it is clear that the voices of the fans have not been enough to spur the powers-that-be to action. And advertisers don't really seem to be clamoring for a playoff system. Therefore, either antitrust action or the very real threat of it could be the only thing that gets us to a 'plus-one,' a run-off or whatever other system could be utilized any time soon.

    So is this antitrust threat for real? It is tough to say. However, the Utah AG is planning on filing a suit, which is hopefully not typically done frivolously. I would also think that getting a nasty-gram like what we posted above is making some people in the NCAA system very uncomfortable; and certainly moreso than undefeated mid-majors not making the championship game every few years or a few pesky fans complaining about the vise-grip that certain coferences have on the process.

    In short...if anything is going to happen any time soon, this is probably as good, if not a better, stimulus than most. However, on the other hand, you can be sure that the NCAA and BCS have lawyers working overtime on this one as well...