Justice Department Asks NCAA: Why No Football Playoffs?

May 4, 2011

The Justice Department has just jumped into a contentious issue in college sports: It sent the NCAA a letter asking it why it doesn't have a playoff system for college football.

The AP reports:

"Your views would be relevant in helping us to determine the best course of action with regard to the BCS," [Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney, asked NCAA President Mark Emmert in a letter.]

"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.

The NCAA uses the Bowl Championship Series to crown a champion. The process is complicated, as this 2,000-plus word explanation from the National Collegiate Athletic Association proves. But in essence, it's a selection process based on polls and computer selection.

Back in 2008, before he was sworn in as president, Barack Obama said he would "throw my weight around a little bit" to move the NCAA to a playoff system.

"If you've got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season, and many of them have one loss or two losses, there's no clear decisive winner. We should be creating a playoff system," Obama said in an interview. "I don't know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this."

The AP reports that Bowl Championship Series Executive Director Bill Hancock said he was confident the series doesn't violate antitrust laws.

"Goodness gracious, with all that's going on in the world right now and with national and state budgets being what they are, it seems like a waste of taxpayers' money to have the government looking into how college football games are played," the AP quotes Hancock as saying.

The Wall Street Journal gives a bit more detail on what critics object to in bowl games:

The BCS involves five games, one of which pits the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams against each other to determine college football's national champion. In the view of many critics, the rankings are subjective and discriminate against smaller schools. Last season, for instance, Auburn, Oregon and Texas Christian all finished the regular season undefeated, but TCU—a smaller institution in the lesser-regarded Mountain West Conference—was left out of the title game.

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