When the Department of Justice's antitrust chief, Christine Varney, decided to begin her long-awaited inquiry into the Bowl Championship Series last week with a brief questionnaire for NCAA president Mark Emmert, there was one obvious question: Why is she asking him? Today, Emmert drafted a response to Varney's queries that wonders, essentially, why are you asking me?
… Inasmuch as the BCS system does not fall under the purview of the NCAA, it is not appropriate for me to provide views on the system. With regard to the Association's plans for an NCAA [Football Bowl Subdivision] football championship, there are no plans absent direction from our membership to do so.
The selection criteria and bowl match-ups [for the BCS] are managed by the 11 conferences. Other than licensing the postseason FBS bowls, the NCAA has no role to play in the BCS or BCS system. As a result, your request for view on how the BCS system serves "the interest of fans, colleges, universities, and players" is better directed to the BCS itself.
The NCAA conducts 89 championships in 23 sports annually, and each of those championships has been created at the request of the Association's membership. At no time in the history of the FBS or its predecessor, Division I-A, has a formal proposal come before the membership to establish a postseason football championship in that subdivision. Instead, the FBS has elected to conduct its postseason competition outside the NCAA structure. Without membership impetus for a postseason playoff, the NCAA has no mandate to create and conduct an FBS football championship.
And so on, with Emmert answering each of the DOJ's three specific questions — succinctly: Why is there no NCAA playoff? What steps has the NCAA taken to create a playoff? Does the NCAA think there's a better alternative to the BCS? — with a very brief variation on "Ask the BCS."
Emmert didn't reference the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision that permanently tied the NCAA's hands from meddling in the conferences' right to make their own schedules, negotiate their own television contracts and organize their own postseason cabals, but his point that the conference commissioners and university presidents aren't willing to give up control of a steady moneymaker — even if it could be replaced by an even greater moneymaker — is clear enough. I suspect that it is also not a revelation to the Department of Justice. But for the record going forward: The NCAA has no control over the BCS.
If the DOJ has any intention of following up, it also covers a base for Varney's next inquiry on the subject, which should be addressed to BCS headquarters — that is, executive director Bill Hancock's house in Kansas City — and the 11 FBS commissioners that make up the membership, asking most of the same questions. At least one guy might be willing to give a few honest answers while his counterparts offer up the same old spin.
But again, if the DOJ is really concerned with mapping the genetic sequence of a grotesque, many-tentacled beast that has evolved over a century with effectively no central oversight, it has better be really concerned. Otherwise, there are still more than enough mondo corporate mergers and Wall Street crooks to deal with who'd be worth more politically, and at least with them you know they're always following the money.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.