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Prove It

4. Forget the Courts Anti-Trust Suits

I am no lawyer, but here is what I was able to dig up and derive (there was a lot of variation in the articles written by lawyers).

1. The 1st challenge is define the market they were excluded from participating in.  The plaintiff wants to narrow the size of the market (Div 1 bowls), the defendant wants to broaden the definition (all TV entertainment).

2A. The next step is to show the defendant has the ability to limit participation in the market.  The plaintiff needs to focus on the invite system.

2B. Alternatively, they could show the defendant has the means to control price.  Success by a plaintiff in this area is largely dependant on their successful limitation in defining the market.

3. The plaintiff has to show the anti-competitive nature of the system excludes them.

The BCS set the criteria for a conference to qualify for an automatic bid.  The same criteria that can qualify a conference can disqualify an existing BCS conference.  The criteria is set by the BCS, but it is based on entities outside the control of the BCS - human and computer polls.  The invitation to the title game uses the same entities for its criteria.

Perhaps the biggest exposure for the BCS is defending the system for the open invites, of which some are left to the individual bowls.

Pushing these issues may result in the BCS changing the criteria, but for financial reasons don't expect the new criteria to improve the chances of the mid majors.  The BCS could stiffen the requirements, in which case it would take more than the support of the pollsters to qualify a team.  The plaintiff needs to go beyond changing the criteria to achieve their desired results.

As hard as they sound, these are considered readily achievable... it is the next step that is the challenge.

4. The plaintiff has to show the anti-competitive effect has a net negative result. It is not enough to simply say "It is not fair to us."  The plaintiff has to show a net gain to ending the practices.

The plaintiff could assault the criteria for selection to the title game or for conferences to earn an automatic bid.  The BCS has done a lot to insulate themselves in this arena.  A change in the criteria would not likely be favorable the the mid majors.

This could take the discussion back to the at large invites.   The bowls can show their decision to select teams ranked lower in the BCS polls is based purely on the poor performance of the mid majors in TV ratings.  These poor ratings can be linked to school and state size and can be shown cut the revenue of the BCS.  Since all of the conferences share in the BCS revenue stream, cutting revenue has a net negative impact.

It doesn't stop at the financial reasons.  The universities can also cite length of season, hardship on student athletes, hardship on the programs, overall revenue and ratings (outside the bowls), etc. which counts against the net gain.

If the plaintiff is successful, there is no reason to believe the post BCS structure would be beneficial to the mid majors.  If the BCS bowls don't want them now, why would they want the mid majors in a post BCS landscape?  There are a number of formats the bowls and majors could follow including returning to conference tie-ins.

The mid majors cost the BCS approx. $18M/year in payouts if there is a BCS buster, not counting the expected drop in vacationers, TV ratings, etc.  Lacking hard numbers, I suspect they could sustain a 15+% loss in revenue and still break even with the current structure, if they eliminate the mid majors in an alternate structure.

A ruling against the plaintiff would chip away at what little leverage the mid majors currently have.  With the threat of an anti-trust lawsuit removed from the table, the mid majors have less leverage left.  With the results of a court ruling and historical TV ratings in hand, the BCS could petition the NCAA to make it harder for a mid major to qualify for the BCS, cut the revenue sharing to the mid majors, or make it harder for a mid major conference to qualify for an automatic bid.


5. Forget about Political Intervention

You have all that is stacked against them in the anti-trust venue and the financial reasons noted above.  The mid majors and a handful of politicians hold press conferences.  Most university, conference, athletic department, and bowl representatives will campaign behind closed doors against any change.  No legislation would ever reach the floor of the House or Senate.  If it did, it wouldn't stand a chance in a vote.

Like the anti-trust ruling above, a vote against the legislation would chip away at what little leverage the mid majors have.


6. Promote Themselves

The majors achieved their status because they 1st built their programs, then worked with others to build their conference, then worked with other conferences to build their bowls.

The mid majors do a lousy job of promotion.  The stadiums for their conference title games are small compared to the majors and frequently unfilled.  Their average ratings are below half the viewers of their major 6 counterparts.  Their highest 2 conference tie-ins were 15th and 18th out of the 34 bowls in 2008 (based on bowl payout).  Their largest athletic department budget is below all but a handful of the majors.

A large part may be attributed to the discrepancy in size (see part 1), but the rift is much more than a linear economics of scale.  If they are going to close the gap, the mid majors need to look within.

Alumni contributions are built by establishing a sense of responsibility between the alumni and the athletic departments.  They are promoted by maintaining ties between the University and its alumni thru athletics.

Indoctrination begins at freshman orientation where season football tickets are pushed as a major campus recreational activity.  It continues after graduation where yearly contributions with or without the prospect of tickets attached are often considered an alumni's responsibility.  It is the norm for alumni, making them feel connected with the program.

Corporate benefactors are the result of relationships established over several years, built upon year after year.  Many of the mid majors are from smaller states with fewer corporations, but they also have less competition for those potential benefactors.  NCAAF offers them a highly visible venue to demonstrate their patronage of the state's institutions and culture.

If you remove the conference shared revenues, the mid majors still come up short, pointing towards a need to improve in these 2 areas.

Attendance and merchandise sales are more than just a linear result of success and size.  They are built by promoting a relationship with the team thru alumni, a sense of state pride, a connection with their roots for those who have moved out of state, or a connection with their new home for those who have recently moved to the state.

TV ratings require more than just the team's fans.  The ratings of the majors result from the interest of fans of other conference members.  The ratings of the mid majors is currently less than half that of their major counter parts.

The BCS bowls were not large affairs the majors were invited to join.  They were developed over time by the major conferences.  The same can now be said for several others like the Capital One.  The mid majors are lagging when it comes to promoting long relationships with their bowls, and promoting these bowls as substantial games.

If they want to close the gap, the mid majors need to improve the promotion of their teams, conferences, and bowls.  Like the large fan bases of the majors, the mid majors need to glue their fans to their TVs on Thursday night and Saturday - these include current and former state residents, alumni, and fans of other teams in their conference.  Given the smaller populous and school size, the mid majors are more dependent on expanding viewers beyond the teams playing to the entire conference.

They aren't without resources.  State celebrities and elected government reps are always looking for a chance to promote their state's team (and themselves).  Many sports writers and broadcasters will take up any sports cause if they think it will draw a response from their audience.  The networks which telecast the conference games are willing to promote if there is a payoff at the end.  The programs can generate rivalries within their league.

Side note: The ignored proposals to change the BCS, court action, and government action are beginning to have a negative public relations effect.  With no positive gains likely to be forthcoming this could become a promotional nightmare.


Also refer to 12 Needed Changes for the Mid Majors - Part 1

1. Quit crying to the BCS

2. Quit griping to the NCAA

3. The Best of the Rest Invite

12 Needed Changes for the Mid Majors - Part 3

7. Forget about a Mid Major Qualifying for an Auto Invite to the BCS  

8. Forget about a Playoff

9. Combine Their Marketing to the Bowls

12 Needed Changes for the Mid Majors - Part 4

10. Stop the Clown Proposals

11. Up the Appearance Fees

12. Imagination and Urgency 


Let me know your thoughts, and thanks for reading.


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