Antitrust & The Bowl Championship Series
Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law, Vol. 2
46 Pages Posted: 19 May 2010 Last revised: 12 Feb 2011
Date Written: January 24, 2011
This Article analyzes the potential antitrust liability of the Bowl Championship Series (“BCS”), college football’s current system for selecting the participants of both the national championship game as well as other highly desirable post-season bowl games. The BCS has recently been attacked by various politicians and law enforcement officials, who allege that the system constitutes an illegal restraint of trade due to its preferential treatment of universities from certain traditionally stronger conferences, at the expense of teams from historically less competitive conferences. Meanwhile, the academic literature considering the antitrust status of the BCS is mixed, with most recent commentaries concluding that the BCS alleviated any antitrust concerns by revising its selection procedures in 2004.
Contrary to these recent scholarly analyses, this Article argues that the BCS remains vulnerable to antitrust attack on two primary grounds. First, the BCS continues to be susceptible to an illicit group boycott claim, insofar as it distributes revenue unequally and without justification to the detriment of universities from the disfavored conferences. Second, the BCS can be attacked as an illegal price fixing scheme, both by enabling formerly independent, competing conferences and bowl games to collectively determine the amount of revenue to be distributed to BCS participants, as well as by eliminating any competition between certain BCS bowls for the sale of their broadcast rights to television networks. However, the BCS appears less susceptible to a claim of illegal tying, despite its collective marketing of the television broadcast rights for the BCS bowl games, because television networks are not actually coerced into purchasing the broadcast rights to an unwanted bowl game. Therefore, although the outcome of any antitrust trial is notoriously difficult to predict, this Article concludes that the BCS remains quite vulnerable to antitrust attack.
Keywords: Bowl Championship Series, BCS, Antitrust, College Football
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