“It’s always been about the money,” said Roy Kramer, the man who is credited with creating the BCS. “I don’t know anyone who would tell you different.”
Kramer, the former commissioner of the Southeast Athletic Conference (SEC,) was one of the featured speakers at “The BCS and the Future of Big-Time College Football," held by Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s new Center for Sports Law and Policy on November 17-18.
The BCS, or Bowl Championship System, is the highly controversial system that has been in place to select a national college football champion and create other showcase bowl games that bring in millions in revenue for the BCS, the football conferences and the colleges involved.
But the student athletes who actually play the games are not part of the revenue equation and many at the conference, including the director of TJSL’s sports law center, Distinguished Professor Rod Smith, feel that college football should be about the education and welfare of these student athletes, not the money.
“We need to take care of business as educators,” said Professor Smith. “We have given our student athletes a check and it has bounced."
Professor Smith brought together an influential group of leading lawyers, collegiate officials and journalists who are involved in the world of college football. The conference produced two days of discussions that were illuminating, insightful and, at times, riveting, about what should be done to fix collegiate football.
“Big time college football is failing,” said Professor Smith. “Any way you cut it, there is a deficit of trust in big college programs, amplified by the Penn State crisis. We need to redeem it or remove it from our campuses. And so, it is time for serious reform. I hope our moment has arrived.”
But who will lead the reform?
San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Tim Sullivan, who moderated one of the panels, asked: “I wonder if Congressional intervention is necessary. College football doesn’t seem capable of doing it themselves.”
As for the BCS itself, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who was one of the conference participants, said the system “appears to be an illegal scheme. It’s all about the money. It’s not full, fair, free competition.” And as Utah’s attorney general, Shurtleff says he is going ahead with an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS. “Some say it’s just sports,” Shurtleff added. “Well, it’s not just sports. It’s big business.” (See video below)
San Diego anti-trust attorney Len Simon agrees. “Major college football is a big business,” he said. And, as a sports fan, he thinks the BCS “is dumb, messy, illogical, unfair and doesn’t produce a national champion.” He prefers free competition to the current system. “It’s not legal. It’s a series of contracts in restraint of free trade. How? It restricts schools like Boise State from playing in the championship game.” (See video below)
“Can we do better? Yes,” said Roy Kramer. “Have we made mistakes? Yes. Are we perfect? No. But the BCS has provided opportunities from some schools that never existed (in the old bowl system.)” But, he added,"it's important to protect the game - its excitement, passion and color." (See video below)
On the very day Kramer spoke, ESPN.com reported that the BCS leaders are considering “radical reform” in the system, which could even lead to the BCS just running one bowl – a national championship game.
ESPN sports business reporter Kristi Dosh, who was another presenter on the same panel, outlined a plan for a national championship playoff system, thought out to almost the last detail that was presented by the commission of the Mountain West Conference. So far, Dosh says, there is not major support for the plan among college presidents with major football programs.
Another major college football story broke the day before the conference: the former head of the Fiesta Bowl, Valerie Wisneski, was indicted by a Federal Grand jury in Arizona on multiple charges relating to her position with the bowl. The investigative reporter who broke the story of irregularities at the Fiesta Bowl, Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic, was also a presenter at the conference.
Harris reported that Fiesta Bowl employees had been making political contributions on behalf of the bowl and then getting reimbursed for it, which is one of the charges lodged against Wisneski in her indictment. His stories eventually led to an internal investigation that found “widespread financial mismanagement.” Politicians even got trips, gifts and were even taken to strip clubs. “And some cities, like Scottsdale and Tempe, are even giving subsidies to the Fiesta Bowl at the same time they are laying off city employees or making them take pay cuts.”
The Fiesta Bowl investigations are on-going, according to Harris.
Several panelists discussed the pros and cons of college football’s players being paid for their services, especially since so many millions are made off of their efforts.
“Their pay ought to be academic," said Professor Smith. "Their education and graduation, which is worth a great deal in their lives.”
Professor Smith also pointed out “dismal” graduation rates of student athletes, particularly among student athletes of color at certain universities - athletes upon whose backs the schools are making millions.
Professor Smith told the story of one young student athlete he knew at the University of Memphis, a third-round NFL draft pick who was going to be the first in his family to ever graduate from college but was thinking about dropping out. Smith called the young man in and said: “Would it make a difference in your family if you graduated? Yes, it would,” the young player replied. “Don’t think these young men don’t want it as much as anyone else,” Smith said as he showed great emotion.
Among the moderators for the conference were TJSL Professors Steve Semeraro and Randy Grossman and Assistant Dean of Career Services Joshua Winneker, who is also an online sports columnist.
As he concluded this, the first conference of the Center for Sports Law and Policy, Professor Smith thanked everyone for their participation and expressed his vision for the future: “I hope this center will bring voices together that can make a difference in the world we live in.”
Video Clip with Utah Attorney General Mark Shuftleff:
Video clip with Attorney Len Simon on why he thinks the BCS Violates Antitrust Laws:
Video Clip with "The Father of the BCS" Roy Kramer saying the BCS is not perfect, but creates a lot of interest: