Justice will be hard to find when BCS becomes moving target

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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The Justice Department wants to break up the BCS, as near as we can tell to get Orrin Hatch off its lawn.

OK, fine. It's comforting to know that this blow against the SEC kicking annual ass in the championship game is something worthy of the government's attention. Though I would be more comforted if they could actually find the antitrust violations they say exist and rather than say, "You're good to go if you can come up with an eight-team bracket," they would throw the people who run the BCS into prison for a few years.

I mean, if they're breaking the law, giving them a more palatable way to break it seems like a fairly tepid response to the problem.

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But let's view this another way, because what the hell, it's not like you've got anything better to do.

The big schools that run the college football cartel, and the BCS as a lemonade stand therein, would do what systems are built to do in such cases -- protect the system.

And what it would do in this case is almost certainly break from the NCAA, make its playoff to get the feds out of the picture and then exclude the schools that most pushed for the playoff to begin with.

As in, "Here's your remedy, and congratulations to you and your lawyers. Now go play Youngstown State and never darken our towels again."

You think it won't happen? You think money doesn't talk and lots of money doesn't talk really, really loud? You think there are five big-school university presidents who would object if the big schools left the NCAA entirely to start their own organization?

You, then, are nuts.

Frankly, the BCS was designed to keep out the riff-raff to begin with, and it did a hell of a job of it. Utah and Boise State and TCU were never part of the equation, and they aren't going to be now.

When they did get themselves involved, though, and the BCS tried to buy them off with the usual trinkets and empty promises and failed, the problem morphed, and now it's going to morph again.

If the Justice Department is actually serious about this (and I still have my doubts, this being a prosecution of rich guys and all), the BCS will simply tell the NCAA that the Football Bowl Subdivision is now an even more closed shop. They bought off Utah with a trip to the Pac-12, TCU to the Big East, and Boise State got the thorny UnderArmour.

And then they'll close ranks, even if it means disbanding and reorganizing as something else. And yes, even if it means leaving the NCAA to do it.

This won't happen right away; let-'em-eat-cake revolutions never do. But there is sufficient will from the big schools to go now, and if need be, to keep changing conference memberships until schools currently within the organization get bumped out.

It will be the mega-conference the BCS was always designed to be, and if, hypothetically, Iowa State or Washington State or Vanderbilt can no longer run with the stags, then they'll be thanked for their service and given a ticket to Conference USA.

And if they complain, they'll be sent sympathetically to the Justice Department. Someone from maintenance will be there to see them when Hell sends a team to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The BCS has always been underestimated as a political force, and Hatch has always had the bad fortune of being from Utah. He has used his clout as best he can to strike at the beast that kept his constituents at arm's length, but now he's going to learn, as he already knows, how the system works.

Namely, adapt and advance. And along the way, get what you wanted all along anyway.

In short, the BCS will win because it has all the money and the best lawyers, and if it can't figure out a way to beat the Justice Department, it will recreate itself by doing the same things it always did, only with a couple of different members here and there. Then it will devise the playoff system that makes even more money without having to share so much of it with, you know, those people.

It's not exactly the Law of Unintended Consequences, as much as it is three-dimensional chess. The big schools want the riff-raff out, so they devised this system. If the system is going to be tweaked, it will be tweaked on the BCS schools' terms, thinning out the herd and getting the biggest shares of the pot anyway. Which is what they wanted all along.

So, well done and fair play over at Justice. You fought hard against the perceived injustice, and you got played. You didn't even get billable hours because you get government checks. All you got was busywork prodding your defendants to do what they have wanted to do all along.

And the lesson? It's never white collar crime if you hire a marching band.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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