Proving once again there are no offseasons ever in any sport, these bombs dropped during my vacation last week. Each one deserves a response from this space's department of justice ...
The Bomb: Pac-12 agrees to a 12-year, $3 billion deal with ESPN and Fox.
The Response: The first thing that came to mind: Larry Scott is gold. The commissioner was hired to drag the sleepy Pac-10 out of its past and rocket it toward a lucrative future. In less than two years, he delivered big time. As of right now, Scott can pretty much write his own ticket as a sports CEO. I'm talking about commissioner of baseball, the NFL, head of the U.S. Olympics, maybe even the next president of the NCAA. (More on that later in the week).
Scott delivered because these commissioner jobs have evolved into giant fundraising endeavors. Sure, every once in a while a commish has to suspend or fine someone but that's small stuff. The commissioners' mandate from the presidents they serve is to make as much money as possible for the schools. Mike Slive and Jim Delany, two powerful guys with powerful NCAA backgrounds, had been the best at it -- until now. In less than two years Scott reshaped and repackaged his conference in such a way that it became the most lucrative league television property in history. Remember, this is a guy who sees profit centers in China for UCLA gear.
The question now becomes what the Pac-12 schools do with their windfall. You can be sure that most of it won't be spent adding sports. There's a reason that only 10 or so schools out of 120 in I-A are turning a profit. The cash will go to the bottom line -- existing facilities, recruiting and coaching salaries. Adding non-revenue sports adds nothing to the bottom line.
In other words, the Pac-12 just became a player for the likes of Urban Meyer. I'm not saying Meyer will be hired in the Pac-12, I’m saying that the Pac-12 can now afford coaches of his stature. UCLA, not exactly Fort Knox when it comes to paying coaches, now has the ability, if it chooses, to pay Meyer if it fires Rick Neuheisel. The question is not whether it will, the reality is that it can make that call without getting hung up on.
The Bomb: The Department of Justice writes the NCAA and asks, "What's up?" about a playoff.
The Response: First, I'm not even sure Justice sent the letter to the right person. Mark Emmert and the NCAA he oversees has minimal control over college football in general and almost none over postseason football. Emmert's answer should be short and to the point: The reason we don't have a playoff is because the membership doesn't want it.
Never mind that the NCAA technically isn't responsible, the commissioners seemingly have a way of diffusing any coming legal challenge.
"We never could have believed the regular season would have grown over the last 15 years like it has grown," said Delany, the Big Ten commissioner. "I think that's due, in part, to the BCS. We did what we set out to do, which is [stage] a 1-2 game, preserve the bowl system and grow the regular season ... We feel like we're on good [legal] ground. We never know about what a judge or jury could do, [but] we feel like we've got good representation."
I talked to noted anti-trust attorney Tom Rhodes about this issue last week. He isn't concerned for the BCS, calling the letter a political issue, not a legal issue, adding that assistant attorney general Christine Varney's interest is a "war dance" not a "war." Rhodes also intimates that Justice is a political animal that serves a president who made populist statements about a playoff while trying to get elected.
"It's important to understand what the letter does not say," Rhodes told me. "It doesn't say, 'You're in violation of the anti-trust laws.' ... Second thing is, if she [Varney] thought she had a case she wanted to bring she'd have brought it already. The third observation I would make is that the Department of Justice often has to be responsive to the political realities of the world. A political reality here is [Republican Utah Senator] Orrin Hatch is important to the administration.
Hatch has been a constant critic of the BCS but you wonder who his constituency is at this point. Utah is now in the BCS club. BYU, by its own choosing, went independent electing to join Navy and Army in having the worst BCS access in I-A. Those three schools will be considered if any finish in the top 14 of the BCS, but they are assured of a BCS berth only if they finish 1 or 2 in the final standings.
"People who are going to go to war usually don't spend a bunch of time jumping up and down with a war dance," Rhodes added. "This letter is consistent with the idea that Justice can do a war dance and if the BCS then makes a change, the [Obama] administration can claim, 'Look what we've done.' "
Think of it this way: The BCS has been called in for questioning but no one is ready to make an arrest.
The Bomb: Ohio State will investigate the sale of cars to Buckeye players and their relatives at two local dealerships.
The Response: I think I speak for everyone when I say there are few people in this world more trustworthy than used-car salesmen. Yeah, right. Those 14 magic words have, at some point, rung in all of our ears: "What's it going to take for me to put you in this car today?"
Next thing you know you're meeting the finance manager and making chit chat about how much you make a year. Having jaw surgery is more pleasant. Yep, something smells about the school now investigating 50 sales to determine whether players or relatives received price breaks (translation: extra benefits). My dad was a car salesman. Never once did he mention that cash-poor college kids were an untapped customer base.
So now the case goes to the Ohio State compliance department which is the collegiate equivalent of those used-car salesmen. This is the crack group that forgot to tell the Buckeye Five that selling their gear to a tattoo-parlor owner was against the rules. This is the sharp-minded department that decided to check Jim Tressel's computer after it was way too late. Yep, they're the ones you want searching for the truth with the program potentially eligible for the death penalty.
"I have nothing to believe a violation has occurred," Doug Archie, head of Ohio State compliance, told the Columbus Dispatch.
Sorry, but we've heard it before: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
If this case has legs -- or rather, keys -- greasy car salesmen will be the least of Gene Smith's problems. Ohio State could be looking at lack of institutional control and a postseason ban, two penalties it has so-far dodged. But, damn, the Buckeyes will still have a badass set of wheels.