Reason Writers Around Town: Radley Balko on Keeping Politicians Out of Sports for ESPN


Over at, Radley Balko argues that politicians are the last people we should be asking to fix college football's Bowl Championship Series—or, for that matter, whatever other problems might be afflicting the sports world.

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  1. If money is involved you should expect government intervention. I propose a six team playoff. Numbers one and two get a first round bye. Three and four host five and six the week after the conference championship games. The sixth seed is given to the highest ranked undefeated team not in the top five. Utah was already sixth this year, but had they been lower ranked they still would get in. The semi-finals are played New Years day, rotated between the four big bowls. Then we could have a real championship game the week after new years.
    The benefits include One and two being rewarded with a bye, Three and four are rewarded with the economic impact of an extra home game, a neutral field would be hard for fans to make travel plans on a weeks notice. Five and six would have to be damn good to win it all, so I don’t see people complaining.

  2. Are sports fans dumb enough that they need someone to tell them this?

    …wait, don’t answer that.

  3. But Obama talked about this!

  4. Makes perfect sense to me.


  5. These people cheat at democracy. They’re hardly the ones to enforce fairness and abiding by the rules on the playing field.

    That is awesome.

    McCain got a running start in the 111th:

    Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is proposing (S. 38) “A bill to establish a United States Boxing Commission to administer the Act, and for other purposes.” This chestnut is an long time favorite for McCain. The sport of boxing apparently is so out of control that it needs to be reigned in by the federal government.

  6. These people cheat at democracy. They’re hardly the ones to enforce fairness and abiding by the rules on the playing field.

    Oh… WhateverthekidssaynowinsteadofSNAP. That’s the money quote. heh
    Is the the first time Radley’s been published on ESPN? Good to see his byline getting around.

  7. Yes, Warty. In fact, like most sports fans, I spend most of my time drooling and furrowing my brow in a vain attempt to understand the moving picture box in my living room.

  8. Better that Obama and congress sticks to irrelavent topics such as sports instead of the economy.

  9. Corporations have taken over amature sports to the detriment of higher education. It is all part of the Right Wing Agenda that has infected both public and private universities.

    If the Corporations want sports teams they should be professional sports teams if we are going to have Corporations at all.

  10. Congress has poked its nose into performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, the Patriot’s taking photos of the other team’s practices,
    now boxing and possibly football playoffs.
    Sounds like it is time for a new Cabinet Department for sports and morale: Sec. of Bread and Circuses.

  11. Oddly enough, I want Congress to talk about doing something without doing anything. Congress talking will scare the ADs and Conference Commissioners into doing something. Plus it will have the added bonus of keeping Congress occupied from spending more money.

    Ironically enough, the current system sounds like something that would come out of a government committee.

  12. Last month, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) introduced a bill that would use the power of the Federal Trade Commission to prevent the BCS from marketing its title game as a “championship,” unless the game is the result of a playoff

    No problemo, Congress-dude. Tonight I may pop in to view a few snaps of The 2009 FedEx BCS National Big Game and Bet-Fest?.

  13. Make that The 2009 FedEx BS National Big Game and Bet-Fest?.

  14. I like Radley’s arguments, as far as they go, but I think he’s missed an important point. The University of Utah, and the overwhelming majority of the colleges that participate in NCAA sports at the highest level, are the government!

    Here are the private schools in the top 25, per the BCS rankings:

    5. U of Southern California (11-1)
    11. Texas Christian U. (10-2)
    16. Brigham Young U. (10-2)
    23. Northwestern (9-3)
    24. Boston College (9-4)

    Some private Us that are traditional powers are missing from the top ranks this year, [Notre Dame, Stanford], but the fact remains that there has been a secular trend of independent colleges dropping football, or moving their programs to less expensive levels: the FCS (nee “Division I-A”), Divisions II or III, or even the club level. College sports as run by the state universities has become a modern-day version of bread and circuses. U of Anystate and Anystate State U, not to mention those upstarts at U of Anystate at Anytown (formerly Anytown Normal School) all have their followers, many, if not most of whom never matriculated at those fine institutions. State legislatures have been known to pass bills forcing the ADs at the various state schools to schedule each other.

    As a graduate of a college that dropped what was then not yet called “D1 football” when I was 4 years old, I guess you could say that I have no dog in this hunt. There is spillover into other sports, primarily the nonsense that occurs when discussing basketball programs that come from a “non-BCS conference.” What has the football status of a school have to do with hoops, anyway?

    I don’t know whether to applaud a state official for calling on the government to apply antitrust rules on itself, or wonder at his naivete. The last time I can remember this working at all was when local cable franchising rules were called into question on an antitrust basis. What we got out of that was federal regulation of cable pricing, so, no joy.


  15. Well, yeah. And Microsoft thought the government was the last group that needed to be involved with tech. And Big Oil thinks the government should keep out. OJ said he would tirelessly track down Nicole’s killer himself (no court needed). People targeted by any authority (with just or unjust motives) will claim that the authority should have more important things to do.

    Markets move slowly, but they move. In ten years either the BCS will have worked and choked the mid-majors out of the FBS, or the mid-majors’ success will continue to make a folly of the BCS until popularity and money force them to be more inclusive.

  16. Kevin makes some good points. The gvt schools dominate the gridiron. Naturally, I hate that and, ceteris paribus, I will always root against them. Too often, like tonight’s “national championship” contest, I do not have a private U for which to root.

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