Bowl Championship Series changes needed


POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

Members of Congress opposing the monopoly of the college football championship system are having little success in gathering support, partly because of hefty distractions such as the recession and health care reform. They also are outnumbered by representatives of the highly-populated states that comprise a powerful defense of the monopoly, which leaves antitrust litigation as their most plausible offense.

Even with the cheering of President Barack Obama in a “;60 Minutes”; interview last December, proponents of an open playoff system — like all other sports — are understandably frustrated. Rep. Neil Abercrombie has urged “;vigorous pursuit”; of the issue by Obama's Justice Department. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, plans to make the same case to federal lawyers, having held a hearing on the issue last month in the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights.

“;I think this is a big enough issue,”; Hatch said. “;People try to pass this off as some itty-bitty issue. Hey, it involves hundreds of millions of dollars, it involves unfairness, mistreatment.”;

However, Stephen Ross, director of the Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy and Research, told the Associated Press that the Justice Department is more likely to look into Hatch's request as senatorial courtesy than a step toward launching a full antitrust investigation of the Bowl Championship Series.

Under the BCS system, winners of six conferences — the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC — are automatically chosen and given $18 million each to play in the Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Rose bowls. Colleges outside the BCS are allowed in by invitation only.

The Western Athletic Conference's Boise State defeated Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, finishing with an undefeated record and was left out of the championship game. The University of Hawaii received its only loss to Georgia in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. The Mountain West Conference's University of Utah beat Alabama last year and finished unbeaten, having been left out of the championship game. Utah finished ranked No. 2 behind once-beaten Florida.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has four co-sponsors of his bill to force a playoff, and Gary Miller, R-Calif., has a bill with three co-sponsors that would deny federal funds to schools in Division I football unless the championship resulted from a playoff system. Abercrombie has five co-sponsors of his proposed nonbinding resolution calling for a playoff system and a Justice Department investigation.

Mountain West is paying $265,000 to a Washington lobbying firm to keep the issue before Congress. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said recently that it could take five years to change the way college football championships are decided. The question is whether the dispute will be settled in Congress or court.