WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department is considering launching an investigation into the legality of the Bowl Championship Series in college football, it said Friday in a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
It also said the Obama administration is looking at a wide array of other options to address fairness, ranging from pushing a national study on the feasibility of a playoff system to prohibiting advertising a game as a "national championship" if it does not result from a playoff.
Hatch cheered the letter, which came in response to one that he wrote earlier to President Barack Obama seeking a probe into whether the BCS violates antitrust laws.
"I'm encouraged by the administration's response," Hatch said. "I continue to believe there are antitrust issues the administration should explore, but I'm heartened by its willingness to consider alternative approaches to confront the tremendous inequities in the BCS that favor one set of schools over others."
Hatch added, "The current system runs counter to basic fairness that every family tries to instill in their children from the day they are born. It is systematically unfair, jeopardizing students, players, education quality, ethics and true competition."
The Justice Department told Hatch that it is reviewing his letter and other materials "to determine whether to open an investigation into the legality of the current system under the antitrust laws."
The four-page letter outlined inequalities that critics see in the BCS system, including that just some traditionally powerful conferences receive automatic berths to BCS bowls and also the lion's share of the system's money.
Also, the letter noted, "No non automatic-qualifying conference school has yet qualified to play in the BCS national championship game, despite some of them (including TCU and Boise State this year, and Utah last year) having undefeated records."
Beyond a probe into possible antitrust violations, the letter said the administration is also "exploring other options that might be available to address concerns with the college football post-season."
Among the options it listed are:
Encouraging the NCAA to take control of the college football postseason at the Football Bowl Subdivision level as it does at other football levels and with other sports.
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Pushing legislation such as a bill by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, that would ban promotion of a postseason FBS game as a national championship unless it results from a playoff system.
Looking at legislation that might "target universities' tax exempt status if a playoff system is not implemented."
Hatch wrote to President Obama on Oct. 21 asking the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division to investigate the BCS after a Senate hearing on the issue.
At that time, Hatch wrote, "After a careful examination of both the written and oral testimonies presented at this hearing, I believe a strong case can be made that the BCS is in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act."