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My view: BCS distributes revenue inequitably, hurting Utah's schools

By Orrin G. Hatch

Published: Sunday, March 21 2010 12:15 a.m. MDT

Few organizations have been met with more public scorn and condemnation over the past several years than the Bowl Championship Series. In fact, I think it could be said that, on most days, even Congress has higher approval ratings.

Most of this criticism has been warranted. Indeed, on the most basic level, the BCS robs college football fans throughout the country of a true, undisputed national championship in Division I football. In recent times, Utahns have had more cause than most to support an overhaul of the BCS system based on this set of complaints. They are joined by fans throughout the country who believe that, on this most basic level, the system is just unfair.

However, there are other problems with the BCS that are less widely acknowledged, but far more damaging; namely, the means by which the BCS distributes revenue, even among equal participants in its games. Under the current BCS regime, six privileged conferences are guaranteed full shares of the BCS revenues, leaving the remaining five conferences with much smaller shares, even if one of them is fortunate enough to send a team to a BCS bowl. In fact, just last season, two nonprivileged conferences each sent a team to the BCS, yet both received only a fraction of the amounts paid to their counterparts from the privileged conferences. Keep in mind, we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

On this count, Utahns have even more reason to cry foul on the BCS. It is important to remember that this money is divided among colleges and universities, all of whom use the funds to build facilities for student athletes, offer scholarships and fund academic programs. Yet, even though they have been competitive on the field and in the marketplace, schools from our state have been shortchanged, not due to any fault of their own, but to an inequitable system.

This arrangement is troublesome on a number of levels. First, there is a strong argument to make that the BCS violates our nation's antitrust laws, which outlaw contracts designed to reduce market competition. In addition, the BCS system clearly harms consumers throughout the country by reducing the quality of competition and throwing up roadblocks in front of potential competitors.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the BCS constitutes an arrangement among educational institutions to decide in advance which schools will benefit and which schools will be left out in the cold, regardless of the quality of their performance. We charge these same institutions with the task of preparing our young people to be active and ethical upon entering the job market. The BCS is, by its very nature, antithetical to that mission.

Recently, I have been a leader in an effort to shine a light on the inequities of the BCS, to push for reform, and to ensure fairness for all its participants. Over that time some have argued that this issue is simply too trivial to receive the attention of a U.S. senator. I must disagree.

I'll set aside the absurd argument that focusing attention on the BCS takes attention away from issues like health care, the economy and wars overseas. Indeed, members of Congress, like anyone else, are capable of working on more than one issue at a time, and I have been at the forefront of the most important policy debates facing our nation. With that in mind, one can only wonder whether these same critics would question efforts to reform a commercial enterprise with similar inequities and legal concerns that did not involve college football, particularly if it negatively impacted the people of our state. Given the nature of the problems wrought by the BCS, I would argue that government attention is not only warranted, but necessary.

So long as I represent the people of Utah, I will not apologize for ensuring that Utah's schools, students and people are treated fairly.

Orrin G. Hatch is Utah's senior senator.

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