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Dick Harmon: Utah's 'hayseed' AG could cause some heartburn in BCS country

Published: Friday, April 22 2011 11:12 p.m. MDT

Mark Shurtleff — the guy who is trying to tip over the BCS with an anti-trust lawsuit — has been called the "hayseed" from Utah.

Well, this hayseed brings a little thunder.

The threat of a lawsuit and the involvement of the government in college sports is a great point of argument by both sides. It is debatable on its merits. It may not carry water in the courtroom.

But one thing's for sure, this kind of attention is the one thing — perhaps the only thing — that gets the BCS nervous and creates a BCS pucker factor measurable on the Richter scale.

If only in this realm, it is a fun proposition to watch unfold.

It may be the only way the BCS becomes just one more pit stop in the evolution of college football, the only sport administrated by the NCAA that does not have a tournament or championship to determine a national throne.

Can Shurtleff succeed?

Maybe.

Will others join in on his anti-trust litigation this summer to force a showdown between the nation's elite conferences? Is the governing NCAA (college presidents), which has allowed this sport to be hijacked, going to continue to allow major bowls to fleece their athletic budgets with overpriced ticket sales? And will the injured parties (non-automatic qualifying conferences) find satisfaction through increased access? That remains to be seen.

It is crystal clear to Shurtleff. The BCS is an illegal, unfair cartel. It stifles competition, it creates an unfair advantage, and there are monetary damages that can be proven. He's not blinking.

What Shurtleff is doing is seeking other states to join in the lawsuit. He hopes the Department of Justice also becomes a partner in the suit.

Can that happen? It remains to be seen.

Utah's attorney general said he will proceed with this legal action despite the fact the University of Utah will join the Pac-12 and its automatic qualifying status to a BCS berth.

Shurtleff's cause isn't without support. Recent polls say the BCS' popularity among Americans is around 18 percent, about the same as Congress.

The question is, if successful, does a playoff system fill in the vacuum if the BCS is dismantled? BCS folks say if their control of the money and big bowls is taken away, they'll just resort to the old system and everyone will be back to square one, that the current system best answers the question of who is No. 1.

That may be true on some levels, except no non-automatic qualifying school, like undefeated TCU in 2010, has ever played for a BCS championship.

And, smart university presidents are quickly catching on that their schools lose money in these traditional big bowl games they've gone to bed with. While their fan bases and taxpayers are subsidizing their university budgets to pull spreadsheets out of the red with bowl ticket sale guarantees, these bowl CEOs are pocketing huge profits.

The gig may be up.

The BCS may live. But it has taken hits. Many voices in the national media question its motives and fairness.

At SI.com, Andy Staples wrote this week: "If you read this space often, you know I believe the BCS is the college football equivalent of OPEC and that university presidents are fiscally irresponsible for leaving hundreds of millions of playoff TV rights fee dollars on the table so a particular group of schools can maintain control of the sport."

The book "Death to the BCS" by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan explains the danger of the BCS and the greed of bowls that fleece participants in detail.

In the Sports Business Journal back in August, attorney Gordon Schnell examined the BCS issue and penned:

"Clearly, not all conferences are created equal in the BCS. To BCS opponents, the current system is destined to keep it that way by fostering a self-perpetuating cycle of presumed mediocrity. As Utah and Boise State can attest, even an undefeated season cannot overcome this manifest destiny. To BCS proponents, it is not about excluding the secondary conferences; it is about giving them the opportunity they never had before: a chance at a top bowl and even the national championship."

Yes, the hayseed from Utah may be fun to tease and poke fun of.

But if he pulls it off, nobody will forget him, and he'll certainly be out of the field of hay.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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