WASHINGTON — NCAA President Mark Emmert told the Justice Department Wednesday that its questions about the lack of a playoff system for college football are best directed to another group — the Bowl Championship Series.
Other than licensing the postseason bowls, "the NCAA has no role to play in the BCS or the BCS system," Emmert wrote in a letter to the department's antitrust chief, Christine Varney. He added that short of member colleges and universities discontinuing the BCS and proposing an NCAA championship, "there is no directive for the (NCAA) to establish a playoff."
In a letter two weeks ago, Varney told Emmert that "serious questions continue to arise suggesting the current Bowl Championship Series system may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in the federal antitrust laws." Critics who have urged the department to investigate the BCS contend it unfairly gives some schools preferential access to the title game and lucrative, top-tier bowls at the end of the season.
"Your views would be relevant in helping us to determine the best course of action with regard to the BCS," Varney wrote.
Emmert's comments about the role of the NCAA were in response to Varney's questions about why a playoff system isn't used in football, unlike in other sports, and what steps the NCAA has taken to create one.
Varney also asked whether there are aspects of the BCS system that don't serve the interest of fans, schools and players, and to what extent an alternative could better serve those interests.
"These questions can best be answered by the BCS and the group of institutions that operate the BCS system," Emmert wrote.
He said that because the BCS system doesn't fall under the NCAA's purview, it was not appropriate for him to offer views on the system for crowning college football's championship.
Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said that the department would continue to review all information related to the issue.
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the BCS, said he hadn't seen the NCAA's letter, but was confident that it was responsive to the Justice Department's questions.
"We're confident the BCS complies with the law and we know it has been very good for college football," he added. Hancock had previously said that it was a waste of taxpayers' money for the government to look into the BCS.
Matthew Sanderson, co-founder of Playoff PAC, which wants the BCS replaced with a championship playoff system, said he wasn't surprised by the NCAA response.
"The NCAA has now confirmed no private solution to this problem exists. It will need to be solved through other means," Sanderson said, referring to a lawsuit.
The NCAA letter comes as a new IRS filing by the Sugar Bowl shows it paid its CEO just under $600,000 in 2009. Last year, Playoff PAC filed a complaint with the IRS against the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls, claiming they violated their tax-exempt status. It called Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan's compensation excessive. The three bowls along with the Rose Bowl rotate hosting the BCS national title game.
The attorney general of Utah, Mark Shurtleff, has said he plans to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS.
Before he was sworn in as president, Barack Obama said in 2008 that he was going to "to throw my weight around a little bit" to nudge college football toward a playoff system.