Shurtleff considers probe of the BCS

He calls it an 'unfair system,' looks to build antitrust case

By Ben Winslow

Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 6 2009 1:33 a.m. MST

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was among the fans at the Sugar Bowl, cheering wildly as the Utes defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Now, fuming over their apparent denial of a national championship after an undefeated season, he's considering launching an investigation into college football's Bowl Championship Series. Shurtleff plans to meet with some of his lawyers and investigators next week to consider building an antitrust case against the BCS.

"This game proved that it's an unfair system," the attorney general said in an interview with the Deseret News on Monday. "A team like Utah will never be given a chance."

BCS administrator Bill Hancock said it would be inappropriate to comment on something organization officials have yet to see. "I would say the system we have for postseason football is the one that was agreed upon by all 11 conferences," he said.

To make an antitrust case, Shurtleff has to argue a conspiracy that, in effect, creates a monopoly. In the BCS system, he suggested that with thousands of athletes and millions of dollars at stake, the BCS schools get more money, better stadiums and better recruits. Add to it the ranking and voting system for which teams get into a BCS bowl game, it removes schools like Utah.

"How do you substitute greed and money for heart and guts?" Shurtleff said.

The BCS is made up of the various college football conferences and the University of Notre Dame. Any legal action taken against the BCS may have to include all of those schools.

"Under the BCS, the access for all 119 teams is greater than it was before," Hancock said Monday.

The University of Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) and University of Florida Gators (12-1) play for the BCS championship on Thursday in Miami.

Shurtleff raised questions about BCS antitrust practices when Utah went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2004 but dropped it when Congress began looking into it.

"The BCS said, 'Let us fix it,"' he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, held hearings on the BCS in 2003 as chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing the entity of bias against non-BCS teams. Following the U.'s Sugar Bowl win last week, Hatch repeated his criticisms.

"Regardless of what happens in the Florida-Oklahoma game, the outcome will not change the fact that there is only one undefeated team in Division I college football: the University of Utah," Hatch said. "For the second time in four years, the BCS-busting Utes have gone undefeated and yet uninvited to play for a national championship. That needs to change because the system is broken. The BCS is fatally flawed and, until it is fixed, will continue to produce a flawed college football champion."

Not enough has been done in Shurtleff's mind, prompting him to reconsider an antitrust action when he was in New Orleans celebrating with the team. Fans have sounded off in support.

"The current system is set up by the powerful for the powerful," a fan wrote at deseretnews.com. "In business we call it a monopoly, it violates the antitrust laws currently on the books and until the law gets involved there will be no changes."

"The BCS system needs to be thrown out. It's garbage," another posted.

A Web site, bcswatchdog.com, has created a legal fund to generate money to sue the BCS under federal antitrust laws. With a $3 million goal, approximately 184 people have contributed a little more than $8,400.

Shurtleff is gathering supporters. He said he has talked with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, whose Boise State Broncos were shut out of a national championship title in 2007. Other attorneys general will no doubt be less-than-supportive, particularly those with BCS schools.

Three lawmakers, including Congressman Jim Matheson, D-Utah; and Reps. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii; and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; wrote a letter to President-elect Barack Obama in November seeking support for a resolution to establish a football playoff. Obama himself said he supported a playoff in an interview on "Monday Night Football."

"The current BCS process is fundamentally unfair," the congressmen wrote. "Non-BCS schools are at a competitive and financial disadvantage prior to the first kickoff of the season."

They also ask for a U.S. Justice Department investigation and action against the BCS. Shurtleff said if the U.S. Justice Department won't investigate, states can bring antitrust actions on their own.

"We'll be looking into it for the next several months," the attorney general said.

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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