Shurtleff is offered support in BSC probe

Attorney general proceeding with BCS antitrust inquiry

Published: Monday, Jan. 12 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Mark Shurtleff

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As pressure mounts on the Bowl Championship Series, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is proceeding with an inquiry into whether the college football bowl system violates antitrust laws.

Shurtleff and members of his antitrust division will meet next week to discuss strategy for an investigation and potential litigation over whether the BCS violates federal laws.

"As attorney general, I have a duty to enforce federal and state antitrust laws," Shurtleff said in an e-mail Friday, further explaining his decision to go ahead with the probe.

At the same time, the Deseret News has learned attorneys across the country with expertise in antitrust litigation have approached the attorney general with offers to assist.

"What constitutes a restraint of trade is if something creates more anti-competitive effects then it does pro-competitive effects," said Gary Roberts, the dean of the law school at Indiana University and an expert on sports and antitrust law. He is among those who may be consulted on any lawsuit.

The Deseret News first reported on Shurtleff's plans for a probe of the BCS on Monday. Since then, the story has ignited a firestorm of controversy with politicians, fans and sports pundits weighing in.

"Perhaps the Bowl Championship Series, the so-called BCS, would best be referred to as the Good Ol' Boys Championship Series," Utah congressman and former BYU football player Jason Chaffetz said Friday. "The University of Utah bowled over 13 opponents this year without a single loss. It would be seemingly inappropriate for the Utes to be bowled over by the good ol' boys off the field."

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has said he plans to reintroduce legislation eliminating the BCS. President-elect Barack Obama has also made public his support for a national playoff system.

Speaking to a meeting of the Football Writers Association of America in Florida on Thursday, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner and BCS coordinator John Swofford said he did not believe the postseason series violated any laws.

"We've attempted to make every effort to make certain that any structure of the BCS is within the antitrust laws. Our legal people are comfortable that the BCS system is," he told reporters.

Roberts said he believed Shurtleff can make a case, noting that the attorney general doesn't have to prove a "nefarious conspiracy," but that it restrains trade.

"I think whether they win or lose is going to determine where it's heard," he said. "If it's Alabama or Louisiana, I don't think they'll have a case. If it's Salt Lake City or Boise, there's a strong likelihood a violation is found."

Roberts said the BCS cannot ignore the threats of a lawsuit and predicted a settlement that would result in changes to the postseason system. Shurtleff says the BCS generates millions of dollars a year in potential revenue that is unfairly distributed amongst all the schools.

"If a system unreasonably restrains the opportunity of our educational institutions to freely and fairly compete to be designated as a national college football champion — a designation desired by football fans throughout the nation — such a system could unfairly deprive our institutions and my state of these important and significant revenues," he wrote.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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