Hatch antitrust panel to tackle BCS

Published: Thursday, March 26 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, may be a skinny guy with a high voice. But he's angrily setting out to tackle the biggest powers in college football, vowing to pound them until they reform the Bowl Championship Series.

He called them out Wednesday, as he and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc. — respectively the top Republican and Democrat on a Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust — released a list of topics that panel plans to consider this year.

A bit buried on Page 4 of an eight-page list, amid somewhat sleep-inducing reading on oil and railroad antitrust, is a nifty paragraph about the BCS.

"The BCS system leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year," their joint statement says.

Then it drops its first unexpected bomb: "The subcommittee will hold hearings to investigate these issues."

That is followed by a second: "Sen. Hatch will introduce legislation to rectify this situation."

Hatch's office did not comment about exactly what may be in the yet-to-be-written bill — including whether it might attempt to mandate a playoff system similar to that in college basketball, or simply mandate that all colleges be given a fair shot to play their way into a national championship.

Hatch merely told the Deseret News, "As I have said before, the BCS system is anti-competitive, unfair and un-American. I am looking forward to exploring what legislative remedies might be applied to fix a system that violates our nation's antitrust laws by placing non-BCS universities at a serious competitive disadvantage."

Of course, that comes after the University of Utah football team was the nation's only undefeated team at the end of the last bowl season, but it had not been invited to the BCS championship game — and finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll (which is not tied to the BCS).

The University of Utah is in the Mountain West conference, which does not receive any automatic bids to the BCS bowls.

Hatch's joint statement with Kohl on Wednesday said that the BCS "generates revenue for participating schools at a level that is unmatched in the history of collegiate sports. Even teams that never play in a BCS game are able to reap the financial benefits simply by virtue of their membership in one of the six original BCS conferences."

It added that half of college football teams are outside of the conferences that receive automatic bids to big-money BCS bowls, and that may hurt colleges "that depend on revenues from their football teams to fund their other athletic programs."

The statement also says critics argue that "a fair system would provide equal opportunity, regardless of conference, for all teams to play their way into one of the BCS's bowl games and, if they're good enough, to compete for the national championship."

That comes after Kohl and Hatch had stressed in statements that their subcommittee will focus on those issues of most importance to consumers in a time of recession.

"In these challenging economic times, the need for strong antitrust law to protect competition has never been greater," Kohl said in a press release. But he added, "We will also pursue several important reforms to antitrust law to ensure that undue barriers to competition are eliminated."

Hatch is not the only Utah politician looking to reform the BCS. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff also launched an investigation into whether the BCS violates current antitrust laws.

Of note, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, has sponsored legislation that would prevent the BCS from calling a football game a "national championship" unless the game culminates from a playoff system.

President Barack Obama has also said he favors a playoff system in college football.

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com

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