SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he is ending his quest to break up college football's Bowl Championship Series — for now — because of its move to a playoff system.
"We can't sue on the plan that we had before because they have changed so much," Shurtleff said. "We think the appropriate thing to do is wait and see how this plan develops. We will keep a very close eye on it."
The attorney general's office has been in the process of hiring an outside firm to pass off the antitrust investigation it has been conducting to determine whether the BCS illegally deprives universities a fair and equal chance to compete in championships and share in revenues.
"We've been busy clearing conflicts with the firm and so forth when the BCS, during that time, did what they said they would never do," Shurtleff said, "and that's move to a playoff system."
Shurtleff, a Republican who leaves office at the end of the year, has accused the BCS of antitrust violations that he says are robbing taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The BCS announced in June it would be moving to a four-team playoff system and that the automatic qualifying system for certain conferences in the league would be done away with.
"At this point, all we know is that there is going to be a selection committee that is going to pick the four top teams," Shurtleff said. "We know that they are going to do a bidding proposal for the championship game. … We're very suspicious that a selection committee picking four teams is still going to be an antitrust problem, but we don't know for sure."
The attorney general said he has four attorneys in his office who will continue to monitor the BCS after he leaves office and that they, along with the state of Utah, will make a decision about whether to pursue an antitrust suit once specific details on the future of college football are announced.
A lawsuit would seek damages for schools including the University of Utah and Boise State that have lost out on millions of dollars over the years because the existing system keeps non-preferred conferences at a competitive disadvantage, he said.
That has become moot for the University of Utah, which is now in its second season in the PAC-12. Shurtleff has said that makes no difference in terms of pursuing legal action. Meanwhile, BYU no longer belongs to a football conference and is playing its second season as an independent.
Both schools have been highly ranked in college football polls in recent seasons, and Utah has played in two BCS bowl games, beating Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Shurtleff's effort to sue the BCS appeared to pick up some momentum last year when the Department of Justice sent a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert asking him why there isn't a Football Bowl Subdivision playoff system. The letter was the first sign that DOJ officials may look into the much-maligned system.