Dick Harmon: 5 unsung Utahns played a critical role in the death of the BCS

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8 2014 10:45 p.m. MST

Florida State players celebrate after defeating Auburn University in the 2014 BCS Championship NCAA College Football game on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 in Pasadena, Calif. Florida State defeated Auburn 34-31. (AP Photo/Doug Benc)


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On a quiet Sunday morning a few months ago in Orem, I turned and saw Matt Sanderson in the back of the church building.

He was there for the blessing of a newborn baby in the Sanderson clan. Nobody outside of his family knew who he was. He looked just like another Mormon guy in a suit and tie sitting in the back.

But I knew.

The University of Utah graduate is a Washington, D.C., lawyer — a famous one. He helped bring down the BCS, a system that took its last breath Monday night in Pasadena, Calif.

I had to shake his hand.

Sanderson is a guy who simply cared and was unafraid to use his legal skills to do something about an injustice he saw as un-American. In 2011, his Playoff PAC was nominated for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award for its anti-BCS work.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Sanderson said Wednesday. “I’m happy the BCS is done and I think we proved in a few significant ways a playoff will make a difference, that more championships will be decided on the field rather than by pundits.”

Sandersen helped found Playoff PAC to fight for a college playoff by exposing the failings of the elite BCS and its cronyism. The other co-founders — Matthew Martinez, Chad Pehrson, Bentley Peay and Bryson Morgan — are all Utah natives. Their efforts made the front page of The New York Times and other top media outlets.

In untold thousands of hours devoted to this task, these Utahns played a key role in changing the face of college football from what it was — an unpopular ruse — to something yet to be determined.

Florida State's win over Auburn Monday night was one of the best BCS championship games of all 16. It was exciting, dramatic, filled with heroics and a Heisman Trophy winner who delivered. It was a great finale.

But if you teleport yourself out and look at the big picture, the masses judged the BCS unpopular by a large consensus. It stunk because its foundation was made of well-intentioned greedy rot.

The BCS was always designed to benefit certain conferences, especially the elite SEC. It was specifically designed, with its secret computer formulas, to exclude. By its bylaws, it specifically picked out automatic qualifiers from six conferences — others could go fish until Congress got involved. And that’s when Utah became the first BCS buster in 2004.

The BCS drew the ire of many college coaches and fans over its span of 16 years. But it enriched certain bowl directors and the establishment that created it to make profits and enhance the select blessed.

Led by Roy Kramer, an SEC die-hard elite, the BCS used three computer rating systems when it started and added five more in 1999. To make it more elite, it added a strength of schedule category in 2001. In 2002, margin of victory was cut from the formula after much criticism. It no longer encouraged a potential BCS-ranked team to win 82-10 over a cupcake.

The BCS kept evolving, trying to appear credible. But it was running on a treadmill.

In October 2010, Sanderson, who grew up in Orem, debated Kramer face to face over the BCS issue at Boston College. I had Sanderson winning easily.

The BCS era is over for two reasons. First, there was a cry for a playoff. Second, there is more money to be made.

When Yahoo.com columnist Dan Wetzel co-wrote a book that trumpeted just how massive the financial fleecing of universities by bowls had become, and how out-of-whack the BCS system had operated, public opinion continued to erode.

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