Jen Pilgreen, Deseret News
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he's close to hiring an outside law firm in his quest to break up college football's Bowl Championship Series.

"We are closely monitoring the recently proposed changes to the BCS system," Shurtleff said Monday. "We are continuing our investigation and finalizing the hiring of a law firm to aid in a legal challenge against the BCS."

The attorney general's office has been conducting an antitrust investigation to determine whether the BCS illegally deprives universities a fair and equal chance to compete in championships and share in revenues.

Shurtleff's announcement comes a day before conference commissioners are scheduled present their four-team playoff proposal to the BCS presidential oversight committee in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Virginia Tech's Charles W. Steger heads the committee, which includes one university official from each of the 11 major football conferences and independent Notre Dame.

Shurtleff, a Republican who leaves office at the end of the year, accuses the BCS of antitrust violations that he says are robbing taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Assembling a strong legal team from around the country would provide the best chance to bring equity back to college football, he said earlier.

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 begins its second season in the PAC-12 this fall. Shurtleff has said that makes no difference in terms of pursuing legal action. Meantime, BYU no longer belongs to a football conference and will play its second season as an independent this year.

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.

The attorney general's search for a law firm has gone on for at least a year. Shurtleff's office posted a request for information from interested firms on a website government agencies use to solicit bids and contracts last June.

The request did not offer a contract but sought interest in being considered for a legal team. It asked law firms to list their qualifications, experience in investigating and litigating similar cases and whether they have undertaken an analysis of the BCS system.

It also aimed to assess possible fee arrangements including pro bono, contingencies and fixed or hourly rates.

The attorney's general's office said it would provide more information when it signs a contract with a law firm.

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