SBD/Issue 201/Collegiate Sports

Hatch, BCS Officials Debate Playoff System At Senate Hearing

Hatch Encourages Investigation To See
If BCS Violates Federal Antitrust Laws
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch yesterday (R-UT) called the BCS an "illegal monopoly benefiting six conferences at the expense" of smaller schools during a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on college football's postseason system, according to a front-page piece by Matt Canham of the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE. Hatch said that the Justice Department "should investigate" whether the BCS violates federal antitrust laws. However, Univ. of Nebraska Chancellor and BCS Presidential Oversight Committee Chair Harvey Perlman warned that "even if a judge agreed with Hatch and struck down the way college football now crowns its champion, officials wouldn't create a playoff like so many fans, sports pundits and even the president have called for." Perlman during the hearing said, "Honestly, it's hard to see why anyone would litigate this. The end result of that -- this isn't a threat, it's just an observation -- would be we are back to the old system." The BCS conference commissioners tomorrow are "expected to finalize a television contract" with ESPN that extends the current bowl system through '13, and the "only conference that has not yet agreed to the TV deal is the Mountain West." Perlman said that if the Mountain West does not sign the deal, its member schools "will not be eligible for BCS games during the next four years." Hatch wants the BCS to "push that deadline to explore changes, though he expects the contract will go through" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 7/8). In Utah, Lee Davidson in a front-page piece reports Hatch and Mountain West officials yesterday argued that the BCS "violates antitrust laws by blocking half of the nation's teams ... from any realistic shot at a national championship," but the BCS said that "traditionally powerful conferences have earned the advantages it gives them." Hatch said that "most fans want a playoff system, and he berated the BCS for not even considering one proposed by the Mountain West." Meanwhile, a bill pending in the House of Representatives "could ban the BCS from describing any game as a 'national championship' unless it results from a playoff" (DESERET NEWS, 7/8).

Quick Hits
: Top quotes, statements and exchanges from yesterday’s hearing.

: "There is an arrogance to the BCS that just drives me nuts. That comes with power; they have the power, and they are exercising it.”

: "Let's take last year's Utah team. What more could they have done to play their way into a national championship game?"

Perlman Tries To Avoid
Being Disrespectful Of Utah
: "Senator, it's hard to respond to this without appearing to be disrespectful of Utah."

: "And you don't want to be, in this room."

: "They could've played the schedule Nebraska played last year."

: "Well, they played a lot of big-time teams."

Later Hatch said, "The team that finished at the bottom of the Pac-10, which didn't win a single game last year, was guaranteed, before the season even started, to receive more BCS revenues than the University of Utah, I think the one school which finished the season as the only undefeated team in college football. Now, tell me how that result can be justified?"

: "These relationships reflect not only the strength of the team, but the depth of strength in a conference."

Univ. of Utah President Michael Young
: “The BCS is perpetuating an unfair system."

: "Without a doubt, the BCS embraces favoritism, rather than fairness."

: “The BCS system, with its stranglehold on college football, sends the message that economic power, rather than athletic ability, is key to success.”

said to Perlman at one time, "I do appreciate the tremendous football team that Nebraska fields, and wish that they were willing to play us."

: “There -- you have the challenge!"

: "I'll report to Athletic Director Osborne when I get back."

: "You tell Osborne I want a University of Utah game here." 

MWC attorney Barry Brett
: “The BCS is a naked restraint imposed by a self appointed cartel which has exercised its power to limit games and prevent a playoff in order to preserve for its members access to participation in the five BCS Bowl games and the related revenues."

: "Public and private colleges and universities which desperately need equal access to the enormous revenues of post-season college football are suffering."

BCS attorney William Monts III: “Antitrust criticism of the BCS from those who supposedly favor the interests of the conferences without annual automatic berths, with all due respect, makes no athletic or economic sense."

: “Athletic departments are no different from any other university department. Some are simply better than others for historical reasons or natural advantages. I am not aware, however, of any legal means to change that reality.”

Perlman: “I appreciate that that may seem unfair and it may very well be unfair. That’s the way the world is, I’m afraid.”

 In Utah, Dick Harmon writes the hearing "did fire a solid shot at the BCS controversy and posted a notice -- however mild -- that the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission should investigate what is alleged to be an illegal cartel." While Hatch "fairly and respectfully elicited testimony, he made it clear on the record how he viewed those who control college football championships." Hatch in closing yesterday said, "I have trouble with the BCS. There's a kind of arrogance there that should not be there, and you know who I'm talking about." Young was the "star of the hearing, consistently keeping on task in articulately describing the unfairness of the BCS in determining a national championship." But Hatch should have given Brett "more time to devour" Monts, because the "best parts of the hearing were exchanges between the two lawyers." If the hearing leads to "further scrutiny or change, it served its purpose" (DESERET NEWS, 7/8). Author Frank Deford writes Hatch "answered nitpickers who whine that Congress should have better things to occupy themselves, by writing that we all know college football is big business, and so just because it's a sport that might be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Law, the Senate can't turn a blind eye." Deford: "Hear, Hear! ... Honestly, you are more liable to find someone in favor of swine flu than the Bowl Championship Series" (, 7/8). POLITICO's Patrick Gavin wrote while the hearing "might strike some as a frivolous congressional pursuit, Hatch also chaired a 2003 meeting on the topic," and President Obama has suggested that he "prefers a playoff system over the current BCS system" (, 7/7). Hatch said of the contention that government should not concern itself with sports, "Are you kidding? There are billions of dollars in college football. It's a business just like everything else, and there's an unfairness here that, in my opinion, clearly violates of the antitrust laws. And they ought to enforce them no matter where it is" ("Mike And Mike," ESPN2, 7/8). 

WASTE OF TIME:'s Heather Dinich noted the "point of this hearing was to help determine whether the BCS is really breaking any antitrust laws, and that question was debated and left unanswered" (, 7/7). In DC, Dana Milbank notes "few in the Senate shared Hatch's enthusiasm for taking on the BCS." Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) "took his seat 47 minutes into the hearing, then left three minutes later without saying a word," while the only other Congress member to participate, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), "left after the opening statements." Hatch, "enjoying the rare chance for a member of the minority party to lead" a Senate hearing, "portrayed the BCS spat as a civil rights issue" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/8). In L.A., Kristina Sherry notes yesterday marked Congress' "second look at the BCS this session, and the fourth hearings since the BCS' inception" (L.A. TIMES, 7/8). ESPN’s Colin Cowherd said, “Let sports take care of sports. This is a charade" (“SportsNation,” ESPN2, 7/7).

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