The BCS Vs. The Department Of Justice? It Could Happen


Politicians are getting involved? Buckle up.

The Department of Justice, as you might imagine, has a lot on its plate these days. There's not much need to go into that here; in case you hadn't noticed, this is The Sporting Blog, not C-SPAN. Those who were led to believe otherwise, our apologies; you may visit C-SPAN's homepage here instead.

Anyway, give Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff some credit: He's got stones. He plans to ask the DOJ (we can't restate this enough, the Department of Justice, people) to join his investigation against the BCS. Wow.

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In an interview with KSL NewsRadio, Shurtleff said he plans to make a ⇥pitch to the Justice Department to bring the weight of its antitrust ⇥division into the probe. ⇥"Because they have the resources that Utah does not have," Shurtleff ⇥said. "Taking on the BCS is a huge undertaking financially." ⇥

Angered by the University of Utah being denied a national ⇥championship despite going undefeated and winning the Sugar Bowl, ⇥Shurtleff first raised the specter of an antitrust probe earlier this ⇥year. Since then, others have dog piled on the BCS system, calling it ⇥an "unfair monopoly."
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Technically, we'd be more open to calling it an unfair oligarchy, but it's probably that "unfair" part that matters a little bit more.

At the heart of the matter, when it comes down to it all, is the fact that the bowl system operates largely outside the jurisdiction of the NCAA. Oh, there are still rules by which the sponsors and athletes have to abide and everything, but the deals aren't set up through the ruling body.

That's important, because it means the "BCS conferences" were allowed to confederate, in essence, to crowd out the "mid-majors." We're using quotes here because they're becoming poorer distinctions by the season; the Mountain West, for example, can make the argument that they're more deserving of an automatic bid than the Big East or ACC. Not that it'd be right or wrong, mind you, just that the argument can be made.

In an exclusive article for Sporting News, Boise State president Bob Kustra laid the BCS exclusion issue out thusly:

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How can this happen when the NCAA sponsors ⇥88 championships in almost every sport ⇥from bowling to water polo? The glaring exception ⇥is football. The NCAA does not sponsor a ⇥championship for the Football Bowl Subdivision-- ⇥formerly Division I-A. This so-called ⇥championship has fallen into the hands of the ⇥commissioners of the six BCS automatic qualifying ⇥conferences. They wrote the exclusionary ⇥BCS rule that created six automatic qualifying ⇥conferences--Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big ⇥East, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-10--and gives to ⇥the six conference commissioners the authority ⇥to send their respective champions to a BCS ⇥bowl regardless of how their won/loss records ⇥stack up against the champions of the nonautomatic ⇥qualifying conferences--Conference ⇥USA, Mid-American, Western Athletic, Sun ⇥Belt and Mountain West.
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While the issue has gained plenty of steam in the wake of Utah's ahem, questionable claim to a national title, the legal arguments may center more around the massive sums of BCS money. Those six conferences are guaranteed at least one eight-figure payout from a BCS bowl, often two, while the "mid-majors" usually end up with one or two total. The MAC, for example, has never (and might not ever) collected BCS bowl money. The DOJ probably, hopefully, doesn't care who wins a football game or an AP poll. They probably do care about whether there's an unfair system of monetary distribution when about $100 million is at stake.

There is a moderately sensible solution, one the BCS conferences would never agree to for obvious monetary reasons. Rather than select the six BCS conference champions for BCS bowl money and then award four at-large bids irrespective of conference, a much fairer idea would be to select the best six conference champions (as long as we're fantasizing, this culminates in a four-team playoff), then the same next four at-large teams. At the very least, it removes the obviously undeserving BCS teams, the ones that usually come from the Big East (no offense, Pitt), and essentially sets a big-money payout line at the Top 10. If any team in any conference can get into the Top 10, then, it stands to reason that they've earned BCS money, right?

But again, this can't and won't happen. That would be so actively against the BCS conferences' best self-interests that a compliant commissioner would have probably earned immediate dismissal. That or the Big Ten's bulldog of a commissioner, Jim Delany, would saw the commissioner's head off.

Plus, look, we're not sure the Department of Justice needs to get involved; again, it has bigger fish to fry and much bigger sums of money to investigate.  If it feels like getting involved and can get around the fact that at the end of the day, we're talking about sports, it'll probably find plenty of interesting material for at least an investigation.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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