- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

Sen. Orrin Hatch reiterated his desire Thursday to change college football’s postseason format, saying he believes the Bowl Championship Series violates antitrust laws.

Speaking on “America’s Morning News” on Washington Times Radio, the Republican from Utah said the BCS system is slanted to benefit the more prominent teams.

“You have 50 percent of the schools who are the elite schools. They get almost all of the money, and the other schools, no matter how good they are, don’t even have a chance to compete for the national title,” he said.

Hatch serves on the Senate’s judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, which has held hearings on the issue. He urged additional hearings, along with an inquiry by the Department of Justice.

Hatch’s comments came a day after BCS officials rejected a proposal by the Mountain West Conference - which includes Utah - for an eight-team playoff to replace the current system.

The Bowl Championship Series is a five-game arrangement that aims to pit the top two teams against one another in a title game and places eight other top-ranked schools in the Fiesta, Orange, Sugar and Rose bowls. Placement in the bowls is determined by a combination of human and computer polls. While any team can qualify for the BCS, critics have argued the system makes it harder for teams from outside the six major conferences to qualify.

Calls for changes to the BCS system have increased since January, when Utah went undefeated but was passed over to play in the BCS title game by Florida and Oklahoma, each of which had one loss. The Utes instead played in the Fiesta Bowl, where they beat Alabama 31-17.

“The University of Utah was the only undefeated team last year, and they didn’t have a chance in the world of competing for the national title, and then they get there and defeat one of the teams that was No. 1 for most of the year. They killed them,” Hatch said.

He said he has raised concerns with BCS officials, but “they just seem to blithely ignore what you say.”

“I think there are definite antitrust laws being broken here, and we should do something about it,” he said.

Legal experts, however, said there is little chance the federal government would pursue an antitrust case against the BCS.

“The Justice Department could use its power to go after antitrust violators, but the last 25 years or so of federal antitrust activity suggests that there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm for antitrust enforcement generally,” said Geoffrey Rapp, a associate professor at the University of Toledo who has taught courses on antitrust and sports law. “My sense is going after sports leagues or intercollegiate athletic associations or probably schools is probably something people in the federal government don’t view as the best use of power that is already subject to a lot of criticism.”

Rapp said an individual school could sue on antitrust grounds but that it would be difficult for the school to prove it suffered harm as a result of the BCS.

Hatch is not the first public official to speak out against the BCS. Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff said in January he would explore whether the BCS violated antitrust laws, and Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican, introduced a bill in December that would forbid any group from marketing a postseason game as a national championship unless it came from a playoff. Meanwhile, President Obama has voiced support for a playoff system to replace the BCS. However, Congress has never come close to passing an anti-BCS bill, and the Justice Department has never explored the issue.

On Wednesday, a top BCS official criticized any effort by Congress to enter the debate.

“Tinkering legislatively with a football playoff system as a national priority is a huge waste of my taxpayer dollars,” said University of Oregon president David Frohnmayer, the chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee. “I think taxpayers would look at it in real anger. To tinker around because you don’t like the outcome of a football season is a classic misuse of priorities.”