Utah’s attorney general appears poised to sue college football’s Bowl Championship Series for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. Other state attorneys general are being invited to join in the lawsuit, and Hawaii’s David M. Louie should prepare himself to be first in line, reflecting the strong and well-founded feelings of his boss.
Utah AG Mark Shurtleff has talked of a legal challenge of the BCS for three years, ever since the University of Utah was snubbed from the championship game despite its spotless record. Utah finished that season ranked No. 2, although it was the only unbeaten team.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has made his opposition to the six-league BCS monopoly well-known. After then-President-elect Barack Obama called for March Madness-like football playoffs in a "60 Minutes" interview in December 2008, then-Congressman Abercrombie and two other House members pleaded in a letter that the newly elected president order a Justice Department investigation of football’s cartel.
"The current BCS process is fundamentally unfair," the trio asserted in the letter. "Non-BCS schools are at a competitive and financial disadvantage prior to the first kickoff of the season."
Shurtleff’s lawsuit threat comes at a time when universities are changing conferences to improve their placement within the system. Utah’s Utes will join the BCS’s Pacific 12 and Texas Christian will move its football program to the BCS Big East next year. TCU finished last year unbeaten and ranked second, joining Boise State in having posted perfect records after being denied admission to the national championship game.
Boise State will leave the Western Athletic Conference this year to join the Mountain West Conference and Hawaii will follow next year. The Mountain West is considered the most competitive non-BCS conference and more likely than any other league in being elevated to the BCS.
The rules governing the 13-year-old system were altered in 2004 to allow the possibility of a single non-BCS team to play in the BCS bowls. Since then, the non-BCS teams have won five of the seven BCS bowl games to which they have been awarded entrance.
In a letter last month to the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, 21 economists and lawyers asked for an antitrust investigation, pointing out "anticompetitive" market revenue allocation. Such a probe is not likely, as the Obama administration would prefer that states take the lead.
The issue is more about money than sports trophies. "Indeed," the economists and lawyers explained, "this matter is particularly significant in this time of fiscal difficulty because the BCS is the principal impediment to a competitive post-season playoff that would generate much-needed additional revenue for all schools."