Shurtleff joins the anti-BCS chorus

Published January 7, 2009 2:07 pm
Utah's A.G. » He says he'll look into pushing for an antitrust case.
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It has become practically the modern political equivalent of kissing babies -- elected officials threatening legal action over college football's controversial Bowl Championship Series whenever a team in their constituency doesn't get what it wants.

Nevertheless, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff cannot abide a system that makes no room in its championship game for the Utah Utes -- the only remaining unbeaten team in the country.

"It's patently unfair," he said.

That's why Shurtleff ultimately wants a playoff system created, and plans to investigate whether to pursue an anti -trust case against the BCS, potentially alleging that it conspires to keep teams like the Utes out of its biggest and most lucrative games.

That might be a hard sell, considering the Utes just beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl -- their second BCS bowl in four years -- and earned $17.5 million for their trouble. But Shurtleff maintains that the system effectively excludes teams from less-prestigious conferences such as the Mountain West from having a shot at playing in the championship game.

"Before that first kickoff of the season, those athletes are all told, 'You may, if you go undefeated, play enough teams to get you high enough rated that you may be able to play in a BCS bowl game, but forget ever playing for a national championship,' " he said. "That's just wrong."

The Utes actually could have played in the BCS title game had they finished the regular season ranked first or second in the rankings that determine the match-up, which are based on two opinion polls and six computer rankings. "As far as I can tell, that formula is about as independent as you can get," said Kevin O'Malley, a sports television consultant and former CBS executive who works in college football.

But the Utes were sixth in those rankings at the end of the regular season, behind Oklahoma and Florida -- the teams that will meet in the BCS title game in Miami on Thursday -- as well as Texas, Alabama and USC. The Utes also were not the only undefeated team in the country when the BCS matchups were made; Boise State did not lose until it played TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl.

"I don't see the realism of attacking the BCS in this manner," said Chuck Neinas, a widely respected college football consultant and the former executive director of the College Football Association.

Most officials within college football believe the BCS won't be broken up politically, though Shurtleff is only the latest politician to threaten to try.

Just last month, Rep. Joe Barton, of Texas -- where the Texas Longhorns believe they should be in the title game -- introduced a bill to force college football to adopt a playoff. A month before that, a trio of congressmen from Utah, Idaho and Hawaii -- states with football teams that believed they deserved better from the BCS than they received -- passed a House Resolution asking the Justice Department to investigate the BCS. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has repeatedly criticized the BCS over the years.

"It's somewhat improbable that any part of the United States government, whether it's Congress or the judiciary or anybody else, is going to tell colleges across the country how to determine their national champion," O'Malley said. "I think they have other more pressing issues."

Shurtleff acknowledged that, and said he does not plan to devote "hundreds of hours" to his investigation, which could be completed within a month and perhaps involve other states.

Still, it could be that the chorus for change is growing louder, with powerful figures such as USC coach Pete Carroll, former University of Utah president Bernie Machen -- now at Florida -- and even President-elect Barack Obama recently voicing support for a playoff system to determine a definitive college football champion.

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