Monson: Unfair BCS under pressure to change

Published March 28, 2009 5:51 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some old wise man, a dusty former president, once said: "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

That's true.

And if you want to make enemies, and pound yourself senseless with a socket wrench, try to change the BCS.

That's truer.

Well. The truest pursuit of change in college football, and self-flagellation, got some good company this past week when Orrin Hatch and Herb Kohl, ranking members of the U.S. Senate's Judiciary's antitrust subcommittee, announced that they planned to hold hearings on the BCS in the months ahead.

"The BCS system leaves nearly half of all the teams in college football at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to qualifying for the millions of dollars paid out every year," the senators said in a joint statement.

Hatch took it a step further, calling the BCS "un-American."

He also said he looked forward to exploring and advancing legislation to fix an unfair system that he believes violates the nation's antitrust laws.

In the wake of Hatch's and Kohl's announcement, there has been a range of reactions; on the one extreme, BCS apologists saying there's nothing wrong with the current system, on the other extreme, crusaders saying it's about time somebody did something substantive about an ongoing injustice. And some have asked, with all the problems facing the country, why should lawmakers burn valuable time pursuing something that matters so little?

The answer to that last question can be found in addressing the two extremes.

Many of the apologists are fans of schools in the so-called power leagues, the six conferences that financially benefit most from the current system. They see no injustice in the BCS because their schools, in a general sense, are not hurt by it.

The BCS, though, is an injustice. It does put non-BCS schools at a competitive disadvantage, not only because those schools do not receive as much cash from teams participating in the system, but because the ceiling fabricated by polls, computer and human, and placed across the deck of conferences such as the Mountain West, prevents teams like Utah and BYU and Boise State from getting a shot at a national championship.

That not only affects those schools economically, it affects their tangible ability to compete on the field. Here's how: When coaches from a non-BCS program show up on the doorstep of a highly touted recruit, and he and his parents like everything about those coaches and their school, the recruit still knows that he'll never win a national championship there. It's a notion reinforced, again and again, by recruiters from BCS schools who want the same kid. So, he chooses a BCS program instead.

And, then, doubters and skeptics shout for the non-BCS teams to prove themselves by beating teams from BCS leagues that already benefit from their unfair advantages.

That's what really bugs the crusaders, and the very reason so many of them took such satisfaction from Utah's Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.

It's like a gang of old cowboys shot-gunning the legs off a group of rival cowboys, and then blaming them for bleeding instead of being able to dance. In Utah's case, it went ahead and danced, anyway, going undefeated and crushing the Tide.

But it still had no legitimate chance at the national title.

That's unfair, but is it illegal?

BCS honchos, such as ACC Commissioner John Swofford, don't think so. He recently said: "We've attempted to make every effort to make certain that the main structure of the BCS is within the antitrust laws. And we're comfortable, our legal people are comfortable, that the BCS structure indeed is."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff disagrees, and he's pushing ahead to sue the BCS based on violation of existing laws, the same laws and conditions under and into which Hatch and Kohl would hold their hearings and examine possible violations. Hatch, though, also has talked about looking into "legislative remedies" which could include the passing of new laws by Congress specific to the BCS's disadvantageous way of doing business.

Chris S. Hill, an attorney who practices in antitrust law at the Salt Lake City firm of Kirton and McConkie, says he believes the BCS is in violation of existing laws, but he adds that throwing the case before a judge is a crapshoot.

"Judges are all over the spectrum on this," he says. "It's a gray area. The laws aren't specific enough to make it certain. You're looking at laws not designed for these specific circumstances.

"What I take comfort in is, when you look at academic law review journals, professors generally come down against the BCS. Most of them think it is illegal. They don't have a dog in the fight, they're independent, but they agree with Shurtleff."

And now Hatch.

Hill doesn't think Congress would pass a law to make sure every school had a guaranteed shot at participation in the BCS, but he says that every time hearings are held on Capitol Hill -- it's happened three times already -- positive movement has occurred.

"Each time, the BCS buckles a little bit to buy some more time," he says. "Each time, it creates more pressure."

Just the threat of legislative action by Congress rattles the BCS, Hill says, adding that having a president in office who has said he favors a college football playoff stirs more anxiety and movement by the BCS.

As powerful allies mount, then, there's nothing better than thrusting change on greedy bullies, on enemies who now may be forced to do the right thing and become good friends, at long last.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Monson and Graham Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">gmonson@sltrib.com .

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