July 7th, 2009
06:01 PM ET
5 years ago

Senate hearing probes fairness of Bowl Championship Series

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A Senate subcommittee Tuesday tackled one of the most contentious issues in U.S. sports - the fairness of the Bowl Championship Series that decides the top college football team each season.

Convened by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the hearing by the Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights subcommittee provided a sounding board for his state's disappointment over the inability of the undefeated University of Utah to qualify for the BCS national championship game last January.

The BCS operates under an agreement among the major college football conferences that decides which teams qualify for the biggest bowl games each season, including the national championship game.

It also distributes the revenue generated by the bowl games, with the participating members taking part in more of the post-season matches and taking home more money.

Every season brings heated debate over the bowl lineup and calls for a playoff system similar to the ones used for every other NCAA sport, including small-college football. President Barack Obama has joined most Americans in expressing his preference for a playoff system to decide the nation's top college football team.

Hatch complained that the BCS system denies outsiders - such as Utah of the Mountain West Conference - a fair chance to compete with major conferences such as the Big 12, Big 10, Pacific 10 and Southeast Conference for a spot in the lucrative bowl games.

Last season, he noted, Utah went undefeated and gained a BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl against perennial power Alabama, which it defeated 31-17. However, the BCS ranking system prevented Utah from any realistic chance of selection for the national championship game, which pitted two teams that each had one loss on their records, Hatch said.

For schools outside what he called the "privileged conferences," the BCS system has "significant and largely insurmountable obstacles to playing for a national championship," Hatch said.

University of Utah President Michael Young complained that the BCS system both stifles competition and guarantees the majority of revenue from bowl games to the traditional powers.

"If you can't beat them, eliminate them," he said of BCS policy.

In response, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman said the BCS system - while imperfect - is the only workable formula that ensures participation by major football powers such as his institution.

The BCS recognizes the strength and depth of traditional programs, Perlman said, rejecting Young's argument that Utah has no chance to improve its status.

"There realistically is something Utah could do," Perlman said. "They could play the schedule Nebraska played."

At the same time, Perlman argued that uneven odds are part of every university's experience at one time or another.

"It's the same as when Nebraska walks into the NIH (National Institute of Health) and seeks a federal grant and competes with Harvard," he said.

"Theoretically we have the same the chance, but do we really?"

Two anti-trust experts provided conflicting testimony on whether the BCS system violates the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Barry Brett of Troutman Sanders insisted the BCS holds what amounts to an illegal monopoly and "uses this control to exclude all but its founding members (from) fair access to the competition and control of hundreds of millions of dollars."

In response, William Monts III of Hogan and Hartson noted the BCS members created the national championship game and therefore have the right to determine who participates.

He also warned against seeking anti-trust relief in court, saying a ruling against the BCS would end its existence without creating an alternative.

"The peculiar irony of an anti-trust claim is that it is likely to sound the death knell for the playoff system proponents want," Monts said.


Filed under: Senate
soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. Scott L

    I seriously cannot believe that we are wasting taxpayer dollars on this, amid the entire economic crisis that is currently happening. I like Orrin Hatch, but COME'ON PEOPLE!

    Now Democrats want a 2nd stimulus bill because the first one was "a bit too small" to quote one of Obama's outside advisors (Laura Tyson).

    You voted these clowns into office, accept the consequences of your actions. They are destroying America.

    July 7, 2009 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  2. SlowGun

    wow...they don't have anuthing else to keep them busy?

    July 7, 2009 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  3. John

    I am a huge football fan. Huge. But, doesn't the government have other issues to work on besides the BCS? Just asking.

    July 7, 2009 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  4. Penn Voter

    Another example of your leaders wisely spend our money. What else can we expect from this spend happy Obama Administration?

    July 7, 2009 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  5. Penn Voter

    Another example of your leaders wisely spend our money. What else can we expect from this spend happy Administration?

    July 7, 2009 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  6. John M in NoHo, CA

    Football championships, baseball steroids... what, are they done renaming "Freedom Fries"? If our founding fathers only knew...

    July 7, 2009 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  7. JLS

    This is a Congress that can't get out of it's own way, the deficit is going through the roof, more government than a person can stand, and now they want to look into the BCS??? You can't make this stuff up!!!

    July 7, 2009 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  8. bozo the obama

    It must be the slow season in D.C.

    July 7, 2009 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  9. Gerry

    Now congress is going to interfer into football and screw it up to.

    July 7, 2009 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  10. ib

    This country is going broke and congress is voting on football. Time for a change allright; kick all of them out and start over both gop and demo's.

    July 7, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    OK, chances are they won't post what I just said, so I'll say it in a nicer manner:

    And what will the "Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights" committee be doing about the jerks who sell the tickets to these and ALL other events? See...some of us took Antitrust in law school and we're accutely aware of the biggest violation existing in our nation's economy. But hey, I suppose the focus by a GOPer (Hatch) on whether the competition and betting is fair in the sport itself makes perfect sense. Who gives a flying rat's crap about the people who just want to go to the games (or concerts or whatever)?

    July 7, 2009 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  12. mike

    You would think the Senate had more important issues to tackle then College football.

    July 7, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  13. Carey

    Are you kidding me? Don' t they have something better to probe?

    July 7, 2009 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  14. Willy Brown

    And you wonder why Congress sucks!

    July 7, 2009 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  15. phoenix86

    Excuse me, you guys gonna do anything to help the protesters in Iran, contain North Korea, try and bring down unemployment? Just curious if you all are willing to do your job.

    July 7, 2009 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  16. stkyrce

    Playoffs!! That is all.

    July 7, 2009 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  17. Lars

    Thank goodness that the Senate has finally tackled the issue that's more important than healthcare, taxes, climate control, supreme court nominations, et al.

    Demagoguery any?

    July 7, 2009 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  18. johnnie

    stay out of it

    July 7, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  19. GI Joe

    No wonder nothing gets done for this country.

    Resolutions for foreign countries.

    Resolution for pop star.

    And now a sports investigation.

    Glad we have low unemployment, no wars, and everyone has health care, a job, a nice house, and plenty of food. Otherwise, these jerks might miss doing the really important stuff.

    July 7, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  20. jonathan

    I dispise the BCS bowl system and would prefer some sort of playoff system instead.

    That being stated, honestly doesnt congress have better things to concentrate on like a war, health care, gas prices, economy, social security, states that are going bankrupt left and right.

    Save the playoff system vs BCS for water cooler debates and get to something that might be a bit more life and death for constituants.

    July 7, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  21. Jimmy the Greek

    Yeah, THIS is what our elected officials are paid to do.... decide football schedules.

    (eyes rolling)

    Is there a country I can move and expatriot myself? Preferrably some place LESS liberal yet provides liberty?

    July 7, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  22. FactCheck

    Is this the best use of your time? Seriously?? When the NCAA is making millions at the expense of "student-athletes" who don't get a dime and rarely get an education, the BCS is not what's messed up about amateur athletics.

    July 7, 2009 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  23. Roger from CA

    You have GOT to be kidding!!! This could not be lower on the list of things that are appropriate for Congress to spend time on!!

    July 7, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  24. Russ

    And Republicans have the nerve to blast Democrats for frivolous legislation and big government? What the hell is congress doing wasting time on deciding how to determine what football team is the best? What did BYU get short changed in a bowl game? There is way more important things to be doing right now than debating bowl game championships.

    July 7, 2009 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  25. Legna

    U have gotta b kidding! The country is n a financial crisis and they r doing this. If we keep going like this there won't b a season cause there will b no donations to the schools to support athletic depts.

    July 7, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
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