July 7th, 2009
06:01 PM ET
9 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. rufus

    They got time for this ?

    July 7, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  2. joe smith

    mr hatch needs to ask ONE question, where is the Freddie Mac report that was due out to the President, Mr. Geitner, the house finance committee, and of course the American people, from whom you receive $190,000.00 salary, and all you want to investigate is college football..time for term limits..

    July 7, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  3. JT

    We need a play-off system. I feel the real teams that deserve a chance the National Championship are not being consider. The only reason why alot of people still wants the BCS is because all these big coompanies are benefitting from it. They arer the that wants see what should go or not. Norte Dame does need to be in every bowl game if they don't deserve it. They have proven that in the passed couple of years.

    July 7, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  4. Commen Sense Reality Check

    And this is important because why....?

    July 7, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  5. InlandEmperor

    With all the challenges currently facing this country it is unfathomable that the US Senate would spend even a nanosecond on something as trivial as this. Is it a wonder that the country finds itself as challenged as it does? Please stay the course on working to extricate us from the mess you allowed to occur during the Bush years debacle.

    July 7, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  6. alchemist67

    The president of Nebraska thinks his institution is a major power? HA!

    July 7, 2009 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  7. AcidEatingLiberal

    Nebraska Cornhuskers will make and win a BCS bowl this coming season. Count on it! GO BIG RED!

    July 7, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  8. Tommy

    I, for one, cannot believe that we are going to waste taxpayer money even deciding whether to investigate this or not. Senator Hatch, although I have a good deal of respect for you, I find it quite diminished by this action. You should be ashamed...this is beneath you and the rest of the government of this great country. You cannot call yourself a conservative and even entertain these shenanigans. YOU ARE DOING THAT WHICH YOU ASSAIL THE DEMOCRATS FOR DOING. Give it up and move on to something real.

    July 7, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  9. SMH

    I am a long-time college football fan and for graduate studies attended a university noted for its legacy in college football. My opinions about the BCS are mixed, but I do know one thing for certain: with us fighting multiple wars, the economy in the toilet, unemployment hitting record highs, gas prices on the rise again, and everything else that is troubling this nation, why in God's name is the Senate wasting valuable time and resources on this?!

    July 7, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  10. Steve (the real one)

    I for one am so glad they have nothing better to do! Two wars, the economy sucks and the senate is concerned about the fairness of the BCS?? Republicain or Democrat led, I really don"t care. What I do care about is these folks getting back to work on what's important to this country! P.S. IT AIN"T COLLEGE FOOTBALL!

    July 7, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  11. haha

    what a waste but when the libs wont listen to you what else are you going to do.

    July 7, 2009 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  12. Neilz

    With tens of thousands Americans going unemployed every week, 3 million American children homeless, runaway spending, same sex marriage, the Congress wants to play basketball. We really are in trouble.

    July 7, 2009 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  13. David in West Virginia

    The BCS series favors the top 10 or 20 universities in the country. There should be fairness in the system and a play-off championship series should be offered.

    July 7, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  14. Matt

    We have a few more pressing issues then a screwed up Bowl system for the Justice Dept to look at. And we wonder why our economy is in the tank?

    July 7, 2009 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  15. Lesley

    So special interests extend to the sports world, taking up the valuable time of our senators? Hatch should bring the private insurance industry before his Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights subcommittee. That's another fairness, or unfairness, issue!

    July 7, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  16. joel palmer

    Beautiful! It's not like we don't have real issues to work on. Here is orrin Hatch, the Doctor NO of Republican bipartisanship, convening a hearing on a meaningless and really trivial isse the BCS.

    let the freakin fans decide and pay attention to
    North Korea
    The economy
    Health care reform
    Energy policy
    Climate change

    Jesus H Christ

    July 7, 2009 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  17. S.B.

    It seems to me that with the economy in the tank, the Senate has many more pressing items to be discussing. Let the NCAA take care of football championships. It's not what we voted for our senators to do, and certainly not what we're paying them to do.

    July 7, 2009 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  18. Will

    Don't they have better things to do??

    July 7, 2009 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  19. Kenney in Albany

    The people's pressing work deals with housing, finical, jobs, and health care issues. But I guess Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch thinks the fairness of some private organization is more pressing.

    July 7, 2009 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  20. mjm

    Now THIS is what government is for!

    Screw national security, the economy, war and healthcare.

    I want the senate on college football asap. Let's focus people!

    July 7, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  21. mike

    What kind of a monster have we let our government become? They own us.

    July 7, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  22. AlwaysThinking

    There are so many more important things for the Senate to be deliberating than whether or not the NCAA Bowl Championships are fair – of course they're not!

    The Senate should be tackling all the real pressing issues facing our country:

    – 2 wars
    – crises in the healthcare and financial industries
    – high unemployment
    – global warming
    – the need to develop alternate energy to make us more independent
    – making sure our public schools have enough funding so they don't have to cut reading programs to make ends meet

    Just to name a few ...

    July 7, 2009 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  23. Illinoistom

    The Washington politicians have screwed up everything else they've touched, they may as well screw up college football too.

    July 7, 2009 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  24. Agnes

    With Afghanistan in turmoil, the economy tanking, bedlam in Iran, I am so glad that Senators are spending precious time and energy on the Bowl Championship Series. Seeing that sports is akin to religion in this country, that makes perfect sense.

    July 7, 2009 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  25. Judy from PA

    Please big government, I know it is hard for you to stay out of our lives, but please stay out of our sports!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 7, 2009 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
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