July 7th, 2009
06:01 PM ET
13 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. goodness, all you leaders have nothing better to do?

    heads up your arses, so much you could be trying to fix and you spend your time on football, I want my taxes back

    July 7, 2009 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  2. cali j

    Unemployment is at 9.5 % nationally, and much worse in some places. We lost 8 men in two days in Afghanistan. North Korea tested another missile. The 3 big stories at CNN is Obamas daughters traveling with him, Palin resigning, and our Congress is debating College Championship Football. No wonder we are in a mess. Besides, everyone in the country knows that USC is the greatest college football program there is!

    July 7, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  3. Pat in IL

    What??? Doesn't our congress have much bigger things to spend their time on than a sports issue?? This issue has nothing to do with America as a whole, and I can't really believe what I'm reading!

    July 7, 2009 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  4. Bob CA

    Politicians stay out of college sports. You can't even run a country.

    July 7, 2009 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  5. TCM

    wow...now this is important.....

    July 7, 2009 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  6. AJ

    The monkeys in our government have nothing better to do? What a great illustration of a total lack of character.

    July 7, 2009 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  7. MartiM, Plano, TX

    Seriously? I mean, really, SERIOUSLY?!? With all that is facing the nation, there is a Senate subcommittee looking at this? Would someone please explain why this merits Senatorial subcommittee attention? Please?

    July 7, 2009 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  8. joey

    This is what we pay our elected officials to deal with? I would rather them look at more important issues going on in the world. I think the fairness of college football can wait a year or 2.

    July 7, 2009 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  9. Proud member of "Global Zero"

    I thought we were going to get health care. Who are these people? Why are they not concentrated on the important issues.

    Start working!!!

    July 7, 2009 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  10. Mark

    here's my biggest issue with the BCS argument. One of their main argument is that an 8 team playoff would make the other bowl games meaningless. The problem with this is they are meaningless now! The only game that really matters is the so called championship game.

    July 7, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  11. jj12345

    I hate the way the BCS is structured right now, but isnt there anything more important to work on right now??

    July 7, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  12. Tom McClain

    Orin, you are right!

    The BCS is anticompetitive and deprives most of the fans in US from the passion of a real chance at a national championship. Pittsburgh and WVU have almost no chance in this system so most of us in this football Mecca turn our backs on the BCS nonsense. New England too is a great football region that yawns at the television on New Years Day, but is nuts for a strong Celtics or Bruins or Patriots team. Is Chicago a football town? Is Green Bay? Is Seattle? All of us outside the privileged regions of America should start a movement not to watch the BCS and to boycott its advertisers for the month of January.

    Unlikely things happen in sports. The Pittsburgh Penguins just beat Detroit for the Stanley Cup. The Steelers just won a Super Bowl after a less than mediocre October. The teams that played for the BCS trophy ( I can't remember them because I ignored them) should have had to go through Utah to get there. Maybe they beat Utah or maybe not; but at least those kids would have had the honor of being defeated on the field.

    The BCS is anti competitive, bad for the players, bad for the fans and contrary to all we know about young men playing ball.

    Dump it Orin!!

    I wish you well.


    July 7, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  13. KLJ

    This is more important than working on health care!

    July 7, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  14. Really!?

    Dems are going to screw up college football next.

    July 7, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  15. FanSlwHnd

    This has to be the most ridiculous waste of the government's time I've ever heard of ...... and that's saying something.

    July 7, 2009 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  16. Darth Vadik, CA

    You know, I being a USC Trojan fan I will be selfish in thinking about this one...

    BCS is nothing but BS.

    Go Trojans, team of the decade, and to heck with all of you loudmouthed SEC fans, like the Big 10, nothing but hype.

    July 7, 2009 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  17. Darth Vadik, CA

    Ohh God, the horror BCS memories I have.
    Only Pete Carrol has more nightmares about BCS than I do.

    And Pen State actually thought they could be number one (in the AP poll) if they beat the Trojans badly enough... HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAA

    July 7, 2009 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  18. Darth Vadik, CA

    Though, I did agree that Florida was either number 1 or two last year (Trojans being the other). Too bad we'll never know...

    ...congrats to Gators though.

    July 7, 2009 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  19. Louise in NC

    I supported President Obama in the election and sometimes get upset with Republicans when I feel like they are knit-picking. But I truly believe this will be the best Congress we have ever had. They seem to me to be each one thinking about what is wrong with our government and have come up with a lot of good ideas on how to make government work better–Democrats and Republicans alike. I APPLAUD THEM!!

    July 7, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  20. bud in NC

    As a bona fide Florida Gator, all that matters is that they play for the National championship every year. Every one else are just pretenders. So Senators, stop being partisan about your state. Make it permanently the Gators against whomever.

    July 7, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  21. indy

    I swear this makes me so sick, time for this but can't read a bill you vote on! the worst senate in history

    July 8, 2009 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  22. skyhawkdriver

    Don't you bozos have anything better to do??..the economy is in the toilet and this is the best you can do??..what are you going to do,make the universities buy chrysler or government motors products or the can't participate??..why don't you bums just all resign,go home and get real jobs..oh that's right..THERE AREN'T ANY JOBS!!!

    July 8, 2009 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
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