WASHINGTON -- The Senate plans to hold a hearing next week looking into antitrust issues surrounding the Bowl Championship Series. It's the second time this year that Congress is shining a light on the polarizing system college football uses to crown its national champion.
The hearing will be held next Tuesday in the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, according to a posting on the committee's Web site.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the subcommittee's top Republican and the lawmaker who sought the hearing, did not return telephone and e-mail messages left at his office Tuesday.
In an essay for Sports Illustrated being released Wednesday, Hatch wrote that the Sherman Antitrust Act prohibits contracts, combinations or conspiracies designed to reduce competition.
"I don't think a more accurate description of what the BCS does exists," Hatch wrote. He noted that six conferences get automatic bids to participate in series, while others do not. The system, he argued, "intentionally and explicitly favors certain participants."
Citing the money generated by the BCS, Hatch wrote, "If the government were to ignore a similar business arrangement of this magnitude in any other industry, it would be condemned for shirking its responsibility."
When asked about Hatch's comments, BCS coordinator John Swofford said the BCS' lawyers have "worked diligently to ensure that the BCS is in compliance with the law."
Football fans in Hatch's state were furious that Utah was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated in the regular season. Hatch noted that President Barack Obama and others have called for the BCS to be replaced with a playoff system.
"One thing is clear: No changes will take place if Congress does nothing," Hatch wrote.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has introduced legislation that would prevent the NCAA from calling a game a national championship unless it's the outcome of a playoff. At a May hearing, Barton warned that the legislation would move forward "if we don't see some action in the next two months" from BCS on switching to a playoff system.
David Frohnmayer, president of the University of Oregon and chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, expressed a preference Tuesday for the current system, saying the proposals for a playoff system "disrespect our academic calendars, and they utterly lack a business plan."