Hatch seeks Justice probe of BCS

WASHINGTON -- A senator whose undefeated home state school was bypassed for the college football national championship last season urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to ask the Justice Department to investigate the Bowl Championship Series, citing Obama's own concerns about the way the top team is crowned in building a case for action.

"Mr. President, as you have publicly stated on multiple occasions, the BCS system is in dire need of reform," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a 10-page letter to Obama calling for an antitrust probe of the BCS. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.

Shortly after his election last year, Obama said he was going to "to throw my weight around a little bit" to nudge college football toward a playoff system.

Obama and Hatch are among the many critics of how the BCS -- a complex system of computer rankings and polls that often draws criticism -- determines its national champion.

Hatch, who held a hearing on the BCS in July, told Obama that a "strong case" can be made that the BCS violates antitrust laws.

Under the BCS system, some athletic conferences get automatic bids to participate in top-tier bowl games while others don't, and the automatic bid conferences also get far more of the revenue. Hatch's home state school, the University of Utah, is from the Mountain West Conference, which does not get an automatic bid. The school qualified for a bid last season but was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated.

The system "has been designed to limit the number of teams from non-privileged conferences that will play in BCS games," Hatch wrote.

Hatch said the BCS arrangement likely violates the Sherman Antitrust Act because, he argued, it constitutes a "contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce," quoting from the law.

He said the system "artificially limits the number of nationally-relevant bowl games to five. The result is reduced access to revenues and visibility which creates disadvantages to schools in the non-privileged conferences."

Hatch is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary's subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights.

The senator said the hundreds of millions of dollars generated by college football "are hardly trivial sums," given that many schools use such revenue to fund things like other athletic programs.

The Justice Department said it would review the letter and respond as appropriate. The White House declined to comment, and BCS officials had no immediate comment.

Alan G. Fishel, an attorney for the Mountain West Conference and Boise State University, backed the effort.

"If the government can look at the concentration of money in railroads, telecommunications and software developers, then why not the big business of college sports in America?" he said.

Hatch's letter comes a few days after the BCS released its first standings of the year. And on Monday, a group of college football fans launched the Playoff PAC, with the hope of electing more lawmakers who will pressure the BCS to switch to a playoff system.

Several lawmakers have introduced bills this year aimed at forcing a playoff system, but none of the bills has advanced.