Mark Shurtleff: Boise State snub helps BCS antitrust lawsuit
BY ROBERT GEHRKE
The Salt Lake Tribune
First published Jan 01 2012 07:06PM
Updated Jan 1, 2012 11:59PM
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says he expects to sue the Bowl Championship Series by next month and that the snub of Boise State in this season’s bowl games gives additional fodder to the impending lawsuit.
“I think we got some really good, new facts this season to support our case,” Shurtleff told The Tribune in a recent interview. “The big example again is Boise State. They had one loss and finished in the Top 10, and yet they don’t get a [BCS] bowl game.”
Instead of Boise State, the Discover Orange Bowl selected West Virginia and Clemson, each with three losses. The Allstate Sugar Bowl took Michigan and Virginia Tech, both of which were ranked below Boise State.
The Broncos were relegated to the Maaco Bowl, where they dominated Arizona State and earned $1.1 million. If they had made the BCS, Boise State’s conference would have shared $26.4 million.
But Bill Hancock, executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, defends the system and says it has opened up access for small-conference teams to the premier bowl games.
The National Championship game is designed to pair the top two teams in the country. After that, the bowls can pick the teams they desire.
“The Sugar Bowl is an independent organization. It owns the game, presents the game, and arranges for the opportunities for student-athletes, coaches, and fans to enjoy as part of the bowl experience,” he said in an email. “It makes no sense that, having created the event, the Sugar Bowl should not be able to select those teams that it wishes to invite to its game.”
Under the BCS structure, six conferences — the traditional football powerhouses — have automatic qualifying spots. Hancock said before the BCS, teams from outside those top conferences have cracked into one of the elite bowl games only five times in 54 years.
Since the BCS was created, seven teams have played in those games in eight years.
“Think about that,” he said. “Five times in 54 years versus seven times in eight years.”
That argument may pose the biggest challenge to any lawsuit that Shurtleff ends up filing, according to Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at the Vermont Law School.
“Before there was a BCS, there was no playoff system, so it’s not clear there would be one after,” he said. “That helps it in court, because they can argue that, on balance, it promotes competition because it provides a system that didn’t exist before.”
The court may be reluctant to determine there is a legal right to a college football playoff and decide that it is unwilling or unable to undo any harm done by the system.
“There are clearly overtly anti-competitive qualities to the BCS,” McCann said. “But I think, on balance, at this point going into the litigation, I think the BCS would be favored.”
For nearly three years — ever since an undefeated University of Utah was denied a shot at the national title, trouncing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl instead — Shurtleff has been threatening to sue the BCS for colluding to deprive schools from smaller conferences a shot at elite bowl games. (Utah joined the Pac-12 last year, which is a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.)
In August, the state issued a “Request For Information,” soliciting input and statements of interest from law firms that might be interested in representing the state in the litigation. Twenty-four responded to the request, including some of the most prestigious law firms in the country.http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home2/53206839-183/bcs-bowl-shurtleff-state.html.csp