by | CBSSports.com Columnist

BCS boss Hancock agrees to meet with Justice Dept. lawyer

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BCS executive director Bill Hancock told CBSSports.com that he has agreed to a "voluntary briefing" on the BCS with the Department of Justice later this year.

"I am very happy to do it and I'm looking forward to it," said Hancock. "The DOJ has indicated that it would like to know more about the BCS structure and I welcome the opportunity to provide that."

Bill Hancock says 'the BCS was crafted very carefully with antitrust laws in mind.' (AP)  
Bill Hancock says 'the BCS was crafted very carefully with antitrust laws in mind.' (AP)  
Hancock said no date has been set for the meeting.

"We view it as an opportunity to make it clear that the BCS was crafted very carefully with antitrust laws in mind," Hancock told the Associated Press.

Earlier this year Christine A. Varney, who runs the antitrust division for the Department of Justice, wrote NCAA president Mark Emmert concerning the BCS. Varney wanted to know why there was no NCAA playoffs in Division I-A (FBS) football as there were in other divisions of the sport. Varney also wanted to know if Emmert had taken any steps to create a playoff in that level of football.

Emmert's written response was that the NCAA has no authority to impose a playoff on member schools unless they ask for such assistance. To this point the majority of presidents in Division I-A are against a playoff to determine a national championship.

Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff has threatened to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS but has yet to do so. Part of the DOJ's inquiry into the BCS is to determine if the system, which gives automatic bids to six Division I-A conferences (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Big East) and not the five others (WAC, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA) violates the Sherman Antitrust Act. Legal scholars are divided on the issue.

Hancock told the AP that he wasn't concerned with the Justice Department's request for a meeting.

"We take seriously any connection in Washington, and we're certainly taking this seriously," he said. "But I view it as an opportunity, because we're confident that the BCS is on strong legal ground."

Hancock said that the BCS, which was established in 1998, has improved access to the major bowls for the five smaller conferences. According to the BCS, schools from those conferences played in such bowls only six times in 54 years, while under the BCS, it happened seven times in the past seven years. Hancock said the system has done a better job pitting the top two teams in a championship game.

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Hancock said the meeting will be the first the BCS has had with the department at least since he joined the organization in 2005.

He said he did not think that the meeting signaled an investigation.

"Their staff made it clear this was simply a request for information," Hancock said. "They also said our cooperation was voluntary."

Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said the department continues to review information provided to it to determine whether to open an investigation into the legality of the current system under antitrust laws.

"It's not unusual for us to have discussions with knowledgeable parties on a particular matter," she added, but declined to confirm who the department was meeting with.

Earlier this week SEC commissioner Mike Slive, a former attorney and judge, said the BCS has been advised on numerous occasions that the current structure does not violate antitrust laws.

"Responding solely as a commissioner and not a recovering lawyer, we have been advised from outside counsel that the BCS, as it is currently constituted, does not violate antitrust law," Slive said from Destin, Fla., where the SEC spring meetings are being held.

Matthew Sanderson, co-founder of Playoff PAC, which wants the BCS replaced with a championship playoff system, called the meeting "yet another sign that the Justice Department may be moving toward a formal investigation. The scandal-plagued BCS is in trouble on multiple fronts."

Before he was sworn in as president, Barack Obama said in 2008 that he was going to "to throw my weight around a little bit" to nudge college football toward a playoff system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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