Senior Columnist

Utah attorney general forges on suing BCS despite expected changes

With the possible end of the BCS on the horizon, Mark Shurtleff still remains determined to see the sun set on the 14-year old system.

The Utah attorney general is forging ahead with his year-old and often-delayed plans to sue the BCS. Shurtleff's legal strategy actually now accounts for the possible dissolution of the Bowl Championship Series at the same time commissioners decide on college football's postseason future beginning in 2014. His office recently posted online detailed requests for proposal soliciting law firms to assist in his anti-trust challenge of the BCS.

Among those to be considered as "possible adverse parties" in any future legal action, according to the document, are the NCAA, BCS, the BCS bowls, the six BCS conferences and any radio or TV partner.

Shurtleff has set deadlines for the suit at least three times since declaring publicly last April he would sue the BCS for violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. In January Shurtleff told a Salt Lake City newspaper he would file by the end of February.

"Believe me, the attorney general has a timeline to get it done as early as possible," said spokesman Paul Murphy.

But why still threaten legal action with a playoff seemingly on the way?

"We hope they change it to the point where a lawsuit isn't necessary" Murphy said. "We find that highly unlikely. They've made some changes in the past, but they've been cosmetic."

College football's postseason seems to be trending toward a plus-one (four-team) playoff beginning in 2014. But several questions remain unanswered. How will those top four be determined? What will be the access for the so-called non-AQ leagues (Conference USA, MAC, WAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt)? Which cities or bowls will host games? How will the windfall of new money -- estimated to be $500 million per year on the high end -- be distributed? The 34-page online document admits, “the current BCS itself is undergoing a process of change.” It lists four key concerns going forward:

  • Elimination of automatic qualifying conferences.
  • Making all the rating tools -- human polls, computers -- "transparent." Currently only one of the six BCS computer indexes makes its mathematical formula public. Voters in the coaches' poll reveal only their final regular-season ballots. AP voters are free to publish their weekly ballots.
  • Any future "bowl system" must not have a "bias" toward teams or conferences. A potential objective of the legal action, says the document, is that each team begins each season with an equal chance to play in a BCS bowl.
  • Possible competitive bidding to host any BCS bowl or national championship game.

Shurtleff became interested in challenging the BCS since 2008 when Utah wasn't allowed to play for the national championship even though it went undefeated. The Utes upset Alabama in 2009 Sugar Bowl. Since then, Utah has joined the Pac-12, a BCS conference.

Since last year, the BCS has come under unprecedented scrutiny. The Fiesta Bowl was disgraced when former executive director John Junker was accused of illegally soliciting political contributions from employees. He has pled guilty to state and federal charges and faces sentencing next month. The bowl itself paid a fine and had to petition to remain at the BCS level.

The U.S. Justice Department became interested in BCS matters, sending an inquiry to executive director Bill Hancock.

Firms interested in helping Shurtleff are being asked to cap legal fees at $1 million. All applicants must go through a proposal evaluation process that will be scored in several categories. (i.e., a legal team's antitrust experience is worth a maximum of 20 points.) Applicants are being asked not to have any conflict of interest with the NCAA, BCS, the bowls and BCS leagues.

The BCS has said on several occasions that it is legally protected against any anti-trust claims.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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