Twenty-one economics, sports management and anti-trust experts have sent a letter to the Justice Department asking it to look into legality of the BCS.
While this isn't huge news -- opponents have attacked the BCS on anti-trust issues for years -- it comes at a time when the system seems to be somewhat vulnerable. The Fiesta Bowl will meet with a BCS task force on April 23 in Chicago as part of an ongoing investigation. The meeting has been characterized as "information sharing." Ultimately, the bowl basically must justify why it should stay in the BCS after an in-house review revealed vast wrongdoing and lavish spending. John Junker was fired as Fiesta executive director after it was revealed there may have been illegal campaign contributions.
Here is the letter. It is interesting to note that only four of the 21 signatories are from BCS institutions. The highest profile member is economist Andrew Zimbalist who has been a critic and knowledgeable analyst of the college power elite.
" ... the core issue is that six conferences have bear hugged the goodies and agreed to run things for their mutual benefit," Len Simon told the Wall Street Journal. Simon, one of the 21, is an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego which has been in the news recently.
The BCS has consistently maintained that it is not in violation of anti-trust laws.
"The Justice Department has been asked to do that [look into the BCS] before," said Bill Hancock, BCS executive director. "We have not heard a word from Justice. I think that is because they know the BCS complies with the law."
Alan Fishel, counsel for the Mountain West and Boise State responded: “I think it’s rather presumptuous of the BCS to make that assumption. To my knowledge, the Department of Justice has yet to make a determination regarding this matter.”
Eighteen months ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah sent a letter to President Obama asking him to urge the Justice Department to look into BCS anti-trust issues. A Justice official wrote back in January 2010 saying it was deciding whether to proceed. That caused much consternation among BCS types. If nothing else, the fact that Justice showed mild interest was a lot more threatening than just dismissing the matter. As recently as June, Hatch was urging Justice to investigate.
Hatch's stance is notable because it was around that time that the University of Utah, in the senator's home state, was being admitted into the Pac-10 which is a BCS conference.
The comments by two officials from last year indicate that the BCS will not be given special treatment:
Hatch asked the head of Justice's anti-trust division, Christine Varney, and Federal Trade commission chairman Jonathan Leibowitz: “Would the fact that these issues revolve around college sports keep the Justice Department from bringing a case” (against the BCS)?
Varney: “Senator, my view is that sports are business. They’re a big business, whether they’re in college or out of college… All of these enterprises are subject to the antitrust laws. We will obviously investigate, thoroughly pursue, and bring the appropriate action against any enterprise whether it’s sporting or otherwise that’s in violation of the antitrust laws.”
Leibowitz: “When Senator DeWine and Senator Kohl took over the Antitrust Subcommittee in, I think, 1997 and I was one of the staff directors, the first hearing we did was on the BCS. And at that time it seemed to us, and you know this, that it was a bunch of big, large competitors who got together … and excluded some of the little guys.”
Hancock added the Fiesta investigation won't be finished by the time of the annual BCS meetings April 26-28 in New Orleans.