SALT LAKE CITY -- After 12 years of operation, the Bowl Championship Series is the center of debate on Capitol Hill. Many from Utah, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, question whether the system is fair and legal.
The BCS is a touchy subject at the University of Utah. The Utes were undefeated, Sugar Bowl champions this year, still they were ranked 2nd in the nation.
Representatives from the Mountain West Conference and the University of Utah were among those testifying before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.
The question they're asking: Is the BCS breaking anti-trust laws and keeping many colleges and universities away from money?
Critics, including Hatch, argue the system is designed to reduce competition, with some conferences getting automatic bids.
In his opening statement to the Senate subcommittee Hatch said, "Four teams, Utah, Boise State, Texas Christian, and Brigham Young, finished the season ranked higher in the BCS's own standings than at least one of the teams that received an automatic bid.
"Clearly, the BCS bowl games exist in a category all their own and the architects of the BCS system appear to have intentionally excluded teams from non-privileged conferences, not on the basis of competition, but due to pre-arranged agreements."
University of Utah President Michael Young explained, "This is a system designed to channel money to certain schools and universities based on an agreement not on achievement. Championships and opportunities are made available by conspiracy, not by competition. It harms higher education our student athletes and the American public."
Young went on to say, "The BCS system, with its strange hold on college football, sends the message of economic power rather than athletic ability is the key to success. Fairness depends on where you sit."
Harvey Perlman, chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee said, "The Bowl Championship Series gives every school an opportunity to play for the national championship. It's increased the access of students and schools that didn't have it before. It's increased the revenue."
Deseret News Sports Columnist Dick Harmon say schools like the University of Utah may have a good case in claiming they're an injured party within the current BCS system. Harmon says the BCS gives 80 percent of football revenue to 50 percent of colleges.
"Twenty percent, in their ‘fairness' view is being afforded and thrown toward the other 50 percent of the schools. How fair is that?" Harmon said.
Sen. Hatch recently told the Deseret News that the people who run the BCS are "pretty arrogant." He says he's hoping the Senate subcommittee will prove that the BCS is breaking anti-trust laws. He said he pushed for the hearing to show that "the BCS is fundamentally unfair." He says his biggest concern is that it "creates disadvantages for those conferences that don't receive automatic bids."
Perlman conceded that some teams, because of factors such as history or reputation, have a better chance to play in the national championship than others.
"The problem is that we don't all play each other, and there's no conceivable way" for that to happen, he said.
A better system than before?
Critics say you can't trust how the top teams are calculated. Harmon says games played by teams in conferences that get an automatic bowl bid are weighed more heavily than games from outside the system.
"Where this BCS is flawed is when they get from point A to point B in determining a No. 1 and No. 2," he said.
The BCS contends more colleges are getting access to bowl games they never would have had access to before the system was created.
Bill Hancock, a BCS official, said, "We think the consumers, who are the bowls and the television people and the fans, benefit from having a chance to see the top two teams play in a bowl game."
He also said, "We certainly understand the disappointment with the Utes not being in the championship game, but we also have a lot of people who are saying, ‘Wow, the Utes got to play in the Sugar Bowl. They never would have without the BCS.'"
Bias from coaches?
The BCS says there is no bias in how it ranks teams by combining computer rankings with coaches' polls. Bill Hancock said, "I just don't know any reason why the coaches would be biased."
But Harmon says coaches will show bias to teams in their conference and to teams they consider good on paper. Plus, he says some of the polls may not be filled out by the actual coaches.
"They actually don't fill out that ballot," he said. "It's done by a sports information director or a publicist or an assistant or even a secretary."
A playoff system
The BCS says a playoff system may look good on paper, but once you start looking into how to implement it, playoffs lose their luster. Hancock says there are concerns over where the games would be played.
Harmon agreed there needs to be a way to predict who will play in some of the more famous bowl games to protect traditions that have been around as long as college football has.
Perlman said, "Somebody, no matter what system is proposed, is going to have to pick those teams that participate and those teams that don't, and we've looked at every system possible."
Hatch says he hopes the hearing will provide a clearer picture of the BCS problem and hopes it will lead to the Justice Department investigating the system.