Hatch claims BCS violates antitrust laws
WASHINGTON — Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch urged the Justice Department on Tuesday to investigate college football’s Bowl Championship Series for what he views as violations of antitrust laws.
Hatch made the comment after conducting a standing-room-only hearing in the Senate subcommittee with antitrust oversight, where he serves as the top Republican.
‘‘Frankly, there’s an arrogance about the BCS that just drives me nuts,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘Hopefully this hearing will open the door to have some people reconsider their positions. And if nothing else, the Justice Department ought to be looking at this.’’ He said that it’s clear to him that the BCS is in violation of antitrust laws.
Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said: ‘‘We’re aware of his request and will respond as appropriate.’’
Hatch said that the BCS is exploiting a position of power, ‘‘and it’s just not right.’’
Hatch’s comments followed up on testimony by a lawyer for the Mountain West Conference, which does not get an automatic bid and has pressed for changes to the BCS. Utah, which is in the Mountain West, was bypassed for last year’s national championship despite going undefeated in the regular season. The title game pitted Florida against Oklahoma — each with one loss.
The lawyer, Barry Brett, called the BCS ‘‘a naked restraint imposed by a self-appointed cartel’’ in written testimony, and said that a Justice Department investigation would serve the public interest.
Under the BCS, some conferences get automatic bids to participate while others don’t, and the automatic bid conferences also get far more of the revenue than the other conferences. Hatch and other BCS critics view that as anticompetitive behavior, while the BCS says it simply recognizes the teams people want to watch.
‘‘I don’t think it’s arrogant if you’ve thought about something for five or six years, and concluded that’s it’s really hard to do something different,’’ said Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the new chairman of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee.
As to a possible antitrust challenge, Perlman said: ‘‘It’s hard to see why anyone would litigate this.’’
‘‘We are university presidents, and we are sensitive to what Congress thinks, and sensitive about what the president thinks,’’ Perlman added, referring to President Barack Obama’s stated preference for a playoff system. ‘‘But our primary responsibility is to manage our institutions in ways that protect student athletes, that acknowledges their academic pursuits as well as their athletic pursuits.’’
The current system features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer rankings.
‘‘Championships should be decided by competition, not by conspiracy,’’ said Utah President Michael Young.
In his own testimony, Perlman prefaced a comment by saying he didn’t want to sound disrespectful to Utah.
‘‘And you don’t want to be in this room,’’ Hatch quipped to laugher.
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.
It was the second congressional hearing on the BCS this year, following one in the House two months ago. At that hearing, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, warned the BCS to switch to a playoff system. If not, he said, Congress would move on his bill that would prevent the NCAA from calling a game a national championship unless it’s the outcome of a playoff.
Although Tuesday’s hearing attracted quite a few spectators, senators mostly stayed away. Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, left a few minutes after starting the hearing. New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer briefly popped in, but didn’t ask any questions.
It was, for the most part, Hatch’s show.
In talking to reporters, he took umbrage at the suggestion that the hearing amounted to political pandering.
‘‘That’s just bull,’’ he said.