Back in late June, the office of Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff posted a listing on a website normally utilized by government agencies to solicit bids and contracts, a posting seeking information from interested law firms “preliminary to undertaking a process to select a Legal Team to pursue an investigation and possible litigation to determine the legality of the Bowl Championship Series system for College FBS post season football under federal and Utah state antitrust or other applicable law and to obtain appropriate relief.”
Since then, though, the postseason tone of some of the heaviest hitters in the sport has undergone a significant shift, to the point where the talk is there’s a real possibility the BcS won’t even exist beyond the 2013 season. The decision on the postseason landscape, up to and including some type of playoff to determine a national champion, is expected to come before the end of summer.
Despite all the talk of change in the sport and ridding itself of the BcS, however, Shurtleff is undeterred. He still has his sights set on the cartel.
As pointed out by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, the State of Utah has posted yet another listing on the same website, BidSync.com, with a bid titled “Antitrust Investigation/Litigation RE: College Football Bowl Championship Series”. The bid was opened March 9 and closes April 13, and the bid packet — which can be viewed in its entirety HERE — acknowledges that the uncertainty of the future of the BcS leaves the state’s future legal strategy up in the air:
The current BCS system itself is undergoing a process of change, and news reports indicate that a substantially different system may be put in place this spring or summer that may apply beginning with the 2014 college football season. Because changes to the BCS system are anticipated, but the nature of the changes is not yet known, it is not possible to describe with certainty the objectives and goals of the Utah AG. By submitting a Response to the RFP, each Legal Team acknowledges that it accepts the risk that the Representation may be more complex and may involve more parties, fact discovery and experts than the Legal Team currently
The potential for change to or even outright elimination of the BcS aside, the bid packet lists four “objectives” the to-be-assembled legal team could be asked to pursue, with the potential for the scope to change pending resolution of college football’s postseason question:
- Elimination of automatic qualifying conferences, or the “[e]limination of any preference for some FBS teams based upon the conference in which they play” as the state’s bid puts it. That’s an idea that’s already seen at least some modicum of support from those in the sport, and will likely be one of the key negotiating points throughout the summer among the leaders in the game.
- Transparency in the current system, specifically as it relates to the computer programs that are a part of the rankings utilized by the BcS. “[T]he BCS does not require that the computer programs be transparent, and only one actually makes the criteria that it uses public,” the document states, referring to the six programs used in setting the BcS rankings. “Thus, there is no way to determine either the overall scientific validity of the polls or whether they unfairly favor some teams or conferences at the expense of others.” The AG’s aim, it’s made clear, is “to ensure that any computer programs used are based upon scientifically valid and neutral criteria.” Proprietary concerns on the part computer programmers aside, this is something that should’ve been adapted long ago, and should be implemented should the BcS remain in place and used to determine the makeup of a four-team — or more — playoff.
- “[T]o make sure that every FBS team begins each season with a meaningful opportunity to control its own destiny to play in a BCS bowl game and the national championship game regardless of conference affiliation.” This is why, regardless of whether the BcS survives or is merely tweaked, Shurtleff and his staff are keeping all of their legal options open and available. There’s little doubt that the commissioners of the Big Six conferences and the presidents they serve will look to consolidate as much power as possible within themselves, regardless of whether it’s under a tweaked BcS or an entirely new system. In essence, this is the AG’s shot across all those bows, which sends a clear message: fairness and equity should be a consideration in your talks. Or else.
- “[T]o ensure transparent competitive bidding among venues for the opportunity to host any BCS bowl game or national championship game.” This hits on the issue of BcS bowls being “free to impose unreasonable terms upon teams that are selected for those games. … [requiring] that teams stay at specific hotels for periods of time much longer than necessary, and they can require teams to purchase large blocks of tickets that they may not be able to resell to their fans. As a result, it is possible for an FBS team to earn an invitation to a BCS bowl and lose significant amounts of money.” The bottom line for this objective is to ensure competitive bidding among venues for the opportunity to host any BcS bowl game or title game.
As for potential targets — or “adverse parties” as the state refers to them — in any future lawsuit, they are exactly who you would think: the NCAA; the BcS and its four bowls — the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls; all six AQ conferences, including the Pac-12, which added the Utah Utes to its membership last year; and “[a]ny media entity that has a contract to broadcast or disseminate audio or video from any BCS bowl game in any format (e.g., ESPN).”
Again, all of this lawsuit talk could be a moot point pending a resolution to the postseason issue at some point before the end of the summer. As long as that uncertainty over the exact future structure of the postseason exists, and thus the issue of “fair and equitable” is still undetermined, Shurtleff will continue to rattle his saber.
If the powers-that-be really are concerned about a legal challenge from Shurtleff, it may actually give some impetus for a proposal promoted by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and formally favored by his conference: a four-team playoff consisting only of the highest-ranked conference winners. Three of the last four years, a team from a non-AQ school would have qualified for a four-team playoff utilizing Scott’s idea.
The SEC, however, is against a proposal limiting the playoff pool to conference title winners.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to watch in the coming months how the leaders in the sport juggle myriad proposals, various egos and divergent wishes of the power conferences, all while operating with the looming threat of legal action if they don’t “get it right”. No pressure, y’all.
Then again, the Power Six could merely say “screw it” and break off from the NCAA and form its own football entity. While it’s not as likely as it may have been even a few months ago, it’s certainly not completely out of the realm of possibility, either..