In what is either a signal that CFT’s move to NBC Sports has brought about some credibility to this website or one of the seven signs of the Apocalypse — there’s a definite lean toward the latter — we were able, via e-mail, to do a Q & A with Senator Orrin Hatch, the congressman from Utah who will head today’s Senate hearing regarding the Bowl Championship Series.
Sen. Hatch has been up-front and very public in questioning the fairness and, yes, legality, of the current system that crowns a national champion. Ahead of a hearing entitled “”The Bowl Championship Series: Is it Fair and in Compliance with Antitrust Law?”, the senator was gracious enough to answer a few questions regarding the BcS, his reasoning behind the call for a hearing, and what may or may not come out of yet another face-to-face with those responsible for the current system.
CFT: What led you to call for these hearings and what do you hope to accomplish on July 7?
Sen. Hatch: I called for the hearings because I believe there are a lot of legal and fairness issues surrounding the BCS. Most significantly, it creates inherent disadvantages for those conferences that don’t receive automatic bids. Nearly half of the all the teams in college football are left to share relatively small amounts of BCS revenue, while the teams from the six automatic-bid conferences each have a share in a much larger pot – even if they don’t win a single game. The BCS is currently attempting to extend the status quo – the same status quo that Members of Congress, the President, and millions of fans throughout the country have complained about – for an additional four years. All the Division I conferences have been told they have to sign the contract by July 9. I hope the hearing will shed some light on the legal issues surrounding the BCS, specifically, whether it violates Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
CFT: Could what transpires during that hearing potentially lead you further down the road toward a line of thinking that legislation might be the only way of fixing the inequities of the current system?
Sen. Hatch: I hope we don’t have to get to that point, but I am considering legislation. I haven’t introduced it yet, but I hope to be able to work with my colleagues to examine this issue thoroughly to make sure we can come up with an appropriate approach if it is called for. This hearing may be helpful toward that end.
CFT: In a recent newspaper interview, University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor and chairman of the BcS Presidential Oversight Committee Harvey Perlman warned that the demise of the current system would lead to a return to the old bowl system, not a playoff. I would just like your thoughts on what comes very close to being a “threat” by one of the most powerful men in the organization.
Sen. Hatch: I don’t know if that’s a threat from Mr. Perlman or if that’s just his opinion. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that the schools involved in the BCS would forego the increased revenues they’ve received under the BCS by reverting back to the old system. I think there’s an alternative out there that will address the revenue and market issues raised by the BCS’s proponents that’s also fair and legal. I’m not interested in getting Congress involved in the minute details of a new system. One thing’s for certain, the current BCS system is fundamentally unfair; I don’t think there’s any real fan of college football who disputes this. Something needs to be done as the status quo isn’t working and there are plenty of other options that are successful elsewhere but have not been tried before in college football.
CFT: Also in a recent interview, current BcS coordinator Jim Swofford was quoted as saying the following:”The BCS is voluntary. If a conference decided it did not want to be a part of the BCS there is certainly no requirement that it do so. Obviously if certain conferences said they were not going to be a part of it, that could be a factor in its continuation–depending on which conferences, that is.”Isn’t that an express admission that the BcS is all about a handful of conferences, and thus a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act? That while technically included, unless a conference is part of the Big Six — or, more likely, Big Four — their presence is merely an act of appeasement and they do not want those “lesser” conferences to realize the full benefits of BcS membership?
Sen. Hatch: There are most definitely antitrust issues involved here. I’ve argued from the beginning that the system is specifically designed to favor some conferences and disfavor others. I think that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent such arrangements among what are supposed to be competitors. These are the issues we’ll be addressing in today’s hearing.
CFT: Do you have a specific playoff plan that you would like to see instituted?
Sen. Hatch: I, like most college football fans, would like to see a playoff system, but it is my hope that the people with the power to reform the BCS system will do so without government involvement. Almost anything would be better than the current system. However, I don’t think it’s Congress’s place to devise its own playoff format.
CFT: What will be your next step following this hearing? Is it entirely dependent on what you hear from all the parties involved?
Sen. Hatch: First, I expect that we’ll get a clearer picture of the BCS problem from the hearings and, as a result, I think there’s a decent chance the Justice Department will look into the system. We may also see private litigation at some point down the line, and, as I said, I’m considering legislation to address this problem too. However, it’s not my desire to have the Senate regulating college football nor have the matter taken to the courts, so hopefully it will not have to get to that point.
CFT: How do you answer the criticism from some in the media that “Congress has better things to do” than meddle in college football?
Sen. Hatch: Well, if there are antitrust violations going on here, and I think there very well may be, should we ignore them simply because they involve college football? If Congress were to ignore a similar unfair business arrangement in another industry, I think many of these same people would claim that we were shirking our responsibility. With the BCS, we’re dealing with colleges and universities. Should we be holding them to a lower standard than we would hold a purely commercial business? If anything, I think that standard should be higher.