Utah Seeks Antitrust Probe of College Football Bowl Series

Utah’s attorney general is organizing a legal team to pursue a lawsuit of alleged antitrust violations tied to college football’s Bowl Championship Series.

The series, which claims to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in a national championship game, is “rigged to reward tens of millions of dollars to the preferred conferences and universities at the expense of those that aren’t preferred,” Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said today in an interview.

The system, which includes the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, is a “cartel” offering teams in preferred conferences “pre-selected, automatic qualifying,” Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff said he aims to file a lawsuit by the end of the year and issued a request for information for lawyers interested in pursuing the claims. The attorney general said his office analyzed the Bowl Championship Series and shared its antitrust findings with lawyers at the U.S. Justice Department, who are “interested and very concerned,” he said.

The BCS is managed by the commissioners of the 11 National Collegiate Athletic Association Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, the director of athletics at the University of Notre Dame and representatives of the bowl organizations, according to the BCS website. The BCS says its conferences include the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Pacific-10, Southeastern and Western Athletic.

BCS ‘Confident’

“The BCS was carefully created with antitrust laws in mind and we remain confident that the BCS is a pro-competitive force in college football,” Bill Hancock, executive director of the Bowl Championship Series, said in an e-mailed statement. “It has brought significant and unprecedented benefits to the game, the universities, the student-athletes and the fans.”

Shurtleff argues teams that don’t belong to the BCS’s automatic-qualifying conferences -- such as Utah State University and the University of Utah -- are unfairly excluded from the process of determining who plays in the bowl games. The BCS system costs Utah tens of millions of dollars in revenue, and states across the U.S. hundreds of millions of dollars, he said. He said BCS revenue comes from television contracts and ticket and concession sales.

Shurtleff said the NCAA, which licenses the bowl games, is failing to live up to its bylaws guaranteeing “full, free and fair competition.”

Bob Williams, an NCAA spokesman, referred questions about the Utah investigation to the BCS, saying “it is an independent entity not administered by the NCAA.”

Gina Talamona, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department, said the agency continues to review information provided to it to determine whether to open an investigation. She declined to say whether the department is working with Shurtleff.

The BCS championship game following the 2011 season will be held at the Superdome in New Orleans in January 2012.

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