BCS is a friend to the Mountain West

BCS is a friend to the Mountain West

Published Jul. 13, 2009 11:26 p.m. ET

In the last five years, four mid-major college football teams, squadrons on the outside of college football's cartel, have played in BCS bowls. Utah in the 2009 Sugar and 2005 Fiesta. Hawaii in the 2008 Sugar. Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta.

In the 54 seasons before 2004, four mid-majors made BCS bowls or the high-paying, New Year's Day bowls that eventually formed the Bowl Championship Series: Air Force in the 1959 Cotton and 1971 Sugar, Wyoming in the 1968 Sugar and Louisville in the 1991 Fiesta.

So tell me again why on Tuesday a Mountain West Conference lawyer sat on Capitol Hill and did what so many lawyers before him have done. Asked Congress to investigate what he believes is an antitrust violation.

Never mind that Congress couldn't get to the bottom of a purse-snatching on Mayberry's Main Street.


Why would the Mountain West try to take down the BCS? The BCS has been good to the Mountain West and the Western Athletic Conference. The BCS is the friend of the Utahs and Brigham Youngs and Fresno States.

The BCS did more in half a decade for the profile and standing of the mid-majors than any single coach, player, school or system did in the half century before, with the exception of BYU coaching legend LaVell Edwards.

The testimony Tuesday in Washington was all show. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) gaveled the Senate Judiciary subcommittee to order but quickly left. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) stayed a couple of minutes. That left only one senator, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, to hear witnesses.

A lawyer for each side debated whether the BCS breaks the Sherman Antitrust Act, then school leaders for each side, Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman and Utah president Michael Young, offered their takes.

When the U.S. House staged a similar hearing in May, three committee members appeared. We all have asked the question, doesn't Congress have better things to do?

The answer obviously is yes, judging by the attendance at the subcommittee hearings.

This was a Utah pity party, nothing more. I'm a longtime supporter of the Mountain West Conference. I advocate an automatic BCS berth for the Mountain West, and I annually rip the NCAA basketball committee for short-changing the mid-majors.

I'm not even anti-playoff, so long as it's an 11-team playoff that includes all the conference champions. But Congress can't fix anything, and the Mountain West has limited credibility in this case.

True story from a BCS insider: Last November, all 11 leagues in Division I-A voted for the new BCS/ESPN contract that goes into effect for the 2010 season. BCS and ESPN officials then huddled for four days to iron out details of the already-accepted agreement.

But when the completed contract was ready to sign, the Mountain West balked. What happened?

Utah upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and completed a perfect season.

We did not need Utah to beat Alabama to know mid-majors were capable. Boise State proved that against Oklahoma. If ¿Bama had defeated Utah, no way is Orrin Hatch calling for Congressional hearings. No way is the Mountain West still declining to sign the new BCS contract.

The deadline for the new deal is Thursday. If conferences don't sign by then, they are not included. Ineligible for BCS bowls, ineligible for BCS payouts (the mid-majors shared $19.3 million from the BCS last season, which when divided is far less than what the Big 12 or SEC reaped but still isn't chump change).

BCS spokesman Bill Hancock said ESPN has informed the conferences that its payout won't change, regardless of whether the Mountain West is involved.

The Sherman Antitrust Act prohibits contracts, combinations or conspiracies designed to reduce competition. Does that sound like the BCS, which has put mid-majors on the national stage?

I know the BCS isn't fair. Is it fair that some college football programs can't fill a 40,000-seat stadium, while others have waiting lists for a 100,000-seat coliseum? Is it fair that Southern Cal sits within a 20-mile radius of 100 blue-chippers a year, while the state of Nebraska produces 10 blue-chippers a decade?

The BCS isn't perfect. It's a two-team playoff system that also tries to put a little order to the once-chaotic bowl process.

If Utah and Orrin Hatch and the apparently preoccupied United States Congress want to push hard enough, the BCS could go away.

But college football wouldn't then run screaming to an expanded playoff system. University presidents do not want a playoff. There is no way they could be clearer on that subject.

Scrap the BCS, and college football simply would resort to its old arrangement of pre-ordained bowl ties, and the Mountain West Conference would lose that one foot in the door. It would lose that friend it has branded an enemy.