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Inside College Football

Senate Probes BCS Format

Biden says system 'looks un-American.' Tulane president says it represents a monopoly.

October 30, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

While many would argue there is nothing more American than college football, a leading U.S. Senator doesn't agree.

"It looks un-American," Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) said Wednesday. "It really does. It looks unfair. It looks like a rigged deal."

Biden's comments came during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the bowl championship series, the controversial mechanism by which college football determines its national-title and major bowl game participants.

The Senate hearings were the latest in a series of discussions regarding the future of the BCS. Last month, the House of Representatives held similar hearings in Washington.

The debate is clearly divided and involves access into a multimillion-dollar industry.

The BCS was formed in 1998 by the six major conferences, plus Notre Dame, to pair the top two rated teams in a "mythical" national-title game based on a ratings formula.

The BCS stipulated any non-BCS school could earn automatic access to one of four major bowls -- Rose, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar -- by finishing in the top six of the BCS standings.

No team from a non-BCS conference has finished higher than 10th.

Scott Cowen, the Tulane president who is leading the fight for 54 non-BCS schools, testified that he thought the BCS was exclusionary and represented a monopoly. Cowen thinks the BCS standings are inherently skewed because they were created by BCS commissioners.

Whether the BCS is a monopoly is open to debate.

John Majoras, an antitrust lawyer based in Washington, said he did not think the BCS posed a legal problem.

"Antitrust laws are designed to encourage and protect competition, not to protect each competitor," Majoras said.

Majoras added, however, that Congressional pressure was a good way to force the two sides to resolution.

He said hearings were an effective way for Congress to "let the BCS know it's watching."

Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, testifying on behalf of the BCS, said the system is not to blame for the present state of the college game.

"I acknowledge that on first blush it is often attractive for those who have not achieved the same level of success as others to search for causes beyond their own control," Perlman testified, adding, "simply stated, the BCS arrangement provides fans with an annual national championship game -- something that never existed before -- while providing greater bowl opportunities for every Division I-A institution."

Wednesday's Senate hearings certainly raised the rhetoric in the debate, yet the issues probably will be negotiated privately behind hotel ballroom doors.

Presidents from BCS and non-BCS conferences have already met once, Sept. 8 in Chicago. That meeting was hailed as an important first step in working together without the threat of legal action.

Long before congressional meetings were called, BCS commissioners were exploring preemptive ways to make the system more inclusive. Some of the ideas include loosening the requirements for non-BCS schools to qualify for a major bowl and perhaps creating a fifth BCS bowl that would match the top two champions of the five non-BCS conferences.

BCS and non-BCS presidents are scheduled to meet again Nov. 16 in New Orleans. Any alterations in the new BCS will coincide with upcoming negotiations with the television networks, which play a critical role in determining what games they deem will be most profitable.

The current BCS contract expires at the end of the 2005 season.

And while Cowen stated Wednesday the BCS needed to be significantly modified, he also said the issue could be settled without legal intervention.

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